New Cinematography demo reel

Matthew Skala Cinematographer Demo Reel

Spiritually and scientifically, light is life. And a movie is often a lifetime of emotions. So before thinking about equipment or logistics, I have to spend time with the director and try to get inside his or her head to understand light from the director’s perspective—to understand her vision and where it is coming from.

I dedicate myself completely to the director and must be an absolute slave to the screenplay—using my poetic sensibilities to translate the written word into a merging of light, shadow, color, shape, and pattern. 

I read the script and find something that motivates and inspires me. I read it again and again until I completely understand the conflicts between darkness and light, the fundamental truth, and how it all comes together to make up the story.

This allows me to approach each film as its own universe stemming from the director and what he wants to express. And to represent the characters’ lives through a journey of light reflecting the drama’s unfolding nuances. I want the director to feel like we created something original that belongs to us—the filmmakers. That belongs to the movie and identify’s with the movie as a sort of branding—a completely self-contained work of art. 

It’s not mechanical. It’s emotional–you feel it–and it comes from the soul.

After wrapping The Republic of Rick, Director Mario Kyprianou told me this, “I call you the Doctor because it was like watching a surgeon at work, and I was proud to have you on our production. I think you’re what every director would look for in a director of photography. You need to be commended for your work ethic and ability to lead the crew. And also for your steadfast focus on what will be aesthetically best for the film.” – Mario Kyprianou, director of The Republic of Rick.

Related:

The Look of Harmonia; making an experimental film
The look of Separated, a miniature short film about adventure and romance
Three examples of how cinematography serves a film director’s vision

Bruce Lee’s philosophical movies and more

I hope you’ve been healthy and safe in these tumultuous times. Amongst a lot of catch up work—in life and business—I’ve been studying philosophy. In my latest research stream, I came across a book discussing the philosophies of Bruce Lee. It had been a while since I thought about Bruce Lee or seen any of his philosophical movies. But the book really spoke to me, so I decided to invest a little time in his life and work.

Book I’m Reading

The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee written by John Little, is a story about an artist who used philosophy to help guide him towards a balanced lifestyle of spiritual and commercial success—what most artists can only dream of.

As a child in Hong Kong, Lee was being bullied at school and sought martial arts training to protect himself. He learned the Wing Chun style of gung fu under the martial arts master Yip Man. And sums up his experience amongst his prolific writings:

Gung fu is a philosophy; it’s an integral part of the philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism, the ideals of giving with adversity, to bend slightly and then spring up stronger than before, to have patience in all things, to profit by one’s mistakes and lessons in life. These are the many-sided aspects of the art of gung fu; it teaches the way to live, as well as the way to protect oneself.

At 21 years old, Bruce majors in Philosophy at the University of Washington. He saturates himself in the writings of Lao-tzu, Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Descartes, and many others. And then self publishes his first book—Chinese Gung Fu, the Philosophical Art of Self-Defense.

The Warrior Within touches on philosophical concepts such as yin and yang, be like water, the need for honest self-expression, and the art of fighting without fighting. It then discusses how Lee expressed these in philosophical movies. One of his students, Daniel Inosanto, writes:

He felt very strongly that if he could get people to appreciate something in the Chinese culture, then they would appreciate something in other cultures as well. He felt that he was doing his small part in establishing something toward world peace.

Film I’m Studying

Enter The Dragon showcases the philosophy for the art of fighting without fighting and the need for honest self-expression.

Bruce Lee’s Chinese gung fu films stem from an explosion of swordplay films produced largely by the Shaw Brothers in post-WWII Hong Kong. They released up to fifty titles each year. One of their star directors Li Hanxiang started to combine Chinese opera styles and classical painting into his films, and the genre began to rise in artistic status. And with films like A Touch of Zen (Xia Nu, 1971), he began to infuse his films with philosophy—winning awards for technique at the Cannes Film Festival. And the Shaw Brothers swordplay epics started seeing widespread commercial success. At this time, Bruce Lee starred in his first leading role in The Big Boss, which launched him into stardom.

