Illustrations by Chloe Leeson
‘Spotlight On’ aims to highlight the efforts and achievements of women across a range of film roles, so each month, we’ll be choosing a department to praise, where SQ writers can talk about their faves. This month is cinematographers
Mandy Walker is from Melbourne, Australia. Her love of photography and enrolment in a cinema studies program fuelled her passion for cinematography. She studied film criticism under actor John Flaus who then introduced her to several industry players. Walker began her career apprenticing as an unpaid assistant on documentaries and music videos, until she shot her first feature film Return Home when she was 25. Recent and well-known features include Lurhmann’s Australia and the latest releases Truth and Jane Got a Gun. Walker has won several awards for her cinematography, including the Independent Spirit Award.
In an interview with Senses of Cinema, she notes that she is initially attracted to a project if she likes the script and director. She describes her process as spending “a lot of time in pre-production with the director finding out how they see the story in visual terms, including the atmosphere and emotion each scene is trying to convey. Then, with the production designer, we will all look at references of different types, such as, films, photos, paintings and the locations themselves, to create a look that is right for that film. Some directors know before you start that process, exactly how they see it; for others, it is a process of finding out what the particular look is for that film.” Walker prefers to be meticulous and plan as much as possible. Walker privileges her talent over gender, insisting her talent is what matters, not that she is female. She encourages women to not “make it an issue that you are a girl. Work your arse off and believe in yourself; be persistent without being a wanker!” Her favorite films and artistic inspirations include Apocalypse Now, The Shining, Cinema Paradiso, The Piano and Amelie. –Caroline Madden
In a field where it is hard for women to break into and succeed, Reed Morano consistently pushes the boundaries. In 2013 she was invited into the prestigious American Society of Cinematographers; this positions her as not only one of the pitifully low 14 female cinematographers with membership (out of approximately 350), but as the ASC’s youngest ever member. Morano graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Film and TV programme in 2000 and has taught at her alma mater as an adjunct cinematography professor. In 2015, the Tisch School of the Arts’ Fusion Film Festival named her Woman of the Year.
Morano’s work has regularly been screened at the annual Sundance Film Festival, and in 2008 her breakthrough film ‘Frozen River’, the story of two working class women who help smuggle illegal immigrants into the United States, won the Grand Jury Prize. Morano’s work has been extensive ever since. She has worked with director Rob Reiner twice, on ‘The Magic of Belle Isle’ (2012), and ‘And So It Goes’ (2014). She has also shot two of the most revered indie films of the last few years, ‘Kill Your Darlings’ (2013) starring Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan (coincidentally a Screenqueens favourite), and ‘The Skeleton Twins’ (2014), a dark comedy starring SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Morano has also worked as a cinematographer for TV, shooting the HBO drama ‘Looking’, and as has a background in documentary film-making (causing her to favour shooting handheld), notably working on ‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’, a film about LCD Soundsystem that The Guardian called ‘gorgeously shot’.
In 2015 Morano made her directorial debut on ‘Meadowland’ (the film she has said she is most proud of), as well as maintaining her position as cinematographer. The film, which stars Olivia Wilde as a mother whose young son goes missing, is a darkly dramatic and emotional exploration of motherhood, suggesting that Morano is keen to explore stories from a female position – indeed, this show reel of Morano’s work features numerous shots that effortlessly capture the deep intense emotions of women, isolated against their vast environments. Morano has suggested a strong cinematographer is one who can truly get into the mind of their director and it’s clear that working venturing into directing herself offers her extensive creative and visual freedom. Morano has voiced her concerns about the lack of women working in the film industry, but stated that she tends not to get hung up on the ‘female thing’, instead suggesting that what can set female film-makers apart from the pack is an ability to tell stories from a new unique perspective that hasn’t been offered before.
Most recently, Morano’s cinematography can be seen in the critically acclaimed and ground-breaking ‘Beyoncé: Lemonade’. Her next directing effort is in pre-production for a prospective release in 2017 – entitled ‘Lioness’, it will tell the story of a U.S Marine named Leslie Martz (Ellen Page) who is sent to Afghanistan in order to gain information about their Taliban husbands’. –Ashley Woodvine
Portraying an aged wrestler with the vulnerability of an infant, or the shimmery underworld of glam rock, Maryse Alberti sees the world through an honest, sometimes surreal and usually beautiful lens.
