Cinematographer Profile: Evan Prosofsky

Posted by Doug Klinger on October 19, 2012 in Interviews

Staff Post

Evan Prosofsky

The director of photography is often an unsung hero of the music videos process. While it can be argued that pretty much anyone who isn’t Rihanna is an unsung hero of the music video process, no position is so vital to the success of a music video, but so often unacknowledged, than the DP. The general public might not know who directed every music video they watch, but they at least know what the director did. Unless they went to film school, or for some reason independently studied the film process, most of the people out there scrolling through the sweetest new music vids are having too much fun enjoying the sweet vid to realize who or what made that vid so sweet. With this new blog series, we aim to change that. 

We begin the series with DP Evan Prosofsky, who earlier this year, along with his friend and frequent collaborator director Emily Kai Bock, caught everyone’s attention with "Oblivion” by Grimes

Grimes “Oblivion” Directed by Emily Kai Bock

Doug: The first video I saw of yours was the “Oblivion” video. At that point, where were most of your jobs coming from?

Evan: Really from nowhere. That was probably my first real job. I’d moved to Montreal, and I considered myself a DP, but I was shooting tiny things. I grew up in the prairies in Edmonton, and I was shooting tiny little things there. It was work I could get for friends or jobs that I wouldn’t advertise on-line, like commercial jobs, or things like that. When I moved to Montreal, I met Emily and Montreal is a really small scene and you quickly meet people that are like-minded, and we both were just really starving to do something. And then it’s that whole story of I had some grant money lying around from a film I was making, and I had a membership at this place we could rent a 35mm camera for really cheap. We just kind of invested our money into it and tried to make something happen, so that was like my first real job and it wasn’t even really a job.

Doug: Can you chronicle what has changed since its release?

Evan: It was crazy, it was like a waterfall. The video got a lot of views, probably in part because it was on Vevo and it was promoted well and all those things, and so the video came out and got a couple million views and I just started getting a lot of offers through that. I guess the first big thing was Emily and I were commissioned to do a video for an artist called Sebastian Schuller, and we got to go down to Miami and shoot for two weeks. That was really fun. Ever since then I guess it’s kind of just slowly been progressing more and more. 

Doug: You and Emily worked together on the “Oblivion” video, and then as her jobs grew, that obviously meant your jobs grew. Was it soon after that when other directors starting approaching you to work with them?

Evan: Yeah, it’s all really been through Emily. I’m just so lucky because Emily got signed to some pretty cool production companies, and I guess it’s just a really small world. This whole last year I’ve just been meeting all of the directors on her production companies and getting work that way. Yeah, it’s just a really small world. I’m in New York right now and we went to a a Logan & Sons screening last night. I met a few directors from Logan and like that will get me a job right there if they happen to like my work with Emily. A lot of the younger guys on Some Such and Logan I’ve been lucky enough to work with. I was just in London shooting that Bat for Lashes video. Noel Paul from That Go, he was the first bigger director that I got a job from besides Emily. A lot of my work goes through Emily. But yeah, it’s all through that small world.

Bat for Lashes “All Your Gold” Directed by Noel Paul

Doug: Do you find that music videos are able to be a career launching point, not just for directors, not just for artists, but for all crew members, top to bottom, who work on music videos?

Evan: I don’t know about top to bottom, and that’s what’s sad. The nature of these things is there’s just so much work to do, and there’s just so many people that go uncredited. I’m not sure I could say safely that a PA helping out on a music video is going to get very much on-site experience because they’re just doing the work, basically slave labor. They’re picking up all the camera gear, driving around, doing horrible tasks. Laying out food for craft services. They don’t really get to hang out on set, and it’s really shitty. Something needs to change in that regard because people aren’t learning as much as they could, and a lot of people get taken advantage of still, but I think for DPs and for people that kind of have their hand in the bag a bit deeper, like directors and DPs, it’s a really good way to get experience and launch. It’s a good launching pad, I think, because everyone says that it’s a four-minute short film that you have to make, and if you can do an alright job, then that kind of shows the other people in the industry that you can do features and that kind of thing, and I think those offers can come through that. I’ve definitely gotten a lot of commercial work because of the Grimes video that I don’t think I would’ve gotten without it, because people think “oh, you shoot women, oh, you’ve filmed Claire, you’ve filmed Grimes, and you’ve made her look pretty, that must mean you can do a fashion film.” It’s definitely a good way for DPs to get work for sure because you can showcase a lot of things in four minutes that you can do, so it’s really fun in that regard.

