Visual Experimentation

Laura Merians recently returned from Iceland, where she shot a music video with the internationally popular Icelandic band Sigur Rós. It was the second time she has filmed in Iceland in less than six months, having also just wrapped Björk’s new video, Mutual Core, with director Andrew Huang. "It’s weird to go all the way there and not shoot outdoors," laughs Merians. "I was told I’m the only person to go there twice in a couple months to shoot on a stage! I can’t wait to go back again and shoot outside—the light is unbelievable."

If you go back to Laura Merians’ childhood journals, you’ll read about her thoughts on the living room’s lighting or a comment on the moonlight one night. From as early as she can remember, Merians was talking about the quality of light. "It’s comforting to know I’m the same person—same insecurities, same loves, same fascinations," shares Merians.

Merians’ father was always taking pictures and always had cameras around. He was a doctor, but after marrying Merians’ mother, who was a model, the two traveled the world and he photographed it. He shot a few celebrities, including Jimi Hendrix, but mostly it was his instinct for imagery that Merians revered. "He was always talking about photography and surrounding my brother and I with art," she remembers. "Lighting was always a topic of conversation. In every environment that we lived in, he’d pay attention to it and comment on it, which caused me to pay attention to it."

For a Sigur Rós music video shoot captured with RED cameras, Merians made use of strobe lights, which according to the DP, gives off a different effect than if shot with film.

Merians didn’t realize that this love of lighting could be turned into a career until after she had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in philosophy. She had a work-study job in the Theater department as a lighting technician during her college days, but it was when her brother was working on a film with the photographer Larry Clark in 2000 that she realized it could be a job.

"I visited him in Florida before I was about to take off for Japan," she says. "Because it was so low budget and they needed every hand they could get, the director invited me to stay and work on the film and gave me the choice of any department. Of course, I wanted lighting! The gaffer made me best boy electric, and that was that. Power distribution ended up being one of my main loves in the lighting department—figuring out distribution, where it needed to be, anticipating it on the scout. I loved being able to provide that to every department."

Merians worked as an electrician for over six years. She joined Local 728 almost immediately, and because it was such a busy time, the Local was calling her for jobs constantly in features, commercials and television.

In 2002, Merians bought a Panasonic AG-DVX100 and started shooting on her own. "I was doing these little videos," recalls Merians, "these one-off projects, when one of them got picked up for a series. Lovespring International was a great improv comedy show with Jane Lynch and was my first real job as a cinematographer."