Q&A with Laura D'Antoni

I always admire those who are risky enough to take a chance on something they believe in. This could be as simple as repping an extra-flashy outfit on a Saturday night, taking Lebron over Jordan in a never-ending debate, or, in the case of Laura D’Antoni, something as complicated as making something out of nothing!

As storytellers, we are called upon to build universes, manufacture realities, and breathe life into the lifeless. Today Laura has done all of those things as she launches the first episode of her latest project Dead-ish! 

Before we fast forward to Dead-ish let’s start off by getting to know where you are from!

I was born and raised in Germany and lived there till I was 17. I grew up in a small village called Barbing that is outside of Regensburg, which is North of Munich about an hour. My father had his pizzeria in Regensburg, which was only 15 minutes from where I lived, so I spent a lot of time there.

Nice! Sooo, how many languages do you speak then?

I speak German and English fluently and then my Italian is so-so. I understand it, I don’t speak it as well, so two and a half.

Bene! Do you miss anything about living in the small village just outside Regensburg, which is outside of Munich?

I don’t miss anything from the village, that’s for sure. From Regensburg yeah, there’s a lot of history all over the place there and you don’t really get that out here because nothing’s really older than 200 years. You don’t walk into a cathedral that was built in 1200, you know?

My brother has a restaurant back home and there is a wall in his restaurant that is over 700 years old, which is really cool! I miss that, and then I miss the food, honestly. The bread and the cheese and the chocolate, oh my God, there is nothing better!

The 3 major food groups right there! So at 17 you move away from Germany and land in Florida settling down in Hallandale Beach outside of Fr. Lauderdale, what about that transition sticks out to you?

The transition wasn’t too hard because I’d been coming to Florida with my family since I was born basically. I think the first time I was 6 months old, so I’ve been coming to visit family in the states since then so there wasn’t ever a total culture shock where I was like, “Oh my God! This is crazy!”

When I arrived I had to get my GED because schools wouldn’t accept my high school diploma. One thing about that which was a bit shocking to me was multiple-choice questions! I had never seen those before and I’m like, “You’re giving me the answer, and I just have to guess which one it is?”

Let’s just say I went from being a C student to an A student when I moved to the states.

I’ve never heard that one before, I thought multiple-choice was a worldwide phenomenon! At what point did you get into storytelling? Where did that passion start for you?

I started to get into film or started being interested in making them when I was like 10 years old.

I wrote little dumb scripts with my friends and then shot them with my Dad’s Hi8 camera. I would edit them by having two VCRs and then playing one and stopping it and then recording it and fast forwarding on one and then recording it on the other one. It was kind of crazy!

10-year-old Laura running around Germany making movies!

Yeah! So that’s when I got into it. When I was young I always was just like, “I’m going to make movies. I’m going to be a director and that’s what I want to do.” Even though my friends, and even teachers, would say that’s not a very common thing for anyone to want to do in a small town. “I’m going to go to Hollywood and make movies!” And they’re like yeah, right.

But you didn’t come straight to LA. You are living near Ft. Lauderdale, you get your GED, what happens next?

I took my GED and started off by going to a community college where I finished all of my general education units. From there I applied to a bunch of film schools. Lo and behold NYU accepts me and I move to New York to finish my bachelors.

I recommend that to anybody that wants to go to an expensive private school like NYU. Go get your gen eds done at a community college and don’t pay $6000 for algebra when you can pay $600 at a community college.

After I graduated I got sick of living in the city and not making enough money, and not having nature around me, because I’m a nature person. So I head back to Miami and tell myself, “I’m going to be in Florida for 6 months and then I’m moving to LA.” Five years go by and in my head I’m like, “Shit. I still haven’t moved… I need to move!”

I basically didn’t want to regret not moving so I packed up my stuff and left!

And throughout your time in Florida and the past 2ish years you’ve been living in LA we’ve worked together telling all kinds of stories! Are there any that jump out at you?

I love working with everyone at VIMBY and together we’ve worked on a lot of different projects over the years! One of my favorites though was Walgreen’s Ride On for Red Nose Day, that was a lot of fun!

We followed a group of riders that went from Boston to New York to help raise awareness for childhood poverty.

It was a lot of fun being with that group and being part of that team! We would be in the van that goes ahead and sets up to get some shots and they would zoom by and then we’d jump back in the car and drive fast to get ahead of them to set up and do it all over again!

It was a team effort and it was great, we were all like family by the end of it.

I know as of late you’ve been busy working on a personal project of your own! Can you tell me more about Dead-ish and how it all got started?

Dead-ish is a short, dark, comedic web series about a woman, Darla, who’s a “ghost host,” and lives with 3 ghost roommates.

I came up with the idea for Dead-ish when I was living in Florida in a house with a bunch of roommates. It’s kind of like the New Girl with ghosts. The New Girl meets Beetlejuice and then Buffy the Vampire Slayer because she was chosen to be a ghost host.

Darla wants to have a regular life and have a career and have a man in her life and all this stuff, but that’s basically impossible because she’s been chosen to be a ghost host and has to deal/live with that.

What pushed you to make this project happen?

I moved out to LA to be a director. I thought, “You know what? This summer I’m going to do something!” I looked back through some projects that I’d written and I remembered the ghost host idea! The more I thought about it the more I realized this can be done well for cheap. It doesn’t need a huge budget, you really just need a couple of actors and a house, could be pretty easy and a lot of fun!

That’s so awesome! Congratulations on making your vision come to life/afterlife! So what’s next for Laura D? What’s on your to-do list?

We are hoping to raise more funds to make 5 more episodes and complete the vision. We just launched a Kickstarter today to help make that happen! I want to have a full season and then see where that goes on YouTube and on Facebook and who knows from there!

 

Be sure to follow Dead-ish online at:

https://www.facebook.com/leprika/videos/529576844059136/

 

And check out the Kickstarter page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/78931247/dead-ish-web-series


Q&A with Sean Carter

Living the dream is an expression you hear thrown around a lot, but dreams don’t often come true in the blink of an eye. Steadfast resilience can get you far on the winding road that leads you to where you want to be.

Sean Carter is a storyteller who has worn many hats, all of which play a role in how his personal narrative lead him to direct feature-length films.

Let’s get to know you a little! Who is Sean Carter, where is he from, anything about yourself we oughta know?!

I’m one of the few people in Los Angeles who grew up in Los Angeles. And I’m a new Dad to a nine-month-old baby, so life is very chaotic and exciting right now.

Did you ever have that “aha” moment when you knew deep down that you were destined to be a storyteller?

I’m a total child-of-the-80s filmmaker cliché. I got a camcorder when I was ten and promptly abandoned my previous dream of being a marine biologist. I spent almost every day during the summers of my teenage years making really cheesy thrillers in my backyard. I’ve had all kinds of phases since then, my pretentious drama phase, my popcorn action movie phase, but it kind of seems fitting that the movies I’m making now are the closest in tone to what I was making as a kid.

One of VIMBY’s favorite Sean Carter memories was the 1888 Mills shoot down in Griffin Georgia. Can you tell me about that experience?

The funniest part of that shoot was being in such a cinematic location. All those giant machines billowing steam against rusty old backdrops. A lot of my favorite B-roll shots got left on the cutting room floor because I was too tempted to shoot it like a horror movie, and it was supposed to be a happy uplifting story. But I always loved it when VIMBY would just send me into someplace cool with a camera and say, have at it. That freedom really puts you into a great creative mindset.

Do you have any other favorite VIMBY memories/stories?

My first project was a profile on a musician, Cook Classics. He lived near downtown LA and the day before the interview I roamed around the city shooting B-roll of various urban textures. So in the interview I asked him if the city inspired his music. At first, he didn’t really see much of a connection, but I really wanted to use this footage, so I asked the question four different ways, and he eventually caught on and described how different textures of the city could spark a creative idea. That sound bite opened up a whole buffet of editing possibilities because then I could just intercut any cool shot I got of the city — a shopping cart, a man with a cane — with footage of him making music. On one hand, it was kind of a cheat, but on the other, I feel like it got to the heart of the guy’s music in a way that seemed really fitting.

