During the 2019 Camerimage film festival, cinematographer Julio Macat ASC took the stage alongside ARRI for a masterclass that will surely inspire filmmakers of all experience and backgrounds. And thanks to ARRI Academy, you can now watch the course online exclusively on MZed - both here on MZed.com and in our iOS app.
The 3-hour course begins with an interview introduction to Julio Macat ASC, his philosophy on cinematography, and how he got his start. Incredibly, his first feature film was Home Alone, which went on to top box office sales for 12 weeks.
In the interview, Julio recalls he was scared everyday that he was going to get fired when everyone found out he didn’t know how the film would even come together. To keep focused, he would imagine he was sewing, where he only had to think about the last stitch and the next stitch - or in other words, the scene right before and after the one he was working on.
He also made sure to look at every scene from the perspective of a seven year-old, which gave Home Alone a unique, larger than life characteristic.
After coming from shooting music videos (where he accidentally lit a bus on fire during a Hall & Oates shoot), Julio knew that music would be essential to stitching his first feature film together. So he called up the composer who was hired to score Home Alone - someone Julio didn’t know previously - and challenged him to make the music really stand out. That composer turned out to be the John Williams!
These are all true stories and it’s even more amazing to hear them from Julio himself.
But background stories aside, there are endless bits of advice in this course from a cinematographer who knows the art and science through and through. His biggest word of advice is to master one camera and one set of lenses, and truly know them. Julio believes that the art of filmmaking doesn’t change all that much, despite the rapid innovations in technology.
Learn from a First AC, DIT, and a Steadicam Operator
For beginning filmmakers, this course also features some insightful interviews about crewing on a film production and how to get a foot in the door.
E. Gunnar Mortensen, First AC, got his start in filmmaking while walking to school in 2nd grade. Out of the blue, he saw a process truck drive through his small town in Colorado, filming Ladybugs with Rodney Dangerfield. From that point on, he knew he wanted to work in film.
Gunnar talks about the various roles of a First AC, which can include gear maintenance and hiring and firing staff. But most of all, his job is to pull focus, and for that, Gunnar says the good old tape measure is still the most important tool in his tool belt. You hit your marks, learn your distances, and repeat a thousand times until you can accurately look at a subject and estimate their distance from the camera.
In another interview, Arthur To introduces us to the world of a Digital Imaging Technician. Arthur believes his primary role is to protect the DP’s vision, ensuring that all the monitors and other people on set are viewing the correct image. Second to that, his job is to protect the media, which sometimes means quarantining cards like they are the Hope Diamond.
Most importantly, every film and situation is different, says Arthur. On the set of The Revenant, he says they had to improvise while shooting out in the snow, packing Pelican cases with batteries and computer stations, because there’s no such thing as a snow cart.
In a third interview, Steadicam and TRINITY operator Charlie Rizek gives us a hands-on demonstration of the types of shots you can achieve with modern day camera movement.
Lighting and Camera Movement for a Holiday Film
Finally we get to the meat of the course, where we follow Julio along as he directs a few different scenes, all set in a home interior during the holiday season. There are a few considerations right off the bat, such as having to find the right shutter to remove flicker from LED Christmas lights.
From lighting an individual sitting next to a Christmas tree, to generating a fake fire effect (for the fireplace, not to recreate a failed Hall & Oates music video [see above]), to setting up a shot using only one practical source, there are many lessons to take away from Julio during these inspirational live demonstrations.
In one scene, we watch as a young boy gets up from a couch to go place an ornament on the Christmas tree. Meanwhile, the camera follows the boy smoothly using a TRINITY rig, and Julio shows us how to avoid creating shadows as the crew moves in front of the lights. The boy seems satisfied to have capped another year with a little bit of reflection, as the film crew captures his bittersweet expression.
And like that boy, we here at MZed are incredibly proud of the amazing year we’ve had with each and every one of you who call yourself an MZed Pro. We want to give you our sincere thanks for joining us on this education journey, and we look forward to a bigger and better year ahead!
From all of us at MZed, we hope you have a wonderful holiday (even if there isn’t an ARRI crew capturing your bittersweet moments!).