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Cinematographer-in-Residence: Mandy Walker ASC at UCLA

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CreativeCOW presents Cinematographer-in-Residence: Mandy Walker ASC at UCLA -- Cinematography Editorial


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Mentorship in the film and television industry is essential to getting fresh talent behind the camera and in the edit suite, and UCLA agrees: That's why they've declared Mandy Walker ASC, ACS, as their 2014 Kodak Cinematographer in Residence at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (UCLA TFT). Walker joins the program in its 15th year, with other great DPs such as Roger Deakins, Dean Cundey and Allen Daviau having taken part in years past.

Walker, known for her award-winning work on films like Australia, Red Riding Hood, and Tracks, became interested in cinematography from a young age. Beginning with still photography at age 12, she soon realized she could blend that love with her interest in movies (especially unusual and interesting cinematography) – so she did. After high school, she spent a brief time at university until a production runner job came up. Walker worked her way up in the camera department, shooting her first film at age 25. Walker will be working with students at UCLA TFT for the rest of the 2015 academic year, so I talked to her about her role as a mentor and DP, and how she approaches her work.



Creative COW: Why do you think educational experiences like this are important to the industry?

Mandy Walker, ASC, ACS
Mandy Walker, ASC, ACS
Mandy Walker: I think they're really important because you get such a varied opinion from people that are coming in like me who have had 25 years of experience. They have great lecturers [at UCLA TFT] now, and a fantastic faculty. It gives students a new point of view to have other people coming in from the outside.

This will be my first time teaching, but I have interns with me on movies and commercials all the time. I think it's really important to teach the next generation and show what you've learned from your own experiences. Now having a class, I'm really excited about it because I can reach so many more people.

When I was first starting out, a lot of information I found out was from talking to other people since I didn't go to a practical film school. How I found the information was by learning things from other people while shooting, and I want to be able to give that to other people.


What's the best way for someone to learn to be a cinematographer?

There are different ways of starting off. There's no right way. I chose the path that worked for me. I think people are learning by going to film school, or they're learning on their own like me. You have to be able to learn by doing and understand the importance of relationships you make at the beginning of your career later on. You have to be good at your job, but you have to be in touch with the right people to get continuing work.


What are the most important qualities for a cinematographer to have?

The most important part of my job is to help the director tell the story visually. And I do that as an artist and technician. It's not important to only make pretty pictures, it's important to tell the emotional journey of the characters in the story, create the right atmosphere, and tell the audience what is going on within the story by my images. As a technician, I have to understand how to get those images, and how to achieve an idea and to be able to run my camera department, being the boss of a lot of people and being responsible to the director. It's a big job, really.


What is your working relationship with a director?

I'm there to help them tell their story. Some directors will first talk to me with very clear ideas of their vision and be able to discuss ideas or lighting or camera movements they want. Other directors will come and want to figure that out together, or ask for my advice. Mainly it's a collaboration. I have to interpret their ideas into visual images. It's always different because directors are always different in how their convey their ideas to me. One of the things I really like about my job is how it's so different.


Can you tell me about a challenge you recently had to figure out as a DP?

With all the experience I have, pretty much everyone project I have is different and they all have challenges. One I had recently was on a film called Tracks that I shot in Australia.

We were shooting on film and we didn't have a huge budget. We were in the middle of nowhere in Australia, in the desert in the Outback. We didn't really have a lot of equipment. The director wanted it to look very pretty and beautiful, not gritty and documentary-like. My challenge was to do that without any equipment or generator or lighting setup. To work out how to set that up and shoot on film and anamorphic, it was a challenge to make an elegant beautiful movie without a lot of gear. I was really happy with how that turned out.


MIA WASIKOWSKA stars in TRACKS. Photo by Matt Nettheim. (c) 2014 The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved.
MIA WASIKOWSKA stars in TRACKS. Photo by Matt Nettheim. © 2014 The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved.


We had some night scenes in the desert with hardly any light. I had to work out a way to make it look beautiful and real while being able to tell what was going on and tell the story with the images. We used real fire light and lit the background so it faded to black.

There's a dramatic scene where a dog runs away and we did a lot of tests and ended up using a flashlight to light the dog running in and out of the light. I had a little battery powered light to bounce off her. It was very simple but looked beautiful and perfectly right for the scene, and I was really happy with that. It took me a while to work out how we were going to do that, but in the end it served the story well which is the most important thing for me.


MIA WASIKOWSKA stars in TRACKS. Photo by Matt Nettheim. (c) 2014 The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved.
MIA WASIKOWSKA stars in TRACKS. Photo by Matt Nettheim. © 2014 The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved.


There have been a lot of changes in the industry during your career. What changes are most exciting to you?

I just shot my first film on digital. All the other movies I've shot were on film. I've done some commercials and TV pilots [on digital] , but not a feature film. So that was a new and interesting experience for me, dealing with a new technology. Things are improving all the time and images are improving. Even lighting equipment is improving, with everyone moving into LED lighting. Remote kits, little drones and stuff like that is always changing and people are always inventing new things and I always find that exciting.






Title graphic: Mandy Walker in a workshop at the UCLA TFT.



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