With a lot of your more recent projects living under the horror umbrella, I’m wondering how big of a role does Stephen King play in your approach to telling scary stories?

Stephen King is at the apex of all my creative influences. I got in a lot of trouble as a young junior high school student for reading his books under the table while I was supposed to be looking up at the teacher. But I just devoured his stuff ravenously, and my whole approach as a filmmaker is informed by that kind of storytelling. It’s not just a bunch of scary scenarios. He really puts the focus on his characters and makes them grow in powerful and relatable ways throughout the course of the story. Take out every scary moment, and you’d still be totally interested in what these people were doing.

Suffer The Little Children is by no stretch a typical Stephen King novel, it’s actually a short story! What challenges excite you about adapting and directing his short story into a full-fledged feature film?

I feel like the writers of Game of Thrones must have felt when they ran out of books to adapt and suddenly had to start filling things in on their own. It’s really exciting to have this amazing source material, but once it runs out, you still have to keep telling more story, and now you’re trying to match the quality of a master storyteller. That’s a really daunting and exciting challenge. I can’t imagine trying this without having been so inundated with all of Stephen King’s books growing up. That at least makes easier to put myself into that mindset. But you have to find the right balance of confidence and humility to try and pull something like that off.

STLC won’t be your first time directing a feature-length film. Keep Watching, which comes out on Halloween this year, was your first horror feature, how did that experience equip you for this next project?

Going from shorts to a feature is definitely like going from sprints to a marathon. But beyond the endurance test, most of the learning curve comes from understanding the protocol and procedure of a larger crew with professional expectations. Knowing when to go to the line producer, when to go to the UPM…navigating the gray areas between the propmaster and the art director….understanding how to please the agents of your lead actors. The egos involved work differently than they do on a short film, where people are just doing it for the love. Keeping these new things in mind takes up a lot of mental energy, and there’s way less space to be thinking about where the camera is going to go. But now that I understand these political dynamics more, I’ll be able to navigate them more subconsciously, and redirect more of my mental resources back to the creative.

With October coming up, and your passion for horror – got any recommendations for horror movies to watch this Halloween season?

Well, my movie Keep Watching comes out on Halloween, so I hope people are excited to go check that out. But aside from that, honestly, I just think everybody should go see Blade Runner and help that movie make the money it deserves!

Describe your progression throughout the industry and how it led you to directing?

Well, it’s interesting, because of my journey, I’ve become such a big believer in the 10,000-hour rule. Having picked up a video camera when I was ten, I had almost a decade of practice with camerawork and editing by the time I graduated film school. So right out of college, I was able to use my short films as calling cards to get industry attention. And I was feeling really confident…dozens of agents and managers and producers all wanting to know, “what’s my next project?” So I knew I’d have to become a screenwriter, too, so I could say, “Here it is. I want to shoot this.” But I wasn’t prepared for how challenging it would be to write a good screenplay without the 10,000 hours of writing experience.

The scripts I was writing had all these imaginative visual moments, the kind of things a director writes for his camera, but they weren’t cohesive. They didn’t have the discipline a more practiced writer brings. And it becomes a long decade in my twenties as I tried over and over again to get it right. The agents stopped calling, and I paid the bills by becoming an editor.

My classmate Jonathan Liebesman was having a big successful directing career, so I jumped on board some of his feature films as his editor. Films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and The Killing Room. But I realized editing features was sucking up all the time I had to write, so I left the more lucrative editing career and became obsessed with just maximizing my free time to join the ranks of the thousands of other young men sitting at a coffee shop in LA writing screenplays, but I knew I just had to grind it out.

And that’s where a place like VIMBY really benefited me. It gave me the freedom to make my own schedule and to stay laser-focused on my craft. And now I feel like the 10,000 hours of writing experience is starting to really pay off and I’ve been able to use that skill to jumpstart the feature directing career I hoped for.

