Robert New is a cinematographer, director and producer – with work spanning five decades in TV and Film. Robert’s TV credits include Smallville and Blade, but his film credit for Paper Moon Affair caught my eye. I took the opportunity to ask Robert 10 Q’s on his extensive experience in the film industry.
What sparked your interest in becoming a cinematographer?
I had always been in love with films and their power to communicate when I began studying art and photography, it just naturally lead me to film making and my first job at a small documentary film company in Toronto where I learned all about the process and what went into a film. Being a visually oriented person I gravitated to the camera and at first I learned how to shoot an animation stand and then came the odd ‘B’ roll shoot then I got into shooting documentaries.
How did your career develop – was it from TV to film?
I shot documentaries to begin with at two different film companies and then freelance at a third before I got to shoot my first 30 minute drama which then lead to longer dramas for TV and then eventually I got the opportunity to shoot my first 35mm feature film which of course lead to other feature films with bigger budgets and better equipment.
What are the key components to being a successful cinematographer – what are the main challenges?
You have to start by being a collaborator with your fellow crew and especially with the director. The better you can get to know the director and his vision for the film before principle photography begins the better the chance you have of succeeding at making the best film possible. Also a huge challenge is in the preproduction period because this is the time you get to set up the entire film by breaking down the script and locations to know exactly how the scenes will play out and what if any extra equipment you may need. It’s the time when you confer and share notes with the Production Designer about the sets he is planning to build and how to make them work best for the story and your lighting scheme.
How many teams do you have to oversee on set?
As the Director of Photography on a feature film you would be responsible for the hiring of three different departments namely camera, grip and electric.
Can you list any films in which you have seen the perfect combination of lighting and visual imagery – is this displayed better in any particular genre?
I think the baseball film ‘The Natural’ is a good example of how far the lighting and visuals can go in telling a great story. The incessant rain and darkness in the genre picture ‘Seven’ are integral in telling the creepy story of a desperate psychopath. The scope, power and sparse beauty of the haunting visuals in a film like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ creates a world that transports us to another time and place. These films and others like them show us how completely despite genre the power of the visuals can influence our thoughts and emotions.
From the films that you have worked on – which one stands out as your defining piece of work?
It’s hard to say that any one film defines you because every movie presents such a varying set of circumstances that I am hard pressed to select just one film. Maybe it’s because I have not yet shot the one film that will define me.
For overseas shoots – are there any additional challenges?
Well for sure a foreign language and the crew that speaks it would qualify as an additional challenge. But having said that the international language of film or cinema in general is surprisingly homogenous when you travel abroad and therefore allows us to communicate in a manner that always surprises. When you share the long held traditions of movie making it becomes apparent that the cultural differences can quickly meld into one.
Is there a location you haven’t filmed that you would like to – and why?
I think you always think the next one will be the best one but for sure I often judge films by the ambiance of their locations. One cannot underestimate the importance of location selection in the film making process. They represent and reflect the story you are telling and the characters that inhabit it. That said I have been to several places in Europe that would be intriguing but my favourite would have to be Venice, Italy for its strange mix of the beautiful and the bizarre. What a great setting for the right story.
I will be reviewing the film Paper Moon Affair shortly on this blog as part of my John Lone film reviews – can you share any memories of working on this film?
I remember shooting Paper Moon Affair at a number of very beautiful locations in Mission, Tofino and Bowen Island so for me it was a joy to tell this story in visual terms and we were blessed with a crew that was able to make a film of meagre budget and schedule into something much bigger that eventually lead to 10 Leo award nominations and a final celebration to end all.
Finally, is there any words of wisdom that you could give anyone wanting to be a cinematographer?
Everyone seems to come to cinematography in a different way so there is no guaranteed route to the art form but because of the collaborative nature of the work it can be extraordinarily fulfilling. Many very good DOPs come from the lighting department which can certainly help when you’re called upon to light up a set or location but part of being a cinematographer is being open to new ideas and equipment. Paper Moon for me was the first time I had shot a film in the new digital format so that it became a learning process and a new experiential challenge which quite frankly will never change if you decide cinematography is for you.
Bob, thank you so much for your time and may I wish you all the best with your upcoming projects.
My review of Paper Moon Affair is coming shortly…