Cinematographer Profile: Rob Witt

Posted by Doug Klinger on December 18, 2012 in Interviews

Staff Post

While most of the world gets to enjoy the talents of Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, and Justin Bieber from a distance, cinematographer Rob Witt gets about as close as you can get in his role as DP for directors like Colin Tilley, Chris Marrs Piliero, and Jared Leto. We talked to Rob about his relationships with directors, being the DP for an artist who also directs, shooting choreography, and keeping up with Chris Brown.

Rob Witt

Doug: You’ve worked with a lot of different directors, from Taj, to Chris Marrs Piliero, to Jared Leto, but you’ve worked most frequently with Colin Tilley. Is there something about your relationship with Colin that has lead to all of these collaborations?

Rob: Colin and I met in film school in Berkley, maybe five years ago. Colin and I have known each other since we both learned how to turn on the camera, so it's really awesome that we still work together now.

Doug: Did you and Colin get into music videos together, and then through that success you expanded beyond that?

Rob: Colin in film school probably did like 30 or so videos within his first semester. We didn't really work together because Colin was such a one-man powerhouse, he was just doing amazing work. We always dug each others stuff, even in film school, and we kept in contact. When I came down to LA to intern, he was working down in LA as well and we met up and were like, "Hey man, I'm going to be shooting a couple of videos coming up, let's try it out." It's funny because we met each other in film school and didn't really work together at that time, but then after I graduated we started seeing where things would go.

Rob Witt

Colin Tilley, Rob, and Nicki Minaj on set of "The Boys" musc video.

Doug: How does your on set relationship with directors work in general? Are you typically getting brought on to a project at the same time, or does it vary from director to director when you're brought on and how much input you have on the project?

Rob: I would say definitely with Colin, he'll let me know what he's writing on. Usually, if we book a job, he, I, and Alex Delgado the production designer, we usually have a creative meeting even before we tech scout or start doing any of that, so we can all be on the same page. With out directors it just varies, I've got good relationships with other directors as well who will call me days in advance to look at the treatment and go over it, have some meetings. Then sometimes you never know, I'll get called and they'll says, "hey, you got to tech scout today and we're shooting tomorrow morning." It can be crazy.

Doug: Do you find yourself working a lot with directors that you have a personal relationship with, or do you sometimes have jobs that come out of the blue with people you've never worked for?

Rob: I would say a lot of the directors I work for, Colin, Parris, Chris Marrs, they usually just call me directly. Some other directors, both newer and older directors, have come through other relationships though.

Rob Witt

Chris Brown "Don't Wake Me Up" on location in El Mirage Dry Lakebed.

Doug: How often do you find yourself collaborating directly with an artist on set?

Rob: It's funny because I sometimes find myself being the DP that shoots for artists who are also directors. Jared Leto and Chris Brown, I work directly with them when they're directing. That's always an awesome time because as artists they have really awesome ideas and it's really cool to collaborate with people like that.

Doug: Do your responsibilities change when the person who is the director also has to spend time on camera?

Rob: I would say they rely on you a good amount, like most directors, there's so much else on set they're having to deal with, being on camera is another added element. With Chris Brown, we've done however many videos together so he trusts me a lot to capture what he's going for. 

Rob Witt

Rob with Jared Leto and Benoit Debie in NYC on set of Hurricane.

Doug: A lot of the Chris Brown stuff has a lot of dancing involved, I'm curious how you approach shooting that. IS it similar to shooting performance footage, or is there a different technique involved?

Rob: It differs sometimes. Flii, who is Chris Brown's choreographer, he's a really awesome guy and sometimes we'll get to talk to him even before we shoot. Sometimes you have to let the dance do itself. I was really happy with what we did with "Turn Up the Music," I held back on too many crazy camera movements and let their movement speak in the frame, and I thought that came out really nice.

Doug: When you get to see the choreography before hand, are you able to map out your plans ahead of time? Or does most of that still happen on set?

Rob: I would say a majority of it is on set. Every once in a while Colin or Chris will give me a video of what the choreography will look like. But being on set, the space determines a lot of what's going on. With Chris, he'll see something he just be like, "Oh, I wanna jump over this and flip onto that." And you've got to figure out how to capture that.

Rob Witt

Rob and Chris Brown.

Doug: A lot of times with music videos, the footage that comes out of the camera is very different that what you see in the final cut. There is often a great deal of color treating, and sometimes editors will put in zooms and pans in post for effect. How do you react to react to changes to your footage?

Rob: A lot of it, you try burn as much as you can with lighting. I usually always shoot with a look in mind, so that the director and I always have a good idea how it's going to look. A lot of the directors I work with edit as well, they like to look at an image that isn't flat. It's good so they know and see what we're doing. Usually for me, the footage doesn't come out too much differently than what it looks like on set.

cinematographer profile, rob witt

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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