Matt Siegel, Director of Photography, talks about being an instructor and more about the ARRI Academy Certified Camera and Cinematography Workshop.
PH: Tell us about your background and why you decided to work with ARRI and become an Academy instructor?
Matt Siegel: My background in the film industry has been as a director of photography and camera operator. I have worked in Hollywood and around the world on feature films, episodic television, VOD series, commercials, and documentaries.
As a feature film camera operator, I have had a wonderful time on blockbuster films like The Matrix: Reloaded, Master and Commander, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
My TV experience has been as a 2nd Unit DP and Camera Operator on episodic television. I crewed on the WB series Everwood, the CBS drama Joan of Arcadia, the Jerry Bruckheimer series Just Legal, and the CBS series The Mentalist.
I have also put in my time shooting commercials, feature documentaries, reality TV, and adventure TV, traveling the globe with Animal Planet, Asian Food Network, BBC, Comedy Central, Discovery, Discovery Kids, HGTV, Nat Geo, and the Travel Channel.
PH: Why work with ARRI?
Matt Siegel: I have been working with ARRI since the beginning of my career. They make the highest quality motion picture equipment in the world, from both an imaging standpoint and from an ease of use POV. I was an owner of ARRI 35mm and Super16mm film cameras. Then I worked with ARRI beta-testing and using their original ARRI digital cinema cameras - the D-20 and D-21. I have known Marc Shipman-Mueller, the Alexa product manager since we were just starting out, and early-on purchased my first Alexa (Classic) and ARRI/Fujinon Alura zooms. With the Alexa Mini, the Amira, the LF, and the Alexa 65, the ARRI Alexa family of digital cinema cameras allow me to select the right camera system for almost any creative application and across a broad budget range.
PH: And why become an Academy instructor?
Matt Siegel: I enjoy teaching with the Arri Academy as a way to demystify the cameras. While there is a certain amount of geeky, tech-talk in the workshop, I teach with an emphasis on the cameras’ ease of use. I do my best to make the technology easy to understand and approachable.
As an owner/operator of ARRI digital camera systems, I appreciate the innovative design features and recognize the image quality as the benchmark of digital image acquisition. But…I love the ease of use.
Because I am a DoP as well as an owner/operator, I provide a unique perspective – providing practical advice/information based on real-world experience and a healthy mix of tips and tricks. Ultimately, I am there as a guide for our Academy students; assisting them to learn the gear, which in turn allows them to create the best possible images, and to tell the most compelling visual stories.
PH: What can a participant expect to learn in the three days of the Certified User Training for Camera Systems class?
Matt Siegel: The ARRI Camera Systems Workshop provides an environment where we learn the ARRI camera systems and then dig deeper to discuss, explore, and test the technical and the aesthetic aspects of digital cinematography.
In the workshop, a participant learns and becomes comfortable with the set-up and operation of each ARRI camera, namely the Alexa Mini, the Amira, the SXT, and, when available, the LF. We explore both the shared and the unique characteristics and features of these systems. In today’s production market, you have to know the tech and the tools.
We go on to set-up the ARRI Eco-System. This world includes accessories (AKS), camera support, lenses, and electronic tools like ARRI’s wireless follow-focus, Master Grips, and video transmitters.
The class provides the opportunity to ask questions, push the buttons, learn the menus, build systems, and operate a wide variety of camera configurations without the pressure of daily production.
But that is just the start. The workshop is immersive and experiential. Class exercises provide a means to experiment and to get the most of the camera systems.
We spend time reviewing the camera essentials. In this way, making sure that everyone is speaking the same language, and has an understanding that numeric values – such as those associated with shutter, CODEC, aspect ratio, and resolution -- have meaning as creative tools and can be applied based on the stylistic choice of the director and DP.
The ARRI Camera Systems Workshop has a strong support team, including ARRI’s technical sales reps, a dedicated lens expert, and imaging technician and digital workflow specialist Nicolas Fournier from Montreal who covers areas of color management, workflow options, and the philosophy and strategies of high dynamic range image capture.
Beyond that, we work to create networking opportunities and bring in guests speakers from the industry to provide a well-rounded educational and career building experience.
PH: What level of technical and creative knowledge do you feel the participants should have when planning on attending?
Matt Siegel: On the technical side, the Camera System and Cinematography Workshop targets a mid-to-advanced level end-user. Or someone who needs a course that enables them to learn a solid foundation and then communicates with that mid-to-advanced level end-user.
What is compelling and important to the class is the diverse mix of creatives. We attract and support a wide range of producers, directors, directors of photography, rental house prep techs, imaging technicians, and camera assistants. All of whom help create a unique educational environment. While we have a fixed technical curriculum as part of the certified ARRI courses, the creative mix allows the class participants to gain perspective and learn from each other. That organic flow of information and knowledge makes live-learning with ARRI engaging and highly productive.
ARRI Academy offers other classes that are better suited to newcomers, so I would dissuade rank beginners from this particular workshop. They will find the material a bit dense and the pace a bit daunting. And for the top-end DPs who may be approaching a new project and using a new or different aspect of the ARRI system, we do 1-on-1 and specialty training as that serves them better.
PH: How much time can the participants expect to spend in a lecture format and hands-on the gear format?
Matt Siegel: The ARRI Camera System Workshop packs a lot into three days. We learn about the camera hardware, electronic control systems, menu systems, recording formats, ARRIRAW, log, rec 709, ARRI looks, HDR, and more. Lots of gear and lots of information.
I get our class hands-on ASAP. “Hello, good morning, let’s go.” The real learning and the strength of the workshop is directly tied to the unparalleled access to the ARRI gear and the opportunities to work with it and explore its merits.
First thing, Day One, we are setting tripods and fluid heads, building camera systems, working with lenses, setting cameras parameters, and making our way into the menu system. I use our lecture time and slides as a means to introduce and then review the camera hardware, ECS, AKS, etc.
As we move into Day Two, covering more abstract subjects like linear 16-bit ARRIRAW, then slides and lecture are better suited. But we finish strong on Day Three, with hands-on practical exercises, camera tests, and sample shot series and sequences.
PH: If the phrase “you learn as you teach” is accurate, what have you learned as a class instructor?
Matt Siegel: Teaching with the ARRI Academy, I come into contact with filmmakers and technicians from diverse backgrounds. The ARRI Academy attracts an eclectic mix of narrative filmmakers, commercial DPs, nature doc, and natural history shooters, underwater cinematographers, sports and ENG cameramen, product and tabletop director/cameramen, as well as a host of other specialists.
Through our students, I am introduced to a wide variety of technical applications and stylistic approaches. In the course of our three-day workshop, we share our knowledge and experience, learning from each other.
In most ARRI Academy classes that I guide, I am lucky to pick up a few tricks from our students and often hear about a new camera-centric application or device that I missed while working on-set.
I also see in each class how important it is to review and be in a position to apply (quickly) the fundamental tools of cinematography. It is essential to be fluent in both the technical and aesthetic languages of the craft.
Without that solid foundation and the proper means to communicate, filmmakers and DPs fail to take full advantage of the benefits derived from using the ARRI digital camera systems.
As much as I appreciate the latest gear and the newest tech, I learn in these