You’ve got quite a few filmmaking disciplines in your toolkit, how do those inform your directing?

It’s great to come into directing having done almost every crew position before, particularly having spent a lot of time with cinematography and editing. So I’m always very sensitive to the experience of the crew, and it certainly helps me to be very specific and technical about what I want. But the luxury of having done things yourself can also sometimes make it challenging. When you’re used to being the cameraman or the editor, you can just turn your analytical brain off and live in a very “right-brain” creative space.  But when you’re the director, it’s all about verbalizing to somebody else what you want, so you’re having to leave that right brain visual space to get into the verbal skills of the left brain. And there have been many times when I picture the rhythm of the scene in my head — and I’m in a kind of trance — and I just want to grab the camera or the editor’s keyboard and do it myself, because once I start trying to verbalize it, I’m already starting to lose the feeling of what I’m describing.

It’s like setting an alarm clock so that you can wake up and tell someone what you were dreaming, but then trying to go back to sleep and finish the dream. The back and forth between hemispheres often made me feel a little shell-shocked. But it’s so essential to allow your crew the space to bring their own talents and ideas to it. So it’s absolutely worth it to let them take the reigns and do what they do best. And no matter how challenging, dreaming for a living is still the greatest thing in the world.

What does the future of Sean Carter look like? Any new gigs coming up beyond STLC, or passion projects you’ve got in the pipeline?

I’ve got several things in the pipeline I’m really excited about. It’s frustrating to have to keep things under wraps until things get officially announced, but I can say more opportunities are coming up that might allow me to really explore unique angles on traditional horror genres.

That sounds pretty awesome, plus I love mysteries! I’ll be sure to stay tuned. Any advice for anyone wanting to direct their own feature someday?

Over the years, I’ve noticed that there tend to be two kinds of people, the extroverts — people who know how to open the door of opportunity — and the introverts — people who know what to do once the door is open. Most people struggle because they’re usually not good at both. Some people are great at networking and getting meetings for themselves, while others are great at quietly sitting alone and learning the craft of filmmaking. So my advice is to figure out which one you are and to start working on your weakness.

I’m an introvert. It was easy for me to be alone for long stretches and study movies, read voraciously and stay up all night writing, shooting, or editing. But if I didn’t go out of my comfort zone, if I didn’t insert myself into a Hollywood social scene, it would have been very difficult for me to generate an outlet for that. I ultimately got my first movie because people I knew socially were willing to take a chance on me. But had I not spent two decades being comfortable working alone for very long stretches, I wouldn’t have been able to seize that opportunity and make a movie that could eventually be purchased by a studio.

So I say embrace and maximize what comes easy for you, but know that your willingness to embrace the part that doesn’t come easy for you is going to be what separates you from everyone else. How far are you willing to go past your pain threshold?

Honestly, this town is such a crucible, that I have to say, it’s not worth it to a rational mind. You have to be a person for whom making movies is your only option. If you think it might also be rewarding to start some other kind of business, trust me, you’re eventually going to want to do that. If you’re amphibious, stay on land. But if you can only survive in the water, then you’re going to have to grind through a lot of muck to get to the fresh water. But once you do break through — whether it’s months, years, or often, decades later — then, finally, the rewards can be well worthwhile.


Blade Runner 2049

BLADE RUNNER 2049

My first encounter with Blade Runner comes from when I was 10 years old. My oldest brother Chris and his wife had just moved to California and as we helped him unpack I can remember moving a framed movie poster, this movie poster…

I was totally hypnotized by the artwork and immediately recognized Harrison Ford, who at the time I only knew and referred to as Han Solo. Ever since then I’ve been pretty obsessed with all things Blade Runner!

I’ve read and re-read the Philip K. Dick book that inspired the movie, watched all of the many different versions of the film I could get my hands on (including those released on Betamax+LaserDisc), and closely followed all the rumors and hype leading up to the latest chapter of the saga which just recently premiered worldwide!