Doug: You have a personal relationship with Emily, you guys are friends, but that’s not necessarily true with some of these new directors who you are working with. Is the process much different when working with someone who you don’t know personally compared to someone that you do?

Evan: It is. It starts out more cordial for sure. There are jobs that I work on where I’ve only talked to the director on the phone once before we shoot, and if I was shooting something with Emily, I’d be at her house every day, nerding out. We’d be watching music videos together, we’d be watching movies, we’d be talking about it, we’d be like going out for lunch. Obviously, part of it is because now I work with directors from all over, but I think that there’s definitely a big divide between sort of the younger generation and maybe people that are a bit more established where it’s not a preparation thing even, maybe it’s just because they’re more established and they don’t feel the need to do as much prep, they’re just prepared at all time or something. I don’t know what it is, but definitely with the younger directors it’s really nice. I find that it’s kind of like meeting another brother. It’s cheesy, but we’re all film nerds. Like Noel who I just worked with in London, I met him and now he’s a friend, too, and I think it’s the same working relationship as I’d have with Emily. I could call him at any time of the day and talk to him and I can beg him for jobs if I hear he gets some cool offer for a music video and stuff. Where as now, there are directors that I work with that I could never call him. I don’t even have their phone number. I’ll show up on set and that’ll be the first time I’ve ever met them.

Doug: Does that slow things down?

Evan: It does slow things down. I think there’s a bit of guilt that comes into it, too, which isn’t healthy. But as far as like the director-DP relationships go, you often see the same director working with the same DP a lot and a lot and a lot, and I think the main reason is because you get that vocabulary down and you can work quickly together. Like with Emily now for instance, on the Grizzly Bear video, she had a couple references and stuff, but we didn’t really need to talk about it too much once we were there on set. I would just be like you want this to look like the Gregory Crewdson photos, and she’d be like yeah, exactly. I’d be like okay, done. Whereas with someone I've never worked with before, on set, I can be more frustrating because we’re going to want to get a shot and I’m going to ask him something simple like okay, so how do you see the light, or how do you see the color palette, or how do you see this, and since we don’t have a working relationship, we don't necessarily share the same reference points yet. When Emily tell me something, I get it. I can bypass all the bullshit and I know better what she meant, so I think yeah, for sure, when you have a working relationship with someone it’s way better because you can take more risks, like with Emily, there was a couple shots in the Grizzly Bear video that I fucked up, and if she knows that and I have to say “I’m not sure if I can do this, but like let me try. I don’t know if it’s going to work, I might waste like an hour.” Which on a music video is significant. We only had like a day and a half to shoot that video, so if I waste an hour of time, it’s a pretty big deal. She lets me do that, because she trusts me. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and with someone I don’t know, I’d be too nervous to even say that. 

Grizzly Bear “Yet Again” Directed by Emily Kai Bock

Doug: You shoot primarily on film. Do you ever get any push back from that, especially from directors you haven’t worked with yet? 

Evan: It depends. I’ve kind of shot myself in the foot in a way because now people think I can’t shoot digital, which is really funny. So a lot of the times when people approach me, they just assume. I guess I’m lucky because people, when they approach me, they want to shoot film, which is a good thing. Thankfully, the directors I work with are smart enough to know that film might add something to their projects that digital wouldn’t, so when they want to work with me they know that, and that’s cool. Then I guess a lot of it is also kind of me guilt-tripping them because I own my own camera, so it’s a lot easier for me to push film on people if I could say, “I’ll give you my camera for free,” and you can kind of work things out that way. Renting a fancy digital camera can be expensive, if I give someone my camera for free, all of the money that would go towards renting a camera can just go towards buying film and processing it and all that stuff. So that’s the argument that I always kind of bring to the table. It’s sneaky, but I’m just like “look, I’ll give you my camera, the film, it’ll be the same cost, let me do it.” It’s great. Most often people really want to shoot film because either they’re a younger director and they haven’t had the chance before, or because they’ve been told that it’s just too expensive, which completely isn’t true. Obviously I’m a bit of a film advocate, I just feel really strongly about it, and so when people try and work with me, I’ll talk to them, and I just ask them is there a reason digital would be better. So far, there’s never a reason why digital would be better. Maybe on a longer documentary digital would make sense if there isn’t the budget, or perhaps you’re working with a musician that’s really just a bad performer, and you need to film hours and hours and hours of footage to get good stuff. I don’t know. Maybe down the line there will be a reason, but so far there hasn’t been, so I’ve been really lucky that I can kind of finagle my way into convincing people to shoot film.

