Monthly Inspiration: Steve Yedlin
Monthly Inspiration is a blog series that’s about what inspires me; filmmakers, styles, actors, scripts… each month, I’ll cover one new piece of inspiration. Hopefully I can turn you on to something that will inspire you as well.
Traditionally with MI posts I try to find people who are inspirational both as filmmakers and as human beings. I try to focus on things that people do away from the industry that influence the way I approach my work. But for the next few months I’m going to be focusing on the Directors of Photography (DP’s) that influence my work with their work. So for this month I bring you Steve
Steve has a traditional film school background with a degree from USC. He started out as a gaffer for music videos and commercials, and then transitioned into cinematography. So many people in the industry scoff at those that went to school to learn the trade, instead of jumping right in. As someone who went through film school, and ultimately wouldn’t be in the industry without it, I have great things to say about the benefits of a formal education. Knowing that one of my favorite DP’s shares a similar background is a big help when facing the naysayers.
What I like about Steve’s work is how realistic it looks. The way he lights adds dimensionality to the characters and really helps inform the emotion of the scene. In an interview with Movie Geeks United, Steve is quoted as saying, “don’t be afraid to let your actors fall into dark for periods of time.” So many DP’s light a scene so that everything is even, so when an actor is in shadows, they’re not really in shadow. In watching Steve’s collaborations with Rian Johnson you can see how he used the naturalness of the light to dictate how the scene flows. Lighting has always been something I have to work at, and Steve’s work on Brick, Looper, and The Brothers Bloom has been a place for me to refer back to time and again for ideas.
In 2005 Rian Johnson released Brick, and it has so many elements that just push the bounds to make it one of my favorite films ever. I’m a huge Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan, as well as a Rian Johnson fan, and I absolutely love noir films. But what really stands out to make this a go-to film for me is the way it’s lit and shot. Being that the film is supposed to be a modern-day noir you would expect it to be chocked full of edgy, low-key lighting; and it is. But what Steve brings to Brick is a sense of importance. He uses subtle lighting cues to tell us what’s the important thing happening. When you add the lighting to superb framing and a master use of invisible camera movement you get a stellar looking film that draws the audience in and makes us want to see more.
Fast forward to 2012’s Looper (another Rian Johnson and JGL film). It’s a completely different style of film, and the lighting and cinematography change to match, but is still given the same treatment. Steve maintains the realistic look to the lighting and involves more camera movement to give Looper the iconic sci-fi/action feel that you get from films like The Fifth Element. What I love about how Looper looks is that you still get elements of Steve’s style. It’s not homogenized, sterile lighting and framing that so many DP’s fall into on bigger projects; instead it has the same grittiness and emotionality that we saw in Brick.
Steve incorporates so much story information in the way he lights, frames, and shoots a film that you can watch one on mute and still understand the intricacies of the story. I love the way he lights, and his mentality in the way he utilizes shadows is something that I’m constantly drawing upon. Even with his commercial work, you get a sense of the characters and genuinely want more. You can listen to the full Movie Geeks United interview with Steve here, there are some awesome moments in it that truly are inspirational for new DP’s looking to get out there. And Make sure to check out his website to watch some more of his work.
Monthly Inspiration: Steve Yedlin