Cinematographer Profile: Evan Prosofsky
Posted by Doug Klinger on October 19, 2012 in Interviews
The director of photography is often an unsung hero of the music videos process. While it can be argued that pretty much anyone who isnt 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.
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. Id 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 wouldnt 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 its 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 wasnt 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 its 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, its all really been through Emily. Im just so lucky because Emily got signed to some pretty cool production companies, and I guess its just a really small world. This whole last year Ive just been meeting all of the directors on her production companies and getting work that way. Yeah, its just a really small world. Im 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 Ive 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, its 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 dont know about top to bottom, and thats whats sad. The nature of these things is theres just so much work to do, and theres just so many people that go uncredited. Im 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 theyre just doing the work, basically slave labor. Theyre picking up all the camera gear, driving around, doing horrible tasks. Laying out food for craft services. They dont really get to hang out on set, and its really shitty. Something needs to change in that regard because people arent 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, its a really good way to get experience and launch. Its a good launching pad, I think, because everyone says that its 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. Ive definitely gotten a lot of commercial work because of the Grimes video that I dont think I wouldve gotten without it, because people think oh, you shoot women, oh, youve filmed Claire, youve filmed Grimes, and youve made her look pretty, that must mean you can do a fashion film. Its 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 its really fun in that regard.
Doug: You have a personal relationship with Emily, you guys are friends, but thats 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 dont 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 Ive only talked to the director on the phone once before we shoot, and if I was shooting something with Emily, Id be at her house every day, nerding out. Wed be watching music videos together, wed be watching movies, wed be talking about it, wed be like going out for lunch. Obviously, part of it is because now I work with directors from all over, but I think that theres definitely a big divide between sort of the younger generation and maybe people that are a bit more established where its not a preparation thing even, maybe its just because theyre more established and they dont feel the need to do as much prep, theyre just prepared at all time or something. I dont know what it is, but definitely with the younger directors its really nice. I find that its kind of like meeting another brother. Its cheesy, but were all film nerds. Like Noel who I just worked with in London, I met him and now hes a friend, too, and I think its the same working relationship as Id 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 dont even have their phone number. Ill show up on set and thatll be the first time Ive ever met them.
Doug: Does that slow things down?
Evan: It does slow things down. I think theres a bit of guilt that comes into it, too, which isnt 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 didnt 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 shed be like yeah, exactly. Id be like okay, done. Whereas with someone I've never worked with before, on set, I can be more frustrating because were going to want to get a shot and Im 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 dont 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 its 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 Im not sure if I can do this, but like let me try. I dont know if its 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, its a pretty big deal. She lets me do that, because she trusts me. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesnt, and with someone I dont know, Id 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 havent worked with yet?
Evan: It depends. Ive kind of shot myself in the foot in a way because now people think I cant shoot digital, which is really funny. So a lot of the times when people approach me, they just assume. I guess Im 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 wouldnt, so when they want to work with me they know that, and thats cool. Then I guess a lot of it is also kind of me guilt-tripping them because I own my own camera, so its a lot easier for me to push film on people if I could say, Ill 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 thats the argument that I always kind of bring to the table. Its sneaky, but Im just like look, Ill give you my camera, the film, itll be the same cost, let me do it. Its great. Most often people really want to shoot film because either theyre a younger director and they havent had the chance before, or because theyve been told that its just too expensive, which completely isnt true. Obviously Im a bit of a film advocate, I just feel really strongly about it, and so when people try and work with me, Ill talk to them, and I just ask them is there a reason digital would be better. So far, theres never a reason why digital would be better. Maybe on a longer documentary digital would make sense if there isnt the budget, or perhaps youre working with a musician thats really just a bad performer, and you need to film hours and hours and hours of footage to get good stuff. I dont know. Maybe down the line there will be a reason, but so far there hasnt been, so Ive 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: Theres lots of reasons, but the main reasons I guess are technical. I mean, shooting on film is just so much easier, first off. Its just the workflow. I mean, its the thing Im used to. Hollywoods been doing it for a hundred years. Its 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 couldnt shoot that day. If you dont have a backup camera body when you shoot with a RED, or if you dont have a technician, theres all these things that come along with it that people dont 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 dont work or the batteries die way faster. Theres just so many things that make digital so tricky that people dont think about, and other hidden costs, like if you shoot 10 hours of digital, its 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. Its so much easier. Its 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, lets say they want to walk from outside to inside and theres 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 Id have to increase the light on the inside to match the outside because the digital cant handle the contrast ratios, and its never going to look as good. There are lots of nerdy reasons why I like film more. For me, its like a beautiful part of film history. I just dont see why you wouldnt want to try, all my favorite movies are shot on film. Its such a pleasure to get to do it that I dont see why you wouldnt if you could, and Ive been lucky enough to do it, so I really dont 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, Id love to do it, but Im having so much fun shooting right now that I dont 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, Im not sure if its worth it. Its crazy. Its so competitive. Its competitive enough for DPs, but for directors its 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. Theres no thank yous, 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. Its so much hard work, whereas Im so lucky, I just get to show up on set, and theres 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 its way less work. I dont see directing being palatable to me. Its for crazy people. Its for people that dont 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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