Academy Award-nominated DP Luke Geissbühler has perhaps one of the most diverse reels in the business today: he’s shot everything from the colorful Muppets movie, to the farcical Borat, to the stylized doc Helvetica, not to mention an insanely complex Chinese furniture store ad with OK GO who are known for today's most visually innovative music video offerings.
After over 25 feature films, 20 documentaries, and a bunch of prominent commercials, he has plenty of advice to offer up-and-coming cinematographers. Check out this profile from KitSplit and read our takeaways below:
1. Let different sets inform each other
While many cinematographers get comfortable in a specific niche, Geissbühler made a decision early on to take any job that interested him, even if it was wildly different from the last. He shares, “They're all different muscles and they really inform each other.” When shooting a doc, for example, “It's a solitary pursuit of the light and the moment, and you always have to be one step ahead and anticipate what what's going to happen and really put yourself in the subject's shoes and empathize and try to get those moments without being too invasive.”
In direct contrast to the intimacy and immediacy of shooting a doc, Geissbühler says that shooting a commercial or feature is “like a military campaign. You're prepping as well as you can and then you go in and try to execute that plan as best as you can, so it's completely different and you're managing time and people and equipment and schedules.” Despite their differences, you can learn skills on any set that can inform the others.
2. Design your method uniquely for each film
Though each project can inform the next, you also need to develop and tweak your approach to suit each individual project. And then there are projects like Borat—which Geissbühler calls “10% cinematography, 90% juvenile delinquency”—that just break the mold entirely, and you have to do the same.
The DP recalls, “I love designing the method for getting done what you need to do, and Borat was very unique in that respect because we really needed to completely rethink how a film is done.” The docu-fiction project was shot with the Panasonic Varicam and Canon zooms, and its greatest challenge was that “The subjects were never aware that we were actually doing what we were doing and so you pretty much had one take of the whole thing.”
3. Don't get frustrated—get better
Geissbühler acknowledges that it’s tough out there. “It's a very frustrating environment sometimes,” he muses, “especially if you're a little bit out of your depth.” He says that we should try to avoid getting defensive on set if we don't necessarily have expert knowledge of every last detail.
He adds, “We're all a little bit out of our depth at times and that's good because that's what makes us better …You could spend your life trying to master camera work. You could spend your life trying to master lighting. You could spend your life trying to master crew politics. There's kind of no end to how much you can work on them.” If that sounds like reason enough to get frustrated, take heed of his next words: “That's kind of great because you never become complacent. It can always get better.”
4. There's no need to overbuy gear
Geissbühler owns gear. A LOT of gear. Specifically, two or three tons of grip and electric and five cameras. In this case, his advice might be to not follow his lead, particularly since you can rent almost anything under the sun these days directly from its owner, over the internet. You can even rent Geissbühler’s own gear on KitSplit, and he encourages this: “If somebody contacts me and they want to rent it, I'm all for it. It should be utilized.”
Fortunately, KitSplit has offered the NFS community a discount to rent from Geissbühler or anyone else in its considerable pool. For a 10% discount on gear and camera rentals at kitsplit.com, enter the code NFS10 at checkout.
KitSplit is a community of tens of thousands of vetted filmmakers and companies renting gear to and from each other. Called “the AirBNB for creative equipment," KitSplit saves you time and money; you can search hundreds of vendors at once, buy shoot insurance on the spot and have gear delivered straight to your shoot. If you own gear, we make it safe and easy for you to earn extra money renting it out.