Wednesday, May 5, 2021



Hi folks! Director of photography, cinematographer or D.P, as whatever you decide to tag them, , they perform a prime matter when we talk about the visual tone of a film. That said, it's a pleasure to me to post interview i did to belgian FILIP VANDEWAL, a experienced D.P with tons of movies right upon his back all over the world. Movies such as THE LAST LIGHT, THE FUNHOUSE MASSACRE, CAMP COLD BROOK, THE OPEN HOUSE (Netflix released in 2018), HONEST THIEVES and the one brings us here WITNESS INFECTION.

WITNESS INFECTION is horror - zombie - comedy released on march 31th digitally, FILIP explains us as a teacher liberate his wisdom over his students the different approaches he boards the vary projects he's done so far, depending budget, location, visual tone desired by the director among other aspects. Really, it's a bunch of precious information about how to get a good visual film tone with limited resources, priceless for the indie filmmakers out there, how to get away of different problems during the shooting, he shared with us some challenges he encountered during the making of WITNESS INFECTION.

Please , Join us and read this great interview, I know you will like it and you will learned a lot from this amazing D.P.

EFF: Filip, I’m really appreciate you had taken time out to reply these questions. Tell us where are you from and how or when did you get the love for filmmaking?

FV: I grew up in Belgium, Europe, and went to film school in Brussels. Initially I wanted to become a sound engineer and saw myself having a career in the music industry. However, in the first year of film school, during the workshops, I was handed the camera, although I wanted to hold the boom pole. In the beginning I had no desire to hold the camera, but my fellow students kept encouraging me. According to them I was pretty good with the camera, so I went with it. Over time I also got to like it and my interest of becoming a sound engineer shifted to becoming a cinematographer.

EFF: Did you study to be cinematographer or did you achieve the necessary knowledge over the time?

FV: I went to film school for 3 years and graduated as a cinematographer. Film school is great to learn all the theory and get an understanding on how sets and production work, but the ‘real’ world is different and less protective. I’ve learned the most in the first few years after film school by shooting as much as you could, short films, music videos, industrial videos, commercials, reality TV, news, docu… anything I could get my hands on. This way I sharpened my skills, learned to work faster and more efficient and above all, most importantly, build up a network of people who hired me later on in my career.

EFF: Let's start talking about your last film "Witness Infection", a horror zombie -comedy. How did you get involved in the project?

FV: Witness Infection was presented to me by my good friend and director, Andy Palmer. I’ve shot two films prior with him and I really enjoy working with him, so was impossible to say ‘no’.
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EFF: What approach of lighting, shadows, moods, you wanted to portray in the story all linked within the director's vision?

FV: Witness Infection is a low budget movie with very limited resources therefore the approach is a bit different: You do what you can, not what you want. You look at what you have, location, camera, lights, crew… and based on that we created the look, rather than the opposite way where you decide a look and then get the gear and locations to create the look. All the director wanted from me was to make it look interesting, fit the story. He trusts me a lot when it comes to this. One of the tricks I use to make a low budget movie visually interesting is to use as much camera movement as possible. We didn’t have the budget for a full dolly package and dolly grip, so I ended up using a lot of dana dolly moves and occasionally a ronin for larger movements through the set, and of course shooting handheld is also a great way to make the camera move. Since it’s a horror comedy we introduced a lot of color, to keep it playful and fun. This was done in wardrobe and set design, lots of ‘poppy’ colors and even in lighting at times I went very colorful with the practical lights, especially in the fight scene in the bar. For the rest I enhanced the available light of the location to bring out the actors faces, but that was pretty much it.

EFF: How were the shot key decisions handled? Were they all storyboarded or during the shooting the director or you gave better shoots on the set? Could you give us one example?

FV: The director and me sat down for 2 or 3 days and went over the script. We wrote down some rough ideas of how we would like to shoot the scene. This way we find the tone of the movie and I get a very good understanding of what he wants. We never made a detailed shot list, it is just detailed enough to communicate to production how much time is needed to shoot a scene or if we needed any special items or gear for a specific scene. The way Andy, director, and me work on set is, he does the blocking with the actors and put the scene together. I observe what they are doing and at the end of the rehearsal, me and him go over the shots that best capture the scene. So often you see actors do stuff in the rehearsal that require an extra shot or camera move that you can’t storyboard for. I work very intuitive and let the actors performance and movement guide the shot decisions. This approach allows the actors to move more freely, plus the shots match the tone of the scene and action much better and you work much faster since you are not trying to force action and performance in a preset and predetermined shot. However, action scenes and VFX shots still require detailed shot lists, since they involve much more preparation and safety issues and are very costly to shoot.

EFF: Many of the zombie feasting were shot in close up, was that an artistic decision or budget or anything else?

FV: The simple answer to that is: It looks the most ‘gross’ and disgusting. You don’t want let the horror and zombie fans down by hiding the blood and guts. Let them enjoy it up close.

EFF What was the hardest scene to shoot and why?

FV: There is one scene in the movie where our heroes hit a deer in the forest at night and encounter the first two zombies. The road where we were allowed to shoot had no street lights or no available light in sight. If we shot there everything would be pitch black around them and you might as well shoot it in a dark studio. Since we didn’t have the budget to bring in the condors and the big lights we had to come up with a solution that blend in with the style of the movie. I asked the art department to make two mobile street lights. 20ft tall that we could place where we wanted. In the low budget world, this means going to ‘home depot’ and buy 2 sodium vapor outdoor street lights and a 20ft pole. We placed one of the lights near the car in the forest and one deeper in the background to create depth and for a couple hundred dollars the forest around our heroes was lit. All I had to do now is using the few film lights we had to light the faces and put some accents of light in the background to where our street lights couldn’t reach.
"Witness Infection"

EFF: What setbacks you faced in during the film production and how did you solve it?

FV: I don’t think we had any notable setbacks. Low budget movies are always harder to make since there are less resources to achieve what you want. You are always in an improvising mode and you have to trust your intuition to do the right thing, there is no room for error to reshoot anything. The way the scene is shot, is the way it will end up in the movie.

EFF: Did you take on any reference for this film's photography? Maybe another film of yours or another film?

FV: There are many dialog references to other movies in this movie, but overall we didn’t really took a reference to any other movie because we knew we didn’t have enough budget to achieve it. The available light, the resources the budget allowed and above all, my intuition of the moment created the look.
"Witness Infection"

EFF: You have worked in many countries, different genres, so, I would like to ask you, What genre have you felt fitted in more and why?

FV: I indeed have shot movies in many countries. I don’t think there is a genre I prefer. I actually like that each project is different and requires a different approach. The variation of projects is what I like, plus you always work with different people in different countries and always learn something new, on set and off set.
"BTS Witness Infection"

EFF: from your prior works, which one has been the most satisfying for you? In terms of final work, reception and work relationship?

FV: This one is very hard to answer. I’m very critical of myself and my work. I always want to do better. When I finish a movie I always feel very satisfied and proud of what I’ve done and to have been part of the project, but there is always this thing inside me that wants me to do better.

EFF: What are your influences?

FV: I’m heavily influenced by the movies of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Back then each movie had their own distinguished look and story and there was more variety in the budgets which allowed for creating unique looks. These days it’s either a $100M super hero movie or a below $10M. The whole midrange of budgets has dried up, which result in a super hero look movie and the indie-look. Of course, there are exceptions, but I feel the stories and originality doesn’t reach the same level as the films of the 90’s and 2000’s did. But that’s my opinion.

EFF: How is your working methodology? How do you prepare a scene? All the techniques you apply, what gadgets you use on?

FV: I always try to give the actors the most room in the scene. ‘The costumer is always right’ becomes ‘the actor is always right’. The story gets told through their actions and that’s what the audience response to and it’s my job to capture that the best way. This means I light a scene pretty ‘broad’ this allows the actors to freely move without losing ‘their light’ and give more freedom to where the camera can move. The bigger lights are always outside the sets and have quite some fill light from the top to balance it. All I need to do is bring in a small light on set to give some light in the faces or round it off, to shape their faces. This way you can work quickly and keep the look of the scene consistent for a long period of time. It also helps the actors and directors to have more freedom in putting the scene together. I’m definitely a more traditional cinematographer and not keen on any of the new gadgets, especially gimbals. I found them very time consuming to get them balanced and the shots still don’t look the same as a Steadicam shot. I will only use them out of necessity. Time is key the get the most shots and coverage to capture a scene and in my opinion a lot to these gadgets don’t really help in achieving that.
Filip Vandewal

EFF: What camera did you use for Witness Infection and why?

FV: We used 2 Panasonic’s EVA-1 with compact primes. In my opinion, the image it produces is the best in that price range. The highlights fall off nicely and the skin tones are very natural. I used a ½ glimmer glass to soften up the highlights slightly and just take off the edge of the image. In my opinion it creates a really nice and rich image. Plus, the higher ISO the camera provides allowed us to shoot with available light without introducing too much noise. These two factors made the Panasonic EVA-1 the perfect camera for the movie.

EFF: What advice would you give to those newbie cinematographers from your experience?

FV: In the beginning shoot as much as you can. Paid or non-paid. Every project you’ll learn something new in your journey to become a cinematographer. On every project, good or bad you learn something new. It is not always about learning things about lighting and shooting, but also about how to communicate to crew, director and production. It’s all about gaining as much experience as you can and a trying to do better each time, even when it seems impossible.

EFF: How have you lived this pandemic? either personally or Professionally...

FV: The pandemic was really rough. The film industry shut down for a long time, but at the end of last year things slowly started to open up and I started shooting again. Mostly very small projects to keep me busy and to prevent me from going crazy

EFF: What new projects are you working on now, something you can anticipate us now?

FV: Next month I’ll be shooting another feature film with director Andy Palmer. Right after I’m scheduled to shoot another feature film in Armenia and if all goes well another feature film at the end of summer here in the US. My spring and summer look very busy, which is very welcoming after 2020.

EFF: Do you have in mind shoot as a director?

FV: Not really, I’ve been offered to direct small things and I have directed a handful of small commercials. Those experiences have thought me that I’m much better in helping to achieve the directors vision or build on their ideas to improve their films, rather than coming up with concepts from scratch myself. I also feel much more comfortable in the role of cinematographer than in the role of the director.

EFF : Something you would like to say?

FV: Thank you for your interested in my work. I really appreciate it.

**Filip Vandewal's | Imdb |**

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