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Chatting w/ Cinematographer Daniel Patterson on Working w/ Spike Lee on 'Da Sweet Blood of Jesus' & More

Photo of Jai Tiggett By Jai Tiggett | Shadow and Act June 25, 2014 at 12:33PM

Currently on location in Brazil for a new project with Spike Lee, Daniel made time to catch up with Shadow And Act via email about his career and the craft of cinematography.
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Patterson and crew in Brazil
Patterson and crew in Brazil

We're pleased to introduce Frame By Frame, a new series here on Shadow And Act featuring guest posts and in-depth conversations giving insight into the art and business of film and television. It's a project we've been working on for a while now, and are excited to present to you in the coming months.

Specifically, we'll be hearing from those who work mostly outside of directing - those who shoot, edit, design, score, produce, represent, and otherwise handle much of the content we're seeing today. Our first installment features rising Director of Photography Daniel Patterson.

A graduate of Morehouse College and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Daniel Patterson has shot over 30 film projects including several that we’ve covered on this site - Darius Clark Monroe's compelling documentary "Evolution of a Criminal," "Tahir Jetter's" web series "Hard Times," Shaka King's 2013 Sundance comedy "Newlyweeds," Rashaad Ernesto Green's 2011 drama "Gun Hill RoadOut in the Night," and Spike Lee's highly anticipated crowdfunded film "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus," which will premiere at ABFF this summer.

Currently on location in Brazil for Spike Lee's Beats of the Beautiful Game short film, Daniel made time to catch up with Shadow And Act  about his career and the craft of cinematography.

Regarding inspiration, he lists Arthur Jafa, Malik Sayeed, Bradford Young, Ellen Kuras, Cesar Charlone, his longtime collaborator Justin Staley and his native South Jamaica, Queens as cinematic influences.

On how they've rubbed off on him:

Cesar was amazing to work with on "Sucker Free City." I borrowed from his never quit attitude. He is 60 plus years old, but you'd never guess it by his energy level. On "City of God," he moved the camera beautifully. Ellen inspires me with camera movement... Ellen and Malik share DP credit on "He Got Game." I love the elaborate camera movement in that film.

"Mississippi Damned" is my favorite film that Bradford Young has DP'd. I love the level of naturalism he explored in the light in that film. My aesthetic is naturalistic. I borrow from nature.

AJ shot "Daughters of the Dust." Justin inspires me to push the limits.

"Working with Spike has been humbling and eye opening. Spike is a master of the craft of filmmaking and arguably the best American filmmaker."

On how he got started in cinematography:


As a kid, I wanted to be a psychologist. People have always fascinated me. But the first film I shot was at Morehouse College. I thought that directors shot their own films, so I wrote a short and shot it. 

My first cinematography teacher was Ron Gray at New York University, Tisch Graduate Film School in 2004. Ron, along with the other cinematography professors encouraged me to be a cinematographer because of class exercises I shot. At NYU, I learned the fundamentals of shooting.

On how his experience at NYU shaped his career:

At NYU I met talented filmmakers who I continue to work with now. NYU is the most respected institution for filmmaking in the world, so it helps to have the highest degree offered in film production from the first film school the country. NYU shaped my perspective too, of course. I learned how to not take no for an answer and figure out a way to get your film made - be savvy.

On working with Spike Lee:

My first time DP'ing for Spike was on "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus." Eleven years prior, I interned on "25th Hour." After "25th Hour," I PA'd on "Sucker Free City" and "Inside Man," both directed by Spike Lee. Working with Spike has been humbling and eye opening. Spike is a master of the craft of filmmaking and arguably the best American filmmaker. Working with Spike, I've learned how to better manage time. He works on multiple projects at once, as does my brother Darius Clark Monroe.

Our relationship has evolved positively through us working together and delivering on projects. When we work together, I think we have a good time and I get to collaborate in telling powerful stories. Teddy Bridgewater, then the latest Eminem video, and now I am answering your questions from shooting with Spike in Brazil.

As we collaborate more and more, I get better at my job and I get a front row class in directing. It doesn't get any better for me. 

This article is related to: Daniel Patterson


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