Three films later—in 1973—comes Enter the Dragon. And it’s the first Bruce Lee film to target an American audience. Much of the camera work followed the “zoom boom” trend of the ’70s. Innovations in zoom lens technology started to make them easier to use and more affordable. And as zoom shots started to replace dolly and crane shots—Cinematographers struggled with controversies over its artistic integrity. In Enter The Dragon—it helped Director Robert Clouse emphasize interpersonal moments in the middle of fight scenes without getting in the way of the action, using additional cameras, or taking the time to reshoot the scene on a tighter lens.

The film was shot in anamorphic on an Arriflex 35 IIC camera with Panavision C-series and Angenieux Lenses. And the film stock was Kodak 100T 5254. It takes a lot of light to expose such a film stock properly. And when shooting in Hong Kong with Chinese crew and equipment—Cinematographer Gil Hobbs didn’t have access to all the light control tools that were common in Hollywood. This might explain why the high key lighting approach feels more utilitarian than expressive.

What touches me the most in this film is Bruce Lee’s determination to express himself. In a new book written by Bruce’s daughter Shannon Lee—Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee—she accounts for how Bruce campaigned to change the title and how he rewrote the script to include the philosophical scenes and tune up any cultural discrepancies. While his push for changing the title from ‘Blood and Steel’ to ‘Enter The Dragon’ succeeded—his rewrite of the script did not. As a result, he refused to show up on set until the producers agreed to his rewrites. The producers fed the press a cover story—that he was too nervous to start filming. Meanwhile—for two weeks—Bruce held his ground. And finally, the producers gave in and re-issued the locked script with his rewrites. However, the cover story has held on for decades.

The release of Shannon Lee’s book this month is a nice coincidence. An excerpt from the book about the making of Enter the Dragon is available here.

Downloadable Resources
Film Excerpts
Frame Grabs

Credits and Specs
Directed by Robert Clouse
Produced by Raymond Chow, Paul M. Heller, Fred Weintraub
Written by Michael Allin
Starring Bruce LeeJohn SaxonJim Kelly
Music By Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography by Gil Hubbs
Edited by Kurt Hirschler, George Watters
Production Company: Warner Bros
Release Date: 1973
Running Time: 1hr 42min
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Camera: Arriflex 35 IIC, Panavision C-Series and Angenieux Lenses
Negative Format: 35mm Kodak 100T 5254
Printed Film Format: 35mm
Cinematographic Process: Panavision (anamorphic)
Country: Hong Kong, USA
Language: English, Cantonese
Reported Budget: 850,000

Photographer that inspires me

Yu Yuntian. I met Yuntian when I was a teenager.  He had some film to process while traveling for an exhibit and came into the Wolf Camera and Video store where I was working. Somehow we got to talking—he told me about his next photo expedition to Tibet and invited me to come along. It caught me off guard, and I was certainly apprehensive. Still, I thought to myself—“wouldn’t it be nice to have such flexibility in my life, just to get up and go to Tibet…” I didn’t go on the trip, but he gave me a copy of his exhibition booklet and the photographs within have always been an inspiration for me.

Yuntian writes, “it is photography that has enabled me to find man’s value and his entire dignity throughout my endless journeys.” And like Bruce Lee and his philosophical movies, it was the spiritual nature of his own art that drove Yuntian the most:

I think that, in our attitude toward artistic pursuit, we should have a spirit of perceiving nature and observing life with a reverent mind, a religious sentiment that is strong and earnest. It is precisely here that ‘art is willing to walk hand in hand with religion’ (from Goethe). This is the revelation of religion.

