This week the Newport Beach Film Festival kicked off its 20th year, celebrating film, passion, and art. It was the first time Awards Daily has covered the event, so we departed LA for Newport Beach eager to check out the festivities. From April 25 to May 2, over 350 films are showcased with over 55,000 people descending into the scenic town to watch films, attend seminars, and network at industry get-togethers.
The first port of call was Variety’s Ten to Watch Seminar. The event, free to budding filmmakers, is an annual festival highlight, celebrating behind-the-camera artistry. The Civic Center was packed to the brim as young film students got the chance to absorb the wit and wisdom of a panel of prominent cinematographers, including Jessica Lee Gagne (Escape at Dannemora, Sweet Virginia), Nick Remy Matthews (Hotel Mumbai), Matt Mitchell (Little Woods, Made from America), Eric Branco (Stay Cold, Stay Hungry, Emerald City), Quyen Tran (Pali Road, Here and Now, The Little Hours), and Christopher Aoun (Capernaum, Ismaii).
When asked what attracted them to become cinematographers, Aoun said, “It was the people factor” that drew him into the craft. The Capernaum cinematographer left Beirut as a teenager to study film in Germany, and returned to Beirut to work on commercials and documentaries. Aoun said he worked with director Nadie Labaki and they shot over 500 hours before the film was edited down to two hours.
Branco, who shot the prison drama film Clemency that screened at Sundance and is set to open later this year, agreed and elaborated on what Auon discussed, “Cinematography is the purest form of storytelling.”
Gagne said she has naturally always been drawn to the camera and added that she enjoys working with the production designer to “create an environment.”
Matt Mitchell said, “Images speak directly to me and I was drawn to images.”
Quyen recalled watching “I Love Lucy” as a child and said that “images transcend culture.” Growing up not speaking English as her first language, Quyen said that those images also “transcend language and I wanted to share that emotional experience.” Nick Matthews similarly said that he had a “passion for storytelling,” and the visual aspect attracted him to cinematography.
The panel discussed meeting directors for the first time and the conversations they have had.
Branco says “the first meeting is to see if there is an overlap in emotional space between you and the director.” He added, “My first step when breaking down a film is to create three or four rules that we won’t violate while shooting the movie.”
Both Quyen and Matt said what’s important to them is seeing eye to eye with the director and making sure you’re on the same page.
Though most of the panel had learned how to shoot on film, as versatile cinematographers they discussed the technical aspects of working with digital, as well.
Mitchell told the audience, “I’ve shot more on film in the last two years than in the last ten years” talking about film’s resurgence.
Eric talked about the advantages he sees in working with digital. “Digital is empowering. I can see in real time what I’m doing.” Film, he says, “gives you a sense of the framing, but seeing your images in realtime is more helpful.”
Gagne, who shot on digital for Showtime’s Escape From Dannemora, says director Ben Stiller wanted to shoot on film but she was glad they didn’t. She explained to the audience that without the flexibility of digital it would have been impossible to shoot some of the scenes in the series, including the yard scenes.
Asked about advice for the audience who wanted to become DP’s, the consensus suggestion was to build strong relationships and call people you know. Quyen ended the seminar by saying, “Surround yourself with people who are good at their jobs.”
— @jazzt (@jazzt) April 27, 2019
The workshop was followed by Quyen Tran leading a seminar titled ZEISS Cinema Lenses Presents: “Full-Frame Cinematography is here to stay.” She walked the audience through technology advances with ZEISS lenses and spoke about how to elevate the art of cinematography.
It was then on to the awards presentation, followed by a screening of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
— @jazzt (@jazzt) April 28, 2019
To see what’s playing at the Newport Beach Film Festival, visit their website.