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A DP's Perspective: Read Before Rolling
- Friday, Oct. 25, 2019
Capturing “the perfect shot” is a dangerous quest. High-speed chases, heavy machinery, and enough high voltage electricity to fry a city block aside, there’s plenty of pitfalls. The biggest enemy? It’s the lure of the immortal image. The Sir Galahad-like desire to get the ideal shot pushes many to immerse the camera and themselves into some of the darkest situations. I would know. I’ve almost lost my life for a nirvana-worthy shot. Here’s a dissection of my near misses and why, despite the dangers, I’m still shooting.
First up? Cleveland’s Puerto Rican festival. Helming my debut feature, I climbed the platform of a carnival carousel for slo-mo shots. Before I could roll, a gang charged the crowd. Guns appeared and shots rang out. Panic set in and instead of shooting a movie, we were in one. Next obstacle on this quest for visual perfection? West Virginia Amish country. This was an off the books shoot to Skatetopia, a nihilistic skateboard commune. First visual? Naked bodies orgying in the mud. Then a dog ran by, a firecracker tied to its tail as an old car exploded into flames.
Out of nowhere, kids in tree houses yelled “Shoot the camera!” and roman candles zipped towards us. For a moment I laughed. I was shooting them and they were shooting me. Then a beer can clocked me in the jaw. Spitting blood, a familiar question bubbled up. “What was the cost of the perfect shot?” On Netflix’s doc-series Fire Chasers, I got my answer. Trapped in a California ravine facing the steamrolling front of the Blue Cut wildfire, towering flames smoked across our safety zone. The sneak attack fire encircled us in a pig pen. Visibility crept down to a few inches and breathable oxygen disappeared. We peered helplessly as our nearby production vehicle melted in seconds. In a conflagration of hell fire, I finally had my answer. Chasing the perfect shot--was going to kill me.
Why go to such lengths for the cause of capturing a perfect shot? The answer is that the quest for the perfect shot makes you a modern day explorer. With a camera in hand, the world is an open book. It’s the opportunity to create a transcendent image that can help thousands, even millions see a new perspective. For all the chaos behind the lens, the stories told through them far outweighs it. It’s how humankind still communicates. We reflect on the unknown, and then we shoot and we share. Through that process we make more sense of a mysterious world and perhaps a better place. And that my friend, is worth the price. Dangerous or not, that’s why I keep chasing the perfect shot.
Cinematographer Steven Holleran is a 33-year-old adventure filmmaker. Among his credits is the The Obituary of Tunde Johnson, director Ali LeRoi’s feature which recently premiered in the Discovery category of the Toronto International Film Festival.