Our next department profile centers on the rocking camera team that is giving Motivational Growth its striking visual appeal. Director of Photography Bliss Holloway (website), his assistant camera, Nate Spengler, and 2nd assistant camera, Killian Blount, all answered a few questions for us.
Q. So, How did you get started in the ‘biz’?
Bliss: I have always wanted to make movies. From the time I was a child, I started making short films on my parent’s VHS video camera. However, my educational background is in political science. I studied International Relations at the American University of Rome, and upon graduation, I had a 6 month internship with the Italian Chamber of Deputies…that’s their Lower House of Parliament. I got started working in film when I realized that as much as I enjoyed studying political science, I didn’t want to work in politics. My first job in the “biz” was as a Production Assistant for CNN International. They hired me to help them cover the death of Pope John Paul II, and the subsequent election of Pope Benedict.
Nate: I went to SUNY Purchase Film Conservatory, where I got a BFA in Film Production. In the program, we wrote-directed-edited our own shorts. After graduating I moved to NYC and worked for a G&E (Grip and Electric)/Camera rental house for a little less than a year. After that job, I started trying to freelance as an A.C. and have been doing that for a year and a half.
Killian: I’ve been interested in filmmaking my whole life and mostly grew up on Lucas and Spielberg, who had “making-of” documentaries out on their films, so I got even more interested. I started out doing short films for a high school film theory class, “one-man-banding” them usually, and began growing more elaborate with them. I ended up producing, writing, directing, lighting, camera op’ing, voice-over narrating, and doing practical effects for a German Horror-folktale adaptation of “Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher.” It wasn’t terrible.
Q. How did you come to work on Motivational Growth?
Bliss: Phil Plowden (1st AD) first contacted me about working on Motivational Growth. He had been attached to the project for a couple months already, and he asked me if I would be available to come in and replace the original camera team. With a bit of negotiation, we were able to make it happen. I should note that Phil and I were close friends in middle school…almost 20 years ago! We’ve never had the opportunity to work together, but have been aware of each other’s presence in the film world for the past year or two.
Nate: I was hired by Bliss, the DP. He called me when he got the job, looking for an A.C. I worked with him last summer on a short film, a period piece, shot guerilla style in the woods in the catskills.
Killian: I applied to a craigslist ad for work on Motivational Growth. I worked 2 days filling in as 1st A.C. under the previous D.P. and was hired on fulltime as 2nd A.C. after that.
Q. Tell me about the camera equipment you are using.
Bliss: We are shooting Motivational Growth on the Canon 5D Mark II, which is a new animal for me. I am used to working with bigger, more “film-oriented” cameras, so there has been a learning curve. I have found that there are a few limitations, but also some tremendous advantages to shooting a feature on DSLR. For one thing, this being an indie film, the small size and weight of the camera has allowed us to orchestrate some very complex and complicated shots that might have been too difficult to do with a larger camera on this budget. As to image quality, I have been very satisfied with the results on the 5D…we’ll see how it holds up in post .
Nate: We’re using a Canon 5D still camera, plus a bunch of accessories that make it more or less usable as a movie camera.
Killian: The slate is digital and is linked to the time code used by both the 5D Mark ii or 7D (our “B” camera) and the sound equipment. Jamila and Ben [of the sound dept.] are both very knowledgeable and jam the slate before I even need to ask. But Mallory [wardrobe dept. head] and the rest of the women on set seem to like the “baby slate” more because they think the small size of the insert slate is “cute.”
Q. What are some of the cool projects that you worked on before this film?
Bliss: I have worked on all kinds of projects in my career as a cinematographer. This year my most interesting experience was on a documentary for National Geographic Television. I was sent down to the southernmost tip of Louisiana to shoot a film about the impact of the BP Oil Spill on local fishermen and shrimpers. We spent 3 weeks embedded with the community and families of these remarkable people, and really lived their experience first-hand…overnight fishing trips, negotiations with BP executives, oil clean-up with the Coast Guard…we did it all!
Other cool notable projects include a feature film in Hyderabad, India; a documentary in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba; a feature film in the desert of Arizona…in August! I’ll do almost anything, if the experience is challenging and exciting!
Nate: The past summer I worked on two projects, involving puppets that were fun. One was a McDonalds UK commercial that used real Muppets and veteran operators. It was a Muppet Brahms conducting a symphony played by kitchen appliances with practical effects. The other was a Chris Garneau music video using marionettes all in a set with a jib arm. So it had the appearance of a giant Technocrane moving through a forest, but it was a miniature set and a puppet.
Killian: After High School, I honed my skills for a year at Flashpoint Academy, before withdrawing to work directly in the field. I key-gripped an independent horror-comedy, “King of the Dead,” which unfortunately concluded shooting prematurely.
