Bradford Young is rapidly becoming one of the most important and powerful voices for cinematographers. In the past decade, Young has lensed some of the most creative and beautiful indie features, including Ain't Them Bodies Saints,A Most Violent Year, and Selma. He is now more widely known for his mainstream Hollywood films like Arrival and Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Although still quite young, he’s been doing this for over 20 years and has a lot of incredible insights to share about his experiences.
Check out what he has to say in the video below.
One of the most important lessons he has to share with young filmmakers is that knowing who you are and where you come from is more important than anything else; more important than the camera, the script, or the story. He says that films are not just about creating images, it is a reflection of your own experiences and consciousness to share and reveal a story.
“Ask yourself real serious questions about who you are and the stories that you want to tell. If you don’t see yourself in the story, it’s probably not a story worth telling.”
He says that you as a filmmaker offer an interpretation of the world that you understand and want and that only you can tell your story. However, you have to be seasoned in life to form your own interpretations of the world. For example, when he was filming Arrival, he was thinking about the mortality of his own children, Denis Villeneuve’s [director of Arrival] children, and his own mortality. He was able to relate the story to his own experiences in life, offering his own personal and unique perspective in his cinematography.
Young also discusses another important topic on the notion of competition. There’s a lot of unspoken tension amongst filmmakers, especially in this social media era of boasting and promoting, which can create a harmful competitive edge amongst filmmakers. The temptation to constantly check Instagram to see friends or colleagues working on projects that you’re not on may become disappointing.
Young says that this is not a competition, but a way of life. You shouldn’t let this filmmaking process tell you that you are disposable because somebody else can do exactly what you can do. He says that only you can tell your story and that your vision is determined by the story you have.
“This is not a competition, this is life… it’s not a game. Take every opportunity to do your best. Don’t be distracted nor persuaded by somebody else’s opinion of what is and what isn’t. You are the only person who can determine what is and what isn’t. Your story is unlike anybody else's. It’s all about finding a safe space to tell your story," Young says.
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