Downloadable Resources
Select images from the exhibition booklet

Links
Gallery on the Global Photography website
Profile and Gallery on the China Photographers Association Website

Video I am enjoying

Bruce Lee “Lost” Interview from the Pierre Berton Show in 1971. In his films, his voice was always dubbed, and his lines were always scripted. This interview gives us the rare opportunity to hear him speak freely with his own voice in English. “Be water, my friend.”

Screening online this weekend only!

Film festivals around the world have come to a grinding halt. So, The Steven Arnold Museum and Archives has decided to host a free limited online release of Steven Arnold: Heavenly Bodies. However, it will only be available this weekend.

Arnold was an American multimedia artist, photographer and filmmaker who’s vast artistic output has been preserved in an extensive archive. This resulted in ample material for the film. So, as the editor my daily workload was an extensive ongoing discovery process in close collaboration with Vishnu Dass, the films director. Our days, weeks and months together were ripe with inspiration and spiritual insight, culminating into a feature length documentary.

Interviews dance with narration by Anjelica Houston to showcase the diversity of Arnold’s work and explore his intimate relationships with icons such as Salvador Dali, Simon Doonan and Ellen Burstyn.

We recommend this for mature audiences and you can access the film by clicking on the image below.

A five course mind meal: a list of independent films and more

The Templo de Santa Rosa de Viterbo in Querétaro, Mexico
I hope you are all enjoying 2020. I love this time of year and it’s proven to be a welcoming season of reflection and development so far. Therefore, I’ve been able to make a huge dent in my “films to watch” list. And subsequently I’ve included a list of independent films that have impacted me most. It’s always fun putting these together. I hope you get inspired. Enjoy!

Personal Project

More from Common Ground. The above image features The Templo de Santa Rosa de Viterbo in Querétaro, Mexico. It opened as a convent in 1752. After the Liberal party won a civil war known as La Reforma in 1860 it was used as a hospital for 100 years. It is now under historical preservation while the convent portion is a college and the Temple holds regular mass.

Common Ground is a 20+ year photographic study of Latino culture. Check it out on Instagram!

Films I’m Studying

I’ve been catching up on my watch list over the last few months. And have been focusing on films that were made for under 3 million. As a result, my brain is churning up the many conversations I’ve had with friends and other filmmakers whom gripe about Hollywood and how they are only interested in putting out comic book movies and other big budget blockbusters. Well, here is a list of small independent films that in one way or another were made and/or released through Hollywood. But these are just the ones I’ve liked or re-watched. Additionally, they’ve all been released within the last six years, the genres and ratings are mixed and the links go to the films IMDB page.

Narrative

Bone Tomahawk 

Camp X-Ray

Columbus

Dear White People

Eighth Grade

Embrace of the Serpent

Flower

Hardcore Henry

Hearts Beat Loud

Hello, My Name is Doris

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I Origins

Ida

Irreplaceable

It Follows

Moonlight

Mustang

Obvious Child

Palo Alto

Swiss Army Man

The Blue Room

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Florida Project

The Lunchbox

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Skeleton Twins

Unsane

Upgrade

Documentaries

Antarctica: A year on Ice

Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary

Photographer That Inspires Me

Arnold Newman is another photographer who’s work was imprinted upon me when I started studying photography in the 90’s. His portraits are so content rich and intriguing, it makes me wonder why our culture today is so obsessed with the “Headshot.” I suppose they have there place in certain industries. But the environmental portrait, popularized by Newman, is a glorious authentic outlook on the human condition. And in comparison the “headshot” just seems like wasted opportunity.

On March 25th, 1996 I was lucky enough to attend a lecture of his sponsored by Canon. I saved the program and here it is.

Video I’m Enjoying

The Look of Parasite made by the Hurlbut Academy is an inspiring breakdown of the visual devices used to evoke specific emotional responses in the storytelling and how these visual ideas started early in the script writing process.

Written by Chris Haigh
Narrated by Ross Papitto
Edited by Dylan K Leong

Quote I’ve Lived By

A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart. – Arnold Newman