Most Videography readers didn”t know the name Vincent Laforet before the accomplished still photographer posted his first experiment in video production, “Reverie,” online in the fall of 2008. But that changed almost overnight. The short, which he shot using the 1080p video feature of the erstwhile-unreleased Canon EOS 5D Mk II, changed his life in ways he could never have imagined. Today, most everybody in the videography world knows of his work, and he has become an award-winning cinematographer, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, and member of the International Cinematographers Guild and Directors Guild of America.
How did you first get the camera?
Vincent Laforet: I was working in the New York Times office when a prototype came in, and the lightbulb in my head didn”t just light up; it burst. It wasn”t even supposed to go to me, but I begged them—and they handed it to me with one battery and no manual and let me have it for the weekend. “Reverie” was me throwing something together with no budget and almost no preproduction. I had never shot video before.
Did you envision this project having such an impact on your career?
I saw the prototype at noon on a Friday and walked out the door with it at 4 p.m. I started shooting “Reverie” the next day at 4 p.m., and I shot it in six hours. There was no time to have a lot of introspection about where this was all going. It was more like, “Look at the size of the sensor, the quality, the form factor, and look at how well it performs in low light.”
So you finished “Reverie” and put it on the Internet. What was the response?
Immediate! That video was seen two million times in the first week. In retrospect, talking to people now, I realize my name was being talked about at studios and production companies around the world almost as quickly. It wasn”t long before I was invited to meet with very influential people at Disney, ILM, DreamWorks and the Academy. Someone put up $50,000 to make a short film within eight hours of “Reverie” going up. It sent me headfirst into filmmaking.
Did you find it hard to learn to use the camera for video?
I”m a very technical person. I”ve consulted for Apple and Canon and other companies, so the technical part wasn”t difficult for me. The hard part in moving into the shooting and directing I”m doing now was what any director goes through in terms of learning the craft.
Do you think it”s a good idea for still photographers to expand into video work, and vice versa?
I think it would be wise for any still photographer to expand his repertoire and at least dip a toe into motion. And we”re seeing some cameras like the [RED Digital Cinema] Epic that can do pretty decent still work. Of course, just because you own a 5D, that doesn”t make you a photographer or a cinematographer. But words like “hybrid” and “convergence” certainly describe what”s going on in the market, and I think we”re going to find job descriptions from both fields overlapping more and more in the future.
You say that you were immediately impressed by the sensor size, the form factor and all that, but you started working with the camera before you actually saw footage from it. When did you first see what the images from your DSLR looked like?
From the first day of shooting “Reverie,” I would look at “dailies,” if you will, on my 50-inch TV, and I was just shocked at what was coming off the camera.
A lot of people who”ve shot video with these DSLRs have said that the specs alone don”t really indicate how good the images can be. They were worried especially about the H.264 compression and are surprised at how robust the pictures are. This camera proves that studying specs off a sheet of paper only gets you so far. Most of the time those stats are informative, but in many ways this camera broke the mold. Yes, the artifacts are there. The compression is there. The moiré is there. It”s by no means perfect. But if you learn how to maximize quality out of the camera, you can get better results than all the technical information might lead you to believe.
You said that today”s batch of DSLRs are not for every kind of production. Where do you think they shine, and where would you want to avoid them?
I wouldn”t shoot an action film with one. You get the Jell-O [rolling shutter] effect that”s most pronounced with a lot of fast movement. You also have to be mindful of moiré. I”d never want to shoot a brick wall or checkered anything with these cameras. The moiré effect can be very pronounced. If you”re going to Versailles to shoot patterned tiles, this would be the last camera to pick, unless you”re using a shallow depth of field and letting the patterns go out of focus.
There”s also a misconception about shooting in low light. Yes, the camera excels in low-light performance, but some people think they can just throw away lighting altogether. That”s absolutely not true. If you watched the final episode last season of House, you”ll see what a really good cinematographer can do with these camera and excellent use of lighting.
With so much “hybrid” production around today, did you still find shooting video very different from your work as a still photographer?
Commercial photography, which I”ve done for years, is very different from commercial production. There are different roles, different politics, different ways of marketing yourself. Still photographers don”t write treatments—actually, they are starting to now, but it wasn”t expected even a few years ago. So yes, we”re seeing more overlap now, but that was less true even a couple of years ago when I was making the transition.
Can you tell us anything about the feature you”re planning? Do you plan to shoot and direct?
I do plan to be a director/DP, but I”m choosing from among some different projects. One is a narrative and the other is more a new form altogether.
Do you think you”d shoot either or both of them with a DSLR?
DSLRs might play a role. Maybe not as my A-camera. I might use an [ARRI] Alexa or [RED] EPIC and sprinkle some Canon in there, too. That”s yet to be determined. No single camera is the be all and end all.
It seems you picked a good time to reinvent yourself, because so much is changing so quickly. Do you think you”d have tried to expand what you were doing for a living if these cameras hadn”t come along?
It”s true, everything is changing very rapidly, so the idea of standing by your guns and not evolving in your career doesn”t seem like the wisest move unless you”re one of the top 10 or 15 people in the field and you have such a high level of specialty that you won”t be threatened by change.
Have you given up still photography completely?
I was totally out, but now I”m back doing some photography, but now with fine art focus. I find it incredibly peaceful relative to working as a director. It”s almost like meditation.