LAPPG: As the Director of Cinema Sales at ZEISS, Americas you’ve been so busy over this quarantine helping to create some amazing educational content for the community. What were some of the highlights and where can we watch some of the webinars?
Snehal Patel: Yes thanks for asking! Our cinema team felt that the best way we could do something for the industry, was to offer education and conversations at a time where people were stuck at home or unable to do their regular gigs. That was the onus behind creating the #LearnFromHome hashtag and Conversations playlists on our regional YouTube Channel. To let people know we had stuff for them to watch and participate in. The main activity is a series of Zoom conversations with renowned cinematographers like Matty Libatique, ASC, Nancy Schreiber, ASC, Mihai Malamaire Jr., and many others. We schedule the conversations once a week and allow participants to join the call and ask questions during the Q & A. The quality of participants is very high and we always have lots of great questions asked to our guests. Anyone can be listening, by the way. It’s always surprising and nice to see some other “celeb” cinematographer listening in to the convo because they like hearing their friends talk about their work. It’s a lot of fun and very informative. Our team learns as much from the convos as anyone else.
Additionally we have a series of videos available to learn about topics like cinematic look, and a presentation about the new ZEISS Radiance lenses & the development of custom flares.
LAPPG: What’s some of the feedback that you’ve been receiving about the new ZEISS Supreme Prime Radiance Lenses?
SP: Cinematographers (DPs) that have filmed with them, really love the look the provide. You can see the results with shows like Fargo, Season 4 with Chris Rock. DP Dana Gonzales, ASC and other DPs that worked on the show, used the Radiance Lenses as the primary set for the whole season. Jon Joffin, ASC utilized the Radiance on the last two episodes of Freeform’s Motherland: Fort Salem. This show can be streamed on Hulu. Quite a few other DPs have used the lenses for feature films, television shows, music videos and commercials. These lenses have the beauty and pleasing characteristic of the Supreme Primes, but with the added flare characteristics that were scientifically designed to match amongst the set of seven focal lengths. There will be more exciting productions to come and we have extended the sale of the limited-edition Radiance lenses for a bit longer.
LAPPG: How have the Supreme Primes been doing over the last year – being used on various film and TV projects?
SP: The Supreme Primes are doing quite well as they are a popular choice for those that are utilizing ‘full frame’ type of sensors in cameras like the Alexa Mini LF, Sony Venice, RED Monstro and other cameras such as Panavision’s DXL2. The lenses are available in PL or LPL mount, making them compatible with not only the new sensor technology, but also for Super35 style cameras, both digital and analog. In terms of productions, the Supreme Primes are everywhere. There are plenty of feature films, television shows, commercials shot with these lenses. Our rental house customers are happy with the response from the market. You can catch a lot of trailers on our YouTube playlist. Be sure to check out HBO’s upcoming series Lovecraft Country, which was filmed with Supremes by Robert McLachlan, ASC and the other DPs on the show.
LAPPG: Aside from your day job, I know you’ve helped produce some exciting projects including the SXSW 2020 Special Jury Recognition Stucco. What was your biggest highlight for that project; and what other projects do you have on tap when production gets back in full swing?
SP: Stucco was certainly special for me because I got to work with an old friend. Janina Gavankar and I go way back and she had recently helped produce a short film for the ARRI Alexa LF camera. Since we had done projects together in the past, which were well received, I knew she probably had some idea up her sleeve. For ZEISS and RED, we needed a short film to highlight the in-camera recording of ZEISS XD lens metadata. It was a new feature for RED DSMC2 cameras, to be able to see and record extra information about lens shading and distortion characteristics for Visual Effects and other applications. Producing the short for both ZEISS, and as a personal passion project, was challenging for sure because I was much more involved than normal, but it was well worth it in the end. The film has a fantastic look, thanks to cinematographer Quyen Tran, and both the practical effects (that got us the SXSW award) and digital visual effects are seamless and quite well done. But nothing is important without a good story and that is where Janina and Russo, the writers and co-directors, really nailed it. Plus, Janina’s performance as the lead was quite good. The reception has been excellent at film festivals, and by now it has multiple features on streaming and online platforms. You can watch the film on the ALTER YouTube channel for free.
For ZEISS, I get to participate in multiple production projects when we create content to help promote our cinema lens solutions. I’ve worked with a lot of great directors and cinematographers in the past like when we recently produced a short film with Rodrigo Prieto, ASC for the Radiance lenses. A new, upcoming short this is really exciting for me is one created for the CP.3. It’s one that shows how these lenses can capture beauty and will be released soon through our marketing team. The film was shot by cinematographer Beth Napoli, who I have been trying to work with for a long time!
LAPPG: Although you’ve been working lots from home over the last few months, have you had the opportunity to explore or work on any side projects, or learn any new tools or techniques to help you as a filmmaker?
SP: Yes, one cool thing I did while at home is pick up my old Canon Super8mm camera and shoot a short film at home. Luckily, I live with an actor, so we put our ideas together and came up with a one minute short film called DateNite with her as the lead. It was like being back in film school because I limited myself to one roll of Super8 film from Pro8mm in Burbank. The film stock was Kodak 500T, cut and spooled into a Super8 cartridge. At 18 frames a second, you only get three and a half minutes of footage. Every shot had to be well planned and practiced before taking. We couldn’t afford to do more than two takes most of the time, as the film gets used up quickly. I took time with lighting and metering, as well as checking the focus like a million times. Using a tripod for most of the shots helped a lot. I used tungsten Fresnel lamps and a soft box for lighting. We shot over three separate days and took our time with the setups.
Pro8mm processed and scanned the film in 4K quality. I asked for ProRes files, but you can get uncompressed image sequences if you want. Editing was done in Adobe Premiere. The scan was not in log but a low-con version of Rec709. Which was great because I was able to add tone and contrast with the Lumetri color plugin. The colors came out nice in the end and I’m happy with cut, music and storytelling. It was such a great exercise to do because creating a short film from concept to reality with only yourself and one other person is challenging but so rewarding. It reminded me why I love this vocation so much and why I am in this profession.
LAPPG: You spend a lot of time with Directors of Photography in the business. What do you think are the attributes and skills that make someone successful in that field?
SP: Perseverance and endurance are the two qualities that I see in a lot of successful cinematographers (Directors of Photography). They are always trying to one up themselves and make their next project better than the last. At the same time, they know how to survive problems and keep going. They work hard in the trenches and oversee multiple teams on set and continue the fight for their vision in post-production. All this must be wrangled with finesse, while keeping an eye on the creative storytelling. It’s a tough job and takes quite a bit of energy.
The ones that keep at it, no matter the odds, will have more chances of success due to their sheer willpower. Plus, cinematographers are always learning. Their job is a combination of technical know-how and artistry, and they are always straddling the analog and digital worlds when combining lenses and cameras to form a package. They have a lot of choices to make when it comes to equipment, application and technique. In the end, nothing is done without people power, and the top DPs are great managers that follow their artistic instincts and know how to manipulate complicated equipment to get what they want.
LAPPG: What’s your advice for DP’s just starting out?
SP: Shoot stuff! Anything and everything. You must learn and practice for lifetime to be a cinematographer.
LAPPG: Where can the LAPPG community follow ZEISS on social to keep up-to-date with everything?
SP: You can find us at: