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On The Rise '12: 5 Cinematographers Lighting Up Screens In Recent Years

by Oliver Lyttelton
June 26, 2012 1:10 PM
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Shut Up And Play The Hits

Reed Morano
Last time we did one of these features looking at cinematographers, one of our commenters suggested the name Reed Morano, who we had to confess was only starting to come on to our radar. But props to 'Ink2Lens' for prescience way back in the day, because Morano is now a fixture in the indie world, and a cinematographer whose work has been consistently excellent across a diverse range of films, even as she gets busier and busier.

The 35-year-old Morano started out documenting family life as a teenager, which along with a high school interest in stills photography, led her to apply to film school at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts (she'd later return to teach as an adjunct professor of cinematography for two years). She worked as a camera assistant throughout college, before moving into grip and electrical departments after graduation, picking up her first DoP credit on Joshua Rofe's 2005 indie feature "Brooklyn Battery." This was followed up by regular TV work, on reality shows like The Learning Channel's "Cover Shot" and Court TV's "Psychic Detective," while making features like the excellent documentary "Off The Grid: Life On The Mesa."

But 2008 saw her get her breakout, thanks to Courtney Hunt's "Frozen River," starring Melissa Leo (who went on to get an Oscar nomination for the role, while the film picked up the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance that year). Shooting on HD video, Morano still says the film, lensed in upstate New York in icy temperatures, was her toughest shoot, the camera even freezing on one day (As Morano tells it, "Kate Larose and Kristian Maynard, my camera assistants that night, took the camera to a house where they massaged it until it started wroking again. Miraculously, we only lost a few hours.") But her simple naturalism -- lighting scenes 360 degrees and shooting handheld -- worked beautifully for the film, and was surely one of the reasons for its great success.

That film put her firmly on the map, and after 2011's "Yelling To The Sky," which played at Berlin, she's got five films in theaters and festivals across 2012: Elgin James' "Little Birds" which premiered at Sundance last year (and which Morano shot while seven months pregnant -- her husband, Matt, is her gaffer); So Yong Kim's "For Ellen"; Jay Gammill's "Free Samples"; Will Lovelace & Dylan Southern's LCD Soundsystem documentary "Shut Up And Play The Hits" and Rob Reiner's "The Magic Of Belle Isle," which Morano self-effacingly claims she got because she was used to working on much shorter schedules ("I told them 25 days sounded luxurious when they asked if it was possible to complete the movie in that time. I was totally confident that it was completely doable").

That's certainly unfair, we think. Morano is unpretentious about her work, saying "A lot of cinematography is intuition," and explaining her philosophy by saying "It’s not that I’m not into super-stylized cinematography, because I actually am a huge admirer of it. But, in execution, I personally gravitate towards simplicity. If I can light a whole scene with one unit outside a window, and shoot 360, that’s what I love. My favorite challenge is finding a way to light that doesn’t interfere at all with the actors. I also like being able to go wherever I want to with the camera. I think it comes in part from necessity, and the need to move very quickly. But I also believe that less is more and it can put the focus on the story."

But the beauty of the images she delivers, from the sun-kissed vistas of "Little Birds" to the intimate, snatched insights of "Shut Up And Play The Hits," one of the best-looking concert movies we've ever seen, can be put up against anyone working. And unusually for someone who's worked predominately in the indie world, she still fights for film, although has worked on digital, saying "It’s hard to describe why film looks better. I always come back to the feeling it gives me. There is something about it. Digital tends to look flatter to me. I think it’s because there’s less information in the image. There is something about film that feels warmer and more real to me. It’s very hard to put into words. You just have to look at it, and it speaks for itself. Some people prefer digital because they can shoot as much as they want. That seems greedy to me. I would rather be restricted in how much I can shoot, and have it look stunning. I’m not at the point where I can insist on film yet, but all but three of my features have been shot on film. As much as I embrace every format for its innovation, film is very, very important to me."

Morano's wrapped on a couple of features that should arrive next year -- Markus Blunder's "Autumn Blood" with Sophie Lowe and Peter Stormare, and the highly promising Beat Generation murder mystery "Kill Your Darlings," with Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan and Elizabeth Olsen. And she's got even more on the way; reteaming with "Little Birds" director Elgin James on hostage thriller "Come Sundown," and lensing Deborah Kampmeir's Carson McCullers biopic "Lonely Hunter," with Jena Malone. We honestly don't know where she finds the time, but we're awfully glad she does.  

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  • paul | April 9, 2014 5:34 PMReply

    what about ELLIOT DAVIS, long time collaborator with catherine hardwicke....stunning work on the Iron Lady and keanu reeves directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi.......beautiful

  • Grey | August 8, 2012 1:49 AMReply

    No Greig Fraser? His work has been out of this world. The cinematography in 2009's Bright Star was so gorgeous.

  • Winnie Jong | July 18, 2012 9:14 PMReply

    According to critics' reviews, Marco Cappetta, AIC, should make your list. How often does a horror film get sweeping praise for its beautiful cinematography? "Bereavement" did just that, its award-winning cinematography was easily one of the best reviewed of 2011. Fantastic-looking film!

    “evocatively photographed by D.P. Marco Cappetta"
    Frank Scheck - The Los Angeles Times

    "almost flawless visually"
    John Anderson - New York Film Critics Circle

    "stylishly filmed and technically accomplished"
    Frank Scheck - The Hollywood Reporter

    "Marco Cappetta's cinematography is one of the film's key assets"
    Michael Gingold - Fangoria

    "shot with far more care than most studio-produced horror films"
    Christian Toto - The Washington Times

    “Marco Cappetta may be the finest cinematographer since Dean Cundey. "Bereavement" is beautiful, it's rare to see a horror film so lovingly shot. Many of the shots are near works of art in themselves"
    Kyle Scott - The Horror Hotel

    "The Cinematography is excellent, I’m talking Oscar-awarding excellent"
    The Horror Review

    "sumptuosly somber cinematography by Marco Cappetta. Visually, everything was simply gorgeous"
    John Fallon - Joblo/Arrow in the Head

    "One of the key assets is the cinematography, by Marco Cappetta. Touching, masterful and amazing"
    Lorenzo Ricciardi - L'Ecran Fantastique

    “Marco Cappetta gives audiences one of the most beautiful-looking horror films of the year”
    Heather Wixson – The Misadventures of the Horror Chick

    "the cinematography is striking"
    Bryan Buss - Moving Pictures

    "this film looks amazing... Marco Cappetta knows how to make horror look absolutely beautiful"
    Bryan Martinez - Film

    "the cinematography is gorgeous"
    Brad Keefe - Columbus

    "'Bereavement' looks amazing"
    Take my Life

    "the cinematography, by Marco Cappetta, looks great"
    Glenn McDonald -

    "The film looks better than many major studio horror productions"
    John Wirt -

    "the cinematography by Marco Cappetta is top-notch"
    Dustin Putman -

    “beautifully shot, compliments of cinematographer Marco Cappetta”

    “with key cinematography by Marco Cappetta”
    Carl Manes - I Like Horror

    “the cinematography of Marco Cappetta is stunning”
    Ted Payson – The Flick Cast

    “gorgeous shots, one of the most beautiful horror films I've seen in a long time”
    T.D. Clark – Death

    “the film is beautifully shot by Marco Cappetta, with some terrific cinematography”
    Jesse Miller – More

    "a great-looking film, courtesy of DP Marco Cappetta"
    Horror Movie a Day

    "beautiful cinematography by Marco Cappetta. The photography is almost surreal, artfully creating a nightmarish dimension"
    Chiara Pani - Araknex's Film Critic Horror Vault

    "with a great look by cinematographer Marco Cappetta"
    Lee Weber - AV Blue-Ray reviews

    "beautifully filmed, one of the most handsome films I've seen in ages"
    Jay Kulpa - DVD Snapshot

    “beautiful cinematography”
    Kevin Woods – Independent

  • cbh | July 11, 2012 4:33 PMReply

    Bárbara Alvarez. She shot Lucrecia Martel's LA MUJER SIN CABEZA (THE HEADLESS WOMAN, Argentina 2008) which, for me, is the best lensed feature of the decade. Period. CBH

  • jb | July 2, 2012 2:31 PMReply

    i think you mean "cairo time" under the luc montpellier section. and i second the surprise at no bradford young.

  • Suspicious | June 26, 2012 8:01 PMReply

    Very suspicious of the race quota that has been adressed here
    in the section comments.
    Favorites are a matter of taste not of democracy.
    No one has the right to demand that a Black DP should be
    one's favorite. It's ridiculous. Wake up people.

  • Wide Awake | June 26, 2012 9:22 PM

    Well @Suspicious, the last time I checked, which is every morning when I wake up; this was an industry trade site. Where, in the article does it mention the word "favorite"? If it were a list about favorites not one of us film psycho-fanatic-lovers who took pause to excitedly click on and read an entire piece top to bottom on DoP's, would give a rat's ass about who did and who didn't make the cut . Let us get one thing straight, Oliver built a solid list! And every single DoP on it deserves their seat at the table. No if, and or buts!
    The article pointedly states; "Check out our five picks below, and let us know other DoPs you've got your eye on in the comments section below."
    You don't have to agree that Playlist regularly excludes wide variety on all their given menus slash lists (click the attached links in article for their previous lists on actors, actresses, screenwriters and directors for a dose of outer perspective.) but that doesn't make it less truthful or small sighted or infer devout readers hungry for macro are asleep and need to wake up to your bountiful horizon.
    Bradford was mentioned for merit, not skin tone. The healthy question arising appears to be; what is the yard stick for getting Playlist's attention on this or any of their other killer-talentfilled lists/daily posts/career tracking?
    Sorta humorous and entitled to think you have a right to command [people to wake up] because they're filmlovers with respect for this site and are simply commenting (upon request) toward a more macro menu to dine upon...

  • Person | June 26, 2012 4:26 PMReply

    Great article. Talented batch. Don't take this personal but goodness how is it remotely possible you don't have BRADFORD YOUNG on this list? (It isn't as if he's hiding, he won "Best DP" at Sundance 2011, for 1 of 2 features on that year's roster. How many DP'S can you list with 2feature narratives at Sundance?) Had a feature in 2012 Sundance, "Middle of Nowhere", where the director won "Best Director" &it just played LAFF, Gala night. Will be released in October, with 3additional films in the can. This site needs to expand peripheral vision, you can't say you didn't see "Pariah". What about "R.C." and "M.O.N? It isn't as if Bradford's films are off the radar. Obviously off Playlist &your radar but not off "the" radar. He has 1-2 films a year at 'the' meta-domestic fest. "Restless City" is a love letter to light &tones, the cinematography is knock down enviable. When you see it, you're going to understand my frustration.
    A particular group of people, seem invisible whenever Playlist makes these lists, even when those people are right under your nose, in the 'exact-precise' same pool the entire industry is fishing from...widen the net already. I love-love this site, but damn, taller hat. (Super grt that Reed Morano is on this list.)

  • Todd | June 26, 2012 6:10 PM

    @Oliver, I didn't read that (person's) remark as a question. The period indicates a statement as in, You can't excuse your omission by stating, "You didn't see [one particular film]". The point is Bradford's had three films in circulation inside a fourteen month stretch and a quick check to IMDB reveals he's made other films, Entre Nos and Mississippi Damned. Are we to surmise those 2009 entries haven't made it to you either? This site gets heavy industry traction. Kind of seems careless, somewhat lazy not to go hunting for wide scope of talent that's out there when you're building these list. You have a forum to teach us about talent we don't know, instead of waiting for films to reach your part of the world, whereby we're bound to end up teaching you.

  • Nisa | June 26, 2012 5:03 PM

    Holy cow! In total agreement!

  • Oliver Lyttelton | June 26, 2012 4:38 PM

    See below. But to reprise, I put the list together, and Pariah hasn't made it to my part of the world yet, and neither have Restless City or Middle of Nowhere. Pariah looks glorious, but if I haven't seen the whole thing, I wouldn't feel comfortable putting him on here. Next time we do this list, I bet Young's a dead cert.

  • edward | June 26, 2012 4:18 PMReply

    lance acord in honorable mentions??? he's been around since '93. no bother in mentioning him as he's directing his first feature at his company park pictures (which did robot & frank). he's without a doubt one of the most talented working DP's working today. BAD PLAYLIST BAD!!!

  • Mony | June 26, 2012 3:17 PMReply

    Interesting article, I never really thought about the cinematographers but probably should pay more attention to them..

    Do they make good money? Some actors make more than they should, but I hope these cinematographers make some good money for all the work they do.

  • bunty | June 26, 2012 3:08 PMReply

    Nice article, Oliver. Well done.

  • jb | July 2, 2012 3:22 PM

    this is my go-to film blog, but i have to second nisa's comments.

  • Nisa | June 26, 2012 5:02 PM

    Not quite. Severely under researched and made under the lens of writer's limits and privilege. The excuse that the writer hasn't seen THREE celebrated films by directors of color shot by Bradford Young that have ALL THREE played the country's top festival is a pathetic reflection on this blog's scope and highlights an ongoing exclusion of movielovers who don't look exactly like you. Thought you guys were better than that.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | June 26, 2012 2:36 PMReply

    Greig Fraser was on our list last time around, two years ago. And mea culpa on Bradford Young; Pariah hasn't made it to my part of the world yet, though I'm sure he'd be a serious contender if I had seen it.

  • jb | July 2, 2012 3:20 PM

    not just pariah, but also middle of nowhere, ma'george, and restless city. features with considerable noise and traction in indie circles.

  • Katie Walsh | June 26, 2012 2:22 PMReply

    Robert Hauer. He's only done shorts for the most part, but as a first feature, Dead Man's Burden on 35mm is absolutely stunning. If that's any indication, he will be on this list soon.

  • Martin | June 26, 2012 1:45 PMReply

    Good list, but you should name Greig Fraser too.

  • Pierce V | June 26, 2012 1:35 PMReply

    No Bradford Young? What the hell.

  • Arch | June 26, 2012 1:41 PM

    I really was looking forward to read about him too ... yet Pariah is a few days short of being a 2012 release so I guess that's why... Great idea for a list anyway, these are people I wanna hear about !

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