Above Photo: Carmen behind the camera!
Greetings my esteemed readers,
Dan's Movie Report, your home for detailed exclusive interviews,
takes a behind the lens approach today with a insightful and informative interview from talented director of photography Carmen
Cabana. Carmen's latest project is 'The Chemist' and this is actually
part one of an interview, the second will post when her latest
project comes out of the shadows, trust me Carmen is one to watch,
enough of my babbling on, time to get the full picture with Carmen!
How were you approached to be
the DP of The Chemist?
I had worked previously with producer
Al Bravo on a feature film called '2 Bedroom 1 Bath' which we shot in
New Orleans. Al was now co producing the Chemist and he introduced me
to director Art Camacho. When I met him we immediately clicked. Art
has a tremendous presence and a very positive attitude plus he is a
very respected figure in the martial arts community so I was very
excited to work with him on The Chemist.
What were some of your other
duties on the production?
Like in any indie film one has a tittle
but we all switch hats and help in every way possible to make the
best film. I provided some of the props from my own home and I
purchased the specific type of flash lights that I needed to get the
right exposure in the opening sequence. Ha! Now that I am thinking
about it some of the wardrobe in the Blue Club sequence including the
dancing girls outfits and some of the patrons dresses were mine.
I think a film is a collective effort and if we can all contribute
even with the smallest things it makes for a better film and that is
a collective victory.
Now that you were able to see
the finished product, curious as to your thoughts.
I was very excited to see it all put
together. I love the vast amount of action sequences in the film and
of course the characters and the story. I think the editor Hector did
a great job and he complemented very well Art's vision. My biggest
fear is always post. That is the area where a film can be made or
destroyed. Fortunately in this case the film in my opinion works and
flows like it should be.
Of course there were many limitations
given the budget and time but I think the end result displays
everyone's effort and passion for this film and that very much is
attributed to the love that Art and the producers poured on the film.
I enjoyed particularly the great respect that the stunt team had for
Art and their willingness and eager attitude to do just about
anything blew me away. What a great team of people!
One of my favorite scenes is the
chase that ends up with one character dangling over the side of the
building. Describe how you formulated the scene in your mind and
worked it out on camera, was there a few takes, did you make it a
point to show the audience the smaller nuances as well as the big
During a location scout I saw the big
pile of junk by the side of the building and then it occurred to me
that it would be the perfect background to enhance the threatening
circumstance that the junkie boy was facing and it matched his own
character environment very well. Even though his role was small we
wanted to tell as much about him visually as we could so we carefully
crafted what his apartment would be like. The actor himself was
working on the art department and he really immersed himself in the
I think there are many small stories
within a story-line and we wanted each character's environment to
tell the audience something. One of my favorite sets was Trinidad's
apartment because it reflected her edginess and playful nature.
As you see I talk a lot about
Production Design because for a cinematographer that is a key aspect
of all the visuals and that is also what helps create the illusion of
a world that is not there. Unfortunately that is also the department
that suffers the most the budgetary restrictions. For instance none
of the clubs or bars we shot in the film were actual clubs and that
was the biggest challenge for everybody and for me particularly the
blue club was the most difficult because we had to hide so much to
make it look like an actual venue and we had the longest and most
complex flight sequences and shootout.
That is where we decided to use color
gels to give each bar a particular feel and to hide the fact that
most of them where white and near empty spaces.
Working with the actors, and Art,
describe some of the challenges in shooting the fight sequences and
some of the action in The Chemist.
I have to be honest, both the talent
and the director had plenty of passion and disposition to perform the
sequences. Particularly actresses Nina and Stephanie would practice
every chance they had and they both trained very hard. I rarely see
actors be as passionate as those two were and it was a great joy to
film them and work with them.
In the Chemist there are many action
sequences and each one is very different and therefore the challenges
of each were unique. I particularly enjoyed the Dojo sequence the
most because I grew up watching Chinese Martial arts films and I
always wanted to film an Asian style fight. Master Eric Lee was
incredible, very proficient and fast in performing the sequences that
Art Camacho and Stunt Coordinator Mario Rocha created. Master Samuel
Kwok was also a great asset and being a fan of Ip Man I loved his
You also have to understand the speed
at which we were working. Normally an action film would have weeks or
months of rehearsals, often such rehearsals would be shot and edited
so when the actual shoot day would come everyone would know what they
will do and where exactly they will do it. Normally the
cinematographer would have the opportunity to watch the rehearsals to
understand the choreography and pick the right angles and movements.