With no formal training, she moved to America from France, starting her career photographing her friends who were in bands and working on x rated movies. She reflects on her love of documentaries, clear from the mass she’s worked on, and the intimacy of the creative team. Despite this, I’m more familiar with her more commercial work, such as Happiness, Velvet Goldmine, The Wrestler and most recently, Freeheld and Creed.
There is something in the framing of the shots, the attention to detail and position of light that gives a notable vulnerability to the characters in these films. She manages to present these power figures, whether that’s the ultra-masculine ‘fighter’; police lieutenant Julianne Moore or a famed glam-rock idol (covered in glitter) with an innocence that the viewer is let in to. Pastels, sequins, harsh fluorescent lights and naturally lit open spaces, Maryse Alberti avoids a signature style but themes her films with incredible insight in to the world of the story and characters. –Zoe Brennan
Autumn Durald started out as a Camera Assistant and worked largely in advertising before become a DP. Raised in San Francisco and a graduate of the AFI’s cinematography programme she has worked with H&M, Opening Ceremony and IKEA on stunning advertising campaigns as a building block for her work on feature film.
Her first venture into feature film and the work she is most noted for (and because of which, named as a Cinematographer to watch for at least 3 major publications) is the glorious coming-of-age film Palo Alto, directed by Gia Coppola. Palo Alto, based on the book by James Franco, received rave reviews for its intertwining stories of 3 young people in the Palo Alto, California area, and how they deal with the trails and tribulations of teen life. Gia’s début film really packs a punch because of the dream-like and soft nature of the cinematography. Fuzzy and hazy, Durald aimed to re-create the 35mm quality and style of films like Dazed and Confused and The Virgin Suicides, paired with the young actors, one of which, Jack Kilmer, was only making his acting début, added to the natural but shy nature of the film, despite some of its heavy topics. The pair continued their professional relationship when Durald did cinematography on Blood Orange’s ‘You’re Not Good Enough‘ video in 2014. Most recently she worked on the Arcade Fire documentary ‘The Reflektor Tapes‘ having previously completed two of their music videos for ‘Afterlife‘ and ‘Porno‘. Other music video work she has completed includes Haim’s video for ‘Falling‘ and London Grammar’s ‘Strong‘.
All of her work retains a gorgeous child-like sense of wonder, a warm feeling with muted pastel tones is seen across the broad range of her work. I really feel that she does come at the job with a woman’s touch, and communicates a sense of innocence and fun that is sometimes lost within male DP’s work. She believes that women wanting to get into the industry should put fears aside and go for it, take on as many projects as possible and learn from doing things you perhaps didn’t want to do in the first place. –Chloe Leeson
I was sixteen when I first saw I Shot Andy Warhol, and it’s as much a revelation to me now as it was then. I know some film-makers are of the opinion that a good DP should be neither seen nor heard, but I tend to approach the subject in a more case-by-case manner. Certain films require loud cinematography, and I Shot Andy Warhol is one of them. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the film’s manic energy which struck me most, and we owe a good majority of that to DP Ellen Kuras.
Kuras started out shooting documentaries and smaller-budget films, and in 1990 she was selected by Killer Films founder and producer Christine Vachon to shoot Swoon, a queer spin on the story of Leopold and Loeb. Kuras’ work on Swoon won recognition at the Sundance Film Festival that year and propelled Kuras further in the industry, an industry which was (and still is) comprised primarily by men. Throughout the years, and working on such films as Personal Velocity, Summer of Sam, and Blow, Kuras developed a style that is both consistent and ever-changing to meet the director’s vision.
Though Kuras had been a well-known name within the industry for some time, it was her work on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which really made me appreciate her as an individual. Kuras was offered membership to the American Society of Cinematographers in 1999, becoming the fifth ever woman asked to join. Like many other female DPs, Ellen Kuras states that she wants to be recognized for her skill in cinematography, not just because she is a woman. Nevertheless, she has been a vocal advocate of women’s equality within the industry. As Kuras said in a 2012 interview with IndieWire, “I think that women have to face their fears about being competent technicians, because most of the women I’ve met in the industry have consistently been great technicians. We have to look into ourselves every single time we walk onto a set and reassure ourselves that we’re okay and that we know our jobs and that we’re as competent as the rest. -Juliette Faraone
Categories: Women Film-makers