Sundance 2017 Q+A — Cinematographer Rob Givens

Cinematographer Rob Givens of The Hero with Sam Elliott
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Sundance Film Festival 2017 Q+A — Cinematographer Rob C. Givens Interview — The Hero

David Alexander Willis: You started with writer/director Brett Haley with Sprinkler in 2005, and have continued to work together across several other short films in addition to three features: I’ll See You in My Dreams, The New Year and now The Hero. How did this creative collaboration first begin? What is it about your talents behind the camera that has him coming back for more?

Cinematographer Rob C. Givens: Brett and I met in our first year at the North Carolina School of the Arts and quickly became friends. He’s always had a unabashed passion for filmmaking and for storytelling. I responded to that early in our friendship and I always found it satisfying coming up with the visual interpretations of his ideas. We both had a great time just figuring out how we were going to pull off the shots we wanted to try. Basically, from the beginning of the time in my life when I started taking filmmaking very seriously, I was already collaborating with Brett. Our process now has become so intuitive that the decisions happen very easily. There’s a huge amount of trust involved because we’ve grown up as filmmakers together. We’ve gone through a lot of life experiences together and that makes translating the emotional work on the script into images that much easier for us, because we understand and trust each other. I’m very thankful for that.

David Alexander Willis: The Hero has an incredible cast! It must be a dream come true to be lensing such a stellar ensemble and of course to work again with Sam Elliott?

Cinematographer Rob C. Givens: It’s home run #2 for Brett, in my opinion. This is second film we’ve done where the cast is full of 1st choices. Everyone just said yes. And it comes down to the words on the page. Brett, and his writing partner Mark Basch, create such nuanced, delicate, poignant work with their writing that the cast just falls into place. And yes, working with Sam is true pleasure. He’s a classic professional and he gave 110% in every scene. It’s one of the great pleasures of my young career to have worked with him. He showed us all how it’s done. Shooting Sam Elliott, in western wardrobe, on a golden ranch, on anamorphic glass… Let’s just say, that was a great day out.

Sam Elliott appears in <i>The Hero</i> by Brett Haley, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Beth Dubber.
Sam Elliott appears in The Hero by Brett Haley, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Beth Dubber.

David Alexander Willis: What was the camera and lens system chosen for The Hero? What were some of the decisions there?

Cinematographer Rob C. Givens: Brett and I decided to take a very subjective stance on how the camera would move in this film and we decided to make it handheld. We wanted to be just over the shoulder of Lee Hayden, experiencing the emotional moments of the film with him. Then to contrast that decision, we wanted the dream sequences throughout the film to have a different feel. Different camera movement and different glass. The choice became ARRI AMIRA with Panavision Ultra Speed [Spherical] lenses on a handheld camera for the majority of the story, and then ARRI ALEXA XT with Panavision Anamorphic glass in studio mode, on a dolly, for the dream sequences. I’ve come to really trust the ALEXA sensor as to how far I can push it and the AMIRA body design is absolutely ideal for extended handheld work. The AMIRA form factor allowed us to do longer continuous shots and for me to operate all day with minimal fatigue, keeping my mind in the game. Plus, it carries the same image quality I trust from ARRI.

David Alexander Willis: You did “B” cam for the upcoming Amityville Awakening, as well. I’ve spoken briefly with Steven Poster ASC on the project, who seemed very enthusiastic about the Canon systems. How did the shoot go? How did Canon the C500 and C300 Mark II hold up for horror?

Cinematographer Rob C. Givens: Steven did an outstanding job with that film. It was very inspiring to watch him push the boundaries of what that camera can do with low light. We shot the whole film at 3200 ISO and he worked with various levels of diffusion to achieve and very classic, cinematic look. The C500 was great. It’s a rugged little camera that held up well to the challenges of that shoot. I’m looking forward to seeing the final product.

David Alexander Willis: What first drew you to cinematography and independent film? You also have done episodics; are you equally as enthusiastic about working in television?

Cinematographer Rob C. Givens: I discovered Photography about the same time I started watching tons of MTV and began going to the movies with my friends. I began gravitating toward the films that challenged me as viewer. The films that fit outside the typical mold. Those were the films I wanted to make, to be a part of, to shoot. So I’ve done my best to be available to those project when they come along. There’s a real freedom to independent films that is so important to your growth as DP. Because the financial risk is typically much lower, the freedom to try something bold is typically more welcome. If there’s a good script in place and you have the trust of the director, it can really be an enjoyable wave to ride.

Television, as we all know, is a quickly changing landscape right now. Episodics are a very different animal than independent films, when it comes to production. But with the direction that TV is taking right now, the lines are blurring between the boldness of independent cinema and edginess of new series being produced. It seems to me that the new content providers are willing to take more risks in an effort to stand out from the crowd. That is ultimately good for us the filmmakers. It gives us better quality scripts and more challenging stories to shoot. So yes, I am enthusiastic about where TV is headed because I think (hope) it’s going to open up more doors for well written stories.

Cinematographer Rob C. Givens discusses the film The Hero at Sundance Film Festival 2017
Cinematographer Rob C. Givens discusses the film The Hero at Sundance Film Festival 2017

David Alexander Willis: You have a few other completed projects on the way? Seems like people should definitely be watching for more work from you in the near future! What should they keep their eye out for?

Cinematographer Rob C. Givens: I did film this fall entitled RIDE with another talented young director, Jeremy Ungar. It’s a thriller, set in a car, all in one night, in LA. It was technically challenging and a complete blast. Again, another film with an outstanding cast – Bella Thorne, Jesse T. Usher, and Will Brill. I’m looking forward to seeing the final product so keep your eyes out for it. Thanks for the opportunity and catch THE HERO when it comes out!