In The Chemist, often we would see the
action minutes or an hour (if we were lucky) before we had to film
it. And we also had to light and shoot very fast and wrap a fight
sequence in a matter of hours.
In situations like this is when one has
to trust the director the most and Art was of great help in guiding
everybody with precision as far as where they would have to be for a
hit to sell. Of course with so many moving elements, things would
change on the spot but for me it became an organic game of dancing
with the actors and also "feeling the action". For instance
on impact shots I felt the impulse to shake/push the camera forward
and bounce it back like a character's head would do. Or on power
punches I would leap forward as if the camera would continue the
move. When you start to feel the adrenaline you just don't want the
fun to stop. Kudos to Olivier, Steve, Nina, Stephanie and the stunt
team for their stamina!!
Art has a great working method as well
which is to shoot sectional Masters to establish the geography of a
choreography and then breakup all the important hits into separate
shots that would often be closeups.
But then again we had so many fight
sequences that we didn't want to repeat ourselves so we would vary
our approach. On the dojo for instance most of the
Samuel Kwok fight was shot on a Portajib that I operated and moved
very fast to follow the action. I liked that a lot because it gave us
other perspectives and the ability to go from high to low very fast
On the Parking Lot sequence in which
Olivier beats the rapist guys we saw the opportunity to capture it
all and sell all the hits in a single take and flow. We liked that a
lot and I found that to be the most fun because you are right there
with the fight and you are part of the choreography itself. Timing
and memory is everything in those situations. Even if in the edit
that sequence was fragmented to match the fast paced choppy style of
the whole film I still loved shooting it in that way.
Any scene stand out as
In fact one of my goals as a
cinematographer is to be able to perform much longer fluid masters in
action sequences. I think that is a great way to make a sequence as
realistic as possible and to get the audience to feel as if they are
part of the action. Of course that will require the proper
pre-production than on a larger budget we will be able to have. :)
Definitely the Blue Club sequence for
the reasons listed above. When you are shooting an action sequence
with so many characters doing simultaneous actions but with few
extras and so many limitations as far as where you can point your
camera because of the set then you have a problem that goes beyond
selling the action but it also becomes a matter of selling the set.
That location in particular was also a
problem for lighting because the ceiling was low and it didn't have
rigging points and ideally on a multi character sequence you want to
have your lighting to be as much off the ground as possible or to be
Problem was that we also wanted to
shoot a lot of the sequence in a 90 degree shutter angle and some of
it in slo mo and we would loose a lot of stops. So the practical
lighting was not enough.
I would have loved an additional day on that set but quite
honestly now that I see it all put together I think we pulled
it off and that is a relief.
We chatted about this before,
not many women in the DP role, I hope that it changes, what are some
ways to make that happen, in your opinion?
I am very surprised at the lack of
female cinematographers and quite honestly I don't understand why it
is that way when this is a job that involves creativity, technical
knowledge and people managing skills and both men and women can do
all those things equally.
The only interpretation I can find to this problem is that it is a
direct result of the cultural work discrimination that existed
towards women in the time of our parents especially in the film
industry and therefore even though there has been great improvements
in the matter of female rights and equality there is still a lot more
than needs to happen.
Chatting about the dark side of filming, do you still feel discrimination
in the business? Is it getting better?
On to the happier subjects,
favorite director, actor and actress, who would you like to work with
in the future.
I think it is getting better but
discrimination is an individual problem. There are some folks that
cannot accept the fact that women can do the same job as a man can.
At the same time there are many folks that are pro-women. I think it
depends on the individual and I personally hate generalizations. As
far as I am concerned I have had a prosperous career as a female
cinematographer and I have many people to thank for that including
both men and women. Yes I have encountered an idiot or two
in my path but that has never affected me or made me feel that I am
in a disadvantage at all.
