Hands On The Camera

For an "up-and-coming" cinematographer, Gavin Kelly has racked up some serious accolades. Not that the San Diegan, who resides in Silver Lake with his wife and new son, would ever tell you that. He’s an ASC-honored, Emmy® Award-winning DP, who has shot a wide spectrum of narrative feature, documentary, commercial and music video projects all around the world and has had multiple films receive awards and distribution from Sundance, Toronto, SXSW and beyond. But, if he’s telling the story, he comes from humble beginnings.

"I was just one of those kids who always had a camera in my hands," he says. "Photography was always around me, and I remember very distinctly my Fisher-Price PXL2000 [a toy black-and-white camcorder produced in 1987 that uses a compact audio cassette as its recording medium] that I got when I was about 10 years old. My friends and I would mess around creating mini action and comedy videos, if you could call them that."

Shenae Grimes in Sugar, which tells the story of a group of homeless kids in Venice Beach.

All throughout high school in Pacific Beach, Kelly and his friends continued to make short films. While an undergraduate in Visual Arts at the University of California at San Diego, Kelly was awarded two student Emmys for his films and went on to receive an MFA in film production at the University of Southern California School of Cinema and Television in 2004.

"While at USC, I just shot everything interesting that I could," he recalls. "I was also crewing in other positions, as well, but mainly just doing all I could to get my hands on the camera."

In grad school, he built an impressive reel and shot the Oscar®-winning short film, West Bank Story (2005), a bold musical-comedy take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It got him and his fellow filmmakers a lot of recognition, but he says the struggle to ‘make it’ in Hollywood is still significant.

"Again, I was back to shooting everything I could and just making all the connections possible in the professional world, outside of school," he says. "I tried to focus on indie features that had stories and characters I was passionate about, since I felt my best work would come out of that."

Since graduating, Kelly has been director of photography on 18 feature films, and since the RED cameras debuted at NAB in 2007, he has shot many of them on that ever-evolving digital sensor, and used them on many commercials and music videos. Back in 2011, he worked with director Rotimi Rainwater on a low-budget feature called Sugar, about a group of homeless kids in Venice Beach.