Q. What’s the hardest part of shooting Motivational Growth?
Bliss: For me the most difficult part of shooting Motivational Growth has been acclimating to the speed at which we’ve had to work. We are doing a lot of complex camera maneuvering, massive set changes, special affects, alien make-up, etc…all of which take a lot of time. Sometimes I get frustrated that we can’t move faster, but at the end of the day, all the elements are coming together for a piece that I feel is visually stunning, so I can’t really complain.
Nate: The hardest part is using still lenses that are not designed for following focus, and a jib that is not designed to replicate moves reliably. The thing is, we are doing intricate sequence shots on a jib arm mounted on a dolly and the jib is likely to be slightly off because of its design, so it’s tough.
Killian: The hardest part of shooting this is trying to not seem ridiculously excited. This film has so much cool stuff every day, from complex floaty camera moves to talking [REDACTED], to blood canons, to puke, to aliens, and absolutely bizarre and wonderful crew members.
Q. What kind of shots are you working into the film?
Bliss: As I’ve said a couple of times already, we are working a lot of fun and interesting tracking shots, jib/dolly shots, and effects shots into the film. I feel like I could write a book about all of them at this point, but I think I’ll maintain the mystery of what’s to come for when there is an audience in the seats. What I will say is that Nate Spengler, my 1st AC, is an extraordinary talent. I have also had exceptional Electrical, Grip, and Dolly/Jib teams. All these guys have been willing to push 110% to give me what I want without any compromises. Everything cool that appears on screen is as much theirs as it is mine.
Killian: The shots are a nice variety of complex jib and dolly moves, optical effects, hand-held lunacy, and good old fashioned sticks.
Q. How is it working with Don?
Bliss: Don and I have had a wonderful working relationship on this project. From the first moment we hit the set together, it was clear that we had a similar vision for this film. I first proposed a very top-down, drab lighting scenario for the living room, in order to sink the eyeballs and enhance the elements of Ian’s sick nature. Don jumped on that idea, and, I believe, began to trust me as he started to see that choice work out visually. On the shot formation side of things, he has challenged me to orchestrate shots and scenarios that blow other films of this budget level out of the water. I feel that I have been encouraged to contribute my ideas for the project, and to push the limits of what I thought was possible given our constraints.
Nate: Don is a good-natured and sincere guy, so it’s fine working with him. Usually in my position, you don’t talk to the director – you’re right there by the camera where decisions are being made, so one doesn’t want to be distracting. So he throws me off sometimes, but it’s all good.
Killian: Don is a great director who jokes around just as much as anyone. He’s very easy to work with, and knows exactly what he wants. He’s surrounded himself with a like-minded crew who he makes sure wants to be here just as much as he does. This film is his success.
8 – Any interesting stories from the set?
Bliss: I feel more at home on a film set than almost anywhere. There is a whole life and camaraderie that develops between people who spend 12+ hours a day and 6 days a week working towards the same goal together. Undoubtedly, a lot of interesting, exciting, exhilarating stuff happens, but I don’t really talk about it.
Killian: Not really.
9 – How do you feel about this production, overall?
Bliss: Overall, I have been very happy and excited to work on Motivational Growth. I feel that we have been able to execute a very grand vision for this script, especially in light of the limited budget that it was pulled together on. Everyone involved has given it their all, and every department has executed their task brilliantly. I couldn’t be more pleased.
Nate: Everyone on the crew is really nice, and working on the film has given me the opportunity to visit Chicago for the first time, so it’s been enjoyable. I’ve been surprised how much I’ve liked living here.
Killian: This film is going to be so crazy when it comes out and I can’t be more happy to have my name in the credits.
10 – Anything else you’d like to mention?
Bliss: If there is anything else I feel is really important to mention, it is the incredible work of Rae Deslich (Production Designer) and her team. Rae has designed and built some fabulous sets, complete with flying walls and beautifully gritty art decoration, allowing us to make the most of this film’s core visually. I’ve been consistently blown away by how great everything looks…it makes my job a lot easier.
11. What is your favorite movie?
Bliss: Some Like It Hot…or, The Sting.
Nate: Chungking Express, or High and Low.
Killian: Top 5: Dead Alive, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Videodrome, The Godfather, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
12. What do you do besides work on set?
Bliss: When I’m not on set, I try to spend as much time with friends and family as possible. It is very often that I am traveling for work, so I don’t get to see my friends in New York except after long periods of time. I also have 3 brothers and a sister, and we are all very close. We are spread out all over the globe, so when I get time off I often try to visit them.
Nate: I write short fiction, although I’ve been very lazy this year and have barely got anything done. My friends and I used to have a writer’s workshop named after the third Nightmare on Elm Street sequel (Dream Warriors), but it’s currently inactive. Also, I play guitar as myself and drums in a band called Baby Erection. It’s noisy rock and roll music, check it out at: myspace.com/babyerectionboogie.
Killian: I work government contracting in the DC metro area as a Data/Fiber tech 2 and try to find time to work on my own projects.
Photos by Oomphotography(thanks!)