Not to kiss ass but I would love to
work with Art and the producers of The Chemist again. They made me
feel like I was part of a family and not just part of a production
and that counts for lots. People like that are those that one is
willing to dive in head first to help them accomplish just about
Yes you would be great in Asia! Speaking of favorites, share
some additional thoughts on working with Nina and Steph in The
Chemist, must have been fun to watch the ladies mix it up? Especially from behind the Camera!
I have a private wish list as far as
directors I would love to work with in the future including Gareth
Evans who directed The Raid and I am a big fan of Korean action
thrillers so I must list Jeong Beom Lee (The Man from Nowhere) and of
course Chan Wook Park (Oldboy) and Jee Woo Kim (I Saw the Devil). I
would also love to have Donnie Yen and Byung Hun Lee in front of my
Those two are warriors and very
committed to their craft. I love and respect them both tremendously.
It is also amazing that they are both singers. They had great
chemistry and endless energy. They always wanted to do more and they
loved Art very much and so do I. If it was up to us we would have
loved a six month shoot as long as we could work with Art everyday.
Actress Nina Bergman and I have also
been working on pre-production of a fascinating subject action
thriller based on her personal story and her fight for Animal Rights.
I think she is a multi-talented individual and a beautiful person
inside and out.Both Nina and Stephanie are actresses I would
recommend with my eyes closed.
To shift gears with regards to
your thoughts on your craft, if offered a DP part in a huge film for
gobs of money, at the same time, offered a cool indie project with a
script and director you really wanted to work for, which project
would you choose, or case by case.
Definitely a cool Indie Project with a
script and team I can love. When you work under those parameters
everyday is rewarding and full of joy and that is what life to me is
I am a people person. I love people,
specially good hearted people. Films that mean something to special
people are special films. Fortunately for me there have been people I
have worked under those parameters and they are forever part of my
I have also worked on bigger
productions like the one I am working on right now and when a
production is so big the corporate rules, politics and limitations
can be somewhat draining on the spirit.
Of course there are also many
advantages and some really fantastic people like our stunt
coordinator Markos Rounthwaite who is amazing and a very kind local
crew, but I personally rather work in smaller productions in which I
can have more involvement and you don't have to run an idea past 20
heads to get anything approved.
In fact my husband Eric St John and I
started our own production company this year called Foxridge Films,
LLC and we have acquired 3 action screenplays that we plan to produce
in the near future. My husband is a great actor, a graduate of The
Academy of Dramatic Arts NY and a talented and disciplined Martial
I believe firmly that we will make some
terrific films and that will be a great opportunity to collaborate
with some of my favorite people from past productions. In the long term my goal is to be a
Cinematographer/Producer so that I can find the script I want to
shoot along with the right director and have more control over the
final product. I am naturally good with numbers and logistics so I
think this would be a good combination and I will be even happier
choosing the material I want to shoot.
I agree with you, thus I run
Dan's Movie Report myself, and I consult myself with regards on who
to interview, occasionally over ruling myself, and admonishing
myself. Seriously though, I try to pick the intellectual individuals
in diverse areas of film who actually have something to say, and
Carmen, you blew me away with your detailed answers. Any final
thoughts, advice for people wanting to be a DP in the future?
Learn your craft, stay updated and most
importantly understand that being a Dp represents being the right
hand of a director and therefore you must be a chameleon and be able
to adapt to any style, and also be receptive, and understand that
when there is no budget for something that is just part of life and
not something to cry over. This job is not about pleasing one's own
aesthetics but it is about performing a very important service: to
translate on camera what another person has in mind. Also work hard
on developing people managing skills because this is a team effort
and every crew member is crucial and finally Time Efficiency. In my
world which is the Indie world time is what we least have and to me
the biggest failure is an incomplete film.
I have done features in 7 days, 15, 18
and 28 days, and they have all been completed on time.
Of course I would have loved to have more time in all of them
because time allows you to do higher quality things but ultimately
the task is to tell a story in a complete form and to be able to sell
it so in the larger scale individual shots are not the priority. To
get a film to be out in the world and be seen by an audience, that is
the goal and when the audience loves it that is the reward.
Thanks Carmen, kept it basic, we
will discuss the other material when you come back to the states, for
my valued readers, just wait till I unleash Carmen interview part 2
in 2016! Get ready for more on Carmen! For More info and to connect with Carmen for your film project go to her official website @ http://www.carmencabana.com/
Thank you Danny!!!!!