So to properly shepherd in the latest Sci-Fi Noir installment to a beloved and cult classic favorite of mine I rallied together a group of air-breathers to delight in the Android heavy Blade Runner 2049.

We headed to the Cinerama off Sunset whose 86-foot screen was the perfect backdrop for the frames to come. Together our group was 8 strong consisting of VIMBY editors, producers, a certain Post Production Supervisor, and even our fabulous Intern made it out for the night!

But we weren’t the only ones in attendance, Jared Leto, who plays the mysterious and “life-breathing” villain Niander Wallace joined the crowd! He shared a few words before the theater went dark and snapped a selfie with the audience too!

Overall the movie was one hell of a ride! The film did a great job paying homage to the original with its dark and gritty pallet, gross yet pretty cityscapes, and unmistakable floor shaking synth while being risky enough to tell a new story that wasn’t a copy paste of the original but still plays by the same rules.

Do yourself a favor and check it out in theaters so you can get the full experience, you won’t regret it!


Q&A with Ron Torres

If you’ve ever met Ron Torres you are well aware of 2 things:

  1. Ron is a passionate storyteller.
  2. Ron is a lover of life.

These two traits overlap so much so that it is no longer possible to differentiate between the two. They happen at all times, simultaneously!

So for those of you who are unfamiliar, here is a brief glimpse at the man that is Ron Torres.

All right, Ron, you know the drill, tell me who you are and what you do!

My name is Ron Torres. I am a nerd, a filmmaker, and an adventurer who travels across the country telling documentary stories in PJ, my camper van!

Before we catch up to Ron + PJ let’s back it up a little! Can you start off by telling me a little bit about how we first linked up? Take me to the beginning of Ron meets VIMBY…

I was living and working out of Idaho and already started developing some success within my state. I had a short mini-doc in festival circulation at that time and I believe I got a reference call for working with you guys! It just kind of fit perfectly with my career aspirations. I just freed up from doing corporate video and I had been working freelance for about 5 years and was looking for someone like VIMBY to collaborate with because I was very much into personalized documentary pieces.

And since then we’ve connected on some pretty fun projects together! Do have a favorite?

I really love the piece we did for Folgers! I think that video is a really great example of that “video in my backyard” mission statement you guys have. It was amazing how I was on the ground being active in the Boise community and was able to tell, not only the story that works for the brand, but also a story that the community can be proud of. It’s crazy how on so many small levels VIMBY has been there for me, to kind of guide me where my storytelling interests are eventually going to go, and yet at the end of the day, we are working with these incredible brands too!

I’ve actually had the pleasure of getting to work with you in Idaho, and it was a little difficult for me when it came time to say goodbye to Boise. What is it you love so much about your home state?

I’ve lived in Idaho my whole life. I love cultivating my talent and giving back to the place that I’ve called home for so long. I wanted to tell stories that felt like they gave a good backdrop to the Idaho experience, and I guess that’s why I stayed there for as long as I did because I love the stories I found there! I think that is the thing that became apparent after awhile though. I had stayed there long enough to be ready to accomplish telling stories similar to what I found in Idaho in other places.

When did that realization happen for you? When did you know it was time to go someplace new?

The decision for me to leave Boise and go nomad was kind of the result of what happened with doing the story on RITA. The refugee experience in Boise, Idaho was a topic of note in the city around the time when VIMBY approached me about highlighting a story from my backyard. To me, nothing represented “backyard” so well as addressing the refugee movement in Boise.

It was just crazy! When I very first met RITA, and it’s weird to say this, but you just know when someone is ready to tell their story! You can see in her confidence this kind of quiet strength. She had found her perspective on the refugee experience in Idaho and America at that moment.

The whole process was a whirlwind! Premiering in Los Angeles at the VIMBY Film Festival, then getting selected to the Sun Valley Festival (winning the Gem State Award), and getting selected at Tree Fort. It was incredible! Once we highlighted her story and saw the reach that it brought to the issue, it just made me very aware that there are probably stories like this all over the country. In a way, I hold myself accountable to find them, and so that’s what I’m doing.

So how does that work? Most people who have those sort of ideas don’t normally act on them.

I started really thinking about what I could do to free myself up to tell more stories like RITA. I had started exploring minimalism and from there I landed on the idea of Van Life. The light bulb went off and I was suddenly saying, “Wait a minute. Here is a way that I can tell stories anywhere!”

Starting December 25th of 2016 I decided to venture out into the world and live as a nomad. I live in a camper van and travel across the country doing a web series called RonVanLife. It starts out kind of as a VLOG and it’s kind of my story, but everywhere I go I end up finding a story that I feel exemplifies an empathy and element of the community that I’m visiting, similar to how RITA exemplifies Boise.

Tell me about your camper van PJ

PJ is a 1988 Chevy Horizon camper van. He has a propane stove, a workable toilet, and a workable shower. I always joke to people that PJ is my millennium falcon, Chewbacca and R2D2 all rolled into one! PJ has pretty much been maintained meticulously because before me it was owned by this incredible woman named Cathy Claybaugh. Cathy actually became my first documentary subject in the RonVanLife series.

And in your travels with PJ what are you hoping to find out there?

I think we are in a very interesting time in America where we are not noticing each other, and I feel like it’s not an obligation but it’s a great asset as a filmmaker and a storyteller to be able to be the bridge between cultures, to be the bridge between classes, to be the bridge between different political environments. I feel like it’s kind of our chance right now as storytellers in this Internet Era to go out and venture! Find the stories that are going to keep the country together and keep people thinking in a positive way rather than a negative way.

Now you’ve got this brand new lifestyle on your hands, tell me about it! Tell me about the good, the bad, and the weird!

Van Life is extraordinary! One thing we are very conscious of, as a Van Life community, is not portraying the lifestyle with rose-tinted glasses. It’s not the perfect life, in fact, it’s very imperfect. It can be very chaotic! But what that chaos does is it makes you hyper present in the moment of your life. Every moment. So that is both good and bad.

But the weird is weird. One example is just how I sleep. PJ has a couch that turns into a bed, and I kind of have this strange sleep habit of “turning over” about every 3 hours. I feel like a rotisserie chicken, I flip from side to side. It sounds uncomfortable but honestly, I sleep well, and I always wake up at morning dew. It’s like natures alarm clock!

What’s next for you and for RonVanLife?

Like anything, I’m always expecting the unexpected. I am on the tail end of my experience in the Pacific Northwest and look forward to what will be my journey as the seasons shift, and I, like any other natural migrating animal, head south for the winter!


Q&A with Ed Wu

One of my favorite parts about working at VIMBY is the people! I get to collaborate with talented filmmakers and creatives from all over the world, and together we tell stories. Often we are asked to shine a light on others but this week we’ll be spotlighting an old friend Ed Wu, whose first feature-length film, Sleight, just premiered nationwide.

Looking back on it you and VIMBY go way back, like all the way back! Could you remind me again how you and VIMBY started working with each other?

It’s kind of crazy to think that I’m one of the original people. I was in Indiana at the time at IU for undergrad, I was making videos and posting them on Vimeo, when Steve Seidel hit me up out of the blue. He was like, “We’re looking for filmmakers in Indiana,” and I was really interested because it was an opportunity for me to shoot and get paid to shoot! Super lucky thing to fall into.

What was the first VIMBY project you remember working on?

I believe it was From Bach to Black Sabbath.

It’s basically this piece about theses two guys I knew back home in New York who are electric violinists. They’re both classically trained violinists, one of which does more pop-y stuff, and the other one basically played metal on his electric violin. I played violin since I was 6, so I was really into the music community and they were the most interesting people.

Do you have a VIMBY story that sticks with you?

The biggest one is probably the one about Chance the dog. I remember walking into the house and seeing this dog like, “Oh yeah this is going to be pretty amazing because of how this story between this guy in a wheelchair and his dog who is in his wheelchair.”

I remember thinking that I could see this one blowing up, but I didn’t think that it would blow up to the point that it did. 80 million views across Facebook and YouTube, it was pretty crazy to see! It was really incredible to just meet those people, see their story, and then see the popularity of their story afterwards.

So you’ve got a signature hairstyle… Can you tell us why the “Wu-Hawk” and why is it always orange?

The orange came before the Wu-Hawk. I was infatuated with orange since I was like 12 or maybe younger. I love the vibrancy of it. All of High School I grew out my hair, and by freshman year of College it was down to my waist, so I never really had a normal haircut.

That Thanksgiving a  friend donated her hair to Locks of Love, and I was getting a little tired of the long hair so I decided to cut it off. I don’t think I had a specific reason to go with the Mohawk but that’s what I did. It was black at the time, but the natural progression was obviously to go orange because of my love for orange.

Who are some Cinematographers you admire?

Present-day, my favorite DPs are people at the top of their game. I really respect Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki, and if we’re going younger guys who are just breaking in or just killing it right now Bradford Young is my other favorite. Bradford Young because of his darkness.

I want to go dark when I shoot narrative movies. I think there is something about being in the shadows and just not revealing everything out front. I think a lot of people tend to go towards over lighting. I think there’s a good mystery of what is happening, questioning what’s happening and being able to feel that darkness basically.

As a student of Cinematography how would you say you’ve progressed throughout your career?

In the past, I guess 10 years, I would call myself a Cinematographer for 5 years. Cinematography is an art form and you have to be an artist. You also have to be a technician, and you have to be a businessperson.

From an Artistic level, I think it’s trying to find what I appreciate in cinematography. What movies do I enjoy watching? What about those movies do I like? Why do I like Emmanuel Lubezki? Why do I like Roger Deakins? Then trying to come up with my own way to tell a story.

Technically, I’ve learned what makes good lighting or what makes good camera movement. Learning what the elements of cinematography are and how do you get better at those. Where to place the light, where to place the camera.

I think being a businessperson comes down to managing people and the interpersonal relationships with everyone on set. A phrase that I use as a cinematographer, there’s above the line and there’s below the line, I would say the cinematographer is the line. Basically you’re playing the middleman between a lot of departments and a lot of different people. We’re all trying to get to one shared goal, but everyone is very different, especially project-to-project.

Let’s talk about Sleight. This is your first feature as a Cinematographer. How would you elevator pitch this movie?

Elevator pitch. This is why I’m in cinematography.

Alright, alright, I can respect that. Tell me, what is it about?

The film is about a teenager who lost his mom that’s got to make end’s meet and take care of his little sister. His name is Bo and he’s a street magician; that’s his love, that’s his passion. He does street magic to pay the bills, or try to pay the bills, but it’s not enough.

He ends up turning to drug dealing. It’s not typical drug dealing. It’s kind of like this world that… I don’t know. It’s a little more glamorous. He ends up making a couple of bad decisions trying to get ahead a little too fast and has to save his little sister Tina as a result. Sleight is a weird mash up of genres. It’s a coming-of-age, gangster crime thriller, science fiction, superhero origin story. Even though it’s got these sci-fi and magic element to it, it comes back to this human story.

Sleight made its premiere at Sundance, what was is it like experiencing that?

It was the first time that I’d seen the film with a crowd. It was crazy because at the end of the movie during the climax the entire audience was hooting and hollering. They’re all cheering for Bo, literally cheering for him! It was a full crowd that was on their feet rooting for the protagonist. It was a really cool experience.

If some dude who’s just about to graduate film school asked you for advice on becoming a DP, what would you tell them?

There are a lot of things I would say.

I think the one thing that’s in the top of my head right now, is know why you’re doing cinematography and why it’s your passion. Know the reason why you want to be in cinematography, or whatever element of filmmaking that you want to be in, because during the down times of your career or your life you need to know what that passion is because it will drive you forward to do what you love to do.