Behind the Scenes of Grizzly Bear “Yet Again” featuring some sweet footage of Evan in action!

Doug: Is there something particularly effective about film that works for you? Is there a reason why you favor it?

Evan: There’s lots of reasons, but the main reasons I guess are technical. I mean, shooting on film is just so much easier, first off. It’s just the workflow. I mean, it’s the thing I’m used to. Hollywood’s been doing it for a hundred years. It’s easy. The workflow has been so set now, whereas a digital camera, so much can go wrong. Just the one digital shoot I did a couple months ago, the camera just shut down. It was a RED camera, and none of us knew why, it just stopped working. We literally just couldn’t shoot that day. If you don’t have a backup camera body when you shoot with a RED, or if you don’t have a technician, there’s all these things that come along with it that people don’t think about. Say if you have a DIT, like a digital imaging technician, that guy has a cable going from your camera to this huge video village, and this guy is mucking around with your footage and showing the director, and everyone is standing around the monitor wasting time, and then your cables don’t work or the batteries die way faster. There’s just so many things that make digital so tricky that people don’t think about, and other hidden costs, like if you shoot 10 hours of digital, it’s not free because you have to buy hard drives to store all that footage, and it costs thousands of dollars in hard drives. And then what if your footage gets lost?  With film everything just makes so much more sense to me. It’s so much easier. It’s tried and true. The technical reasons, above and beyond practical things, I just like the color fidelity and the dynamic range and it makes things easier for me. If a director wants something, let’s say they want to walk from outside to inside and there’s a huge jump in contrast, the film can handle that jump in contrast, whereas on digital that shot would take me two hours to light because I’d have to increase the light on the inside to match the outside because the digital can’t handle the contrast ratios, and it’s never going to look as good. There are lots of nerdy reasons why I like film more. For me, it’s like a beautiful part of film history. I just don’t see why you wouldn’t want to try, all my favorite movies are shot on film. It’s such a pleasure to get to do it that I don’t see why you wouldn’t if you could, and I’ve been lucky enough to do it, so I really don’t want to stop.

Doug: You list yourself primarily as a cinematographer, as a DP, but you have directed and done some other things in the production process. Do you see yourself solidly going forward as just really maintaining yourself in that DP area, or do you see yourself as getting into some more directing and stuff as time passes?

Evan: Not really. I directed that one short film Water Park, and that was really fun, but that was just kind of a passion project. If something comes up, I’d love to do it, but I‘m having so much fun shooting right now that I don’t see why I would need to switch. The more that I learn, the more that I get to see from Emily and other directors, the stress that they have to go through, I’m not sure if it’s worth it. It’s crazy. It’s so competitive. It’s competitive enough for DPs, but for directors it’s crazy. Emily stays up every night, she barely gets any sleep, and she probably writes a treatment a day, and she must get one out of eighty of them. There’s no thank you’s, no anything, like you slave over a treatment for a week and then you send it in and then you just never hear anything again. That happens to her every day. It’s so much hard work, whereas I’m so lucky, I just get to show up on set, and there’s something really cool planned, and the money is there, and the crew is there, and obviously I have to have a bit of a hand in that stuff, but it’s way less work. I don’t see directing being palatable to me. It’s for crazy people. It’s for people that don’t need to sleep. 


bat for lashes “all your gold”, cinematographer profile, evan prosofsky, grimes “oblivion”, grizzly bear “yet again”

Doug Klinger is the co-founder/content director of IMVDb and watches more music videos than anyone on earth. You can find him on twitter at @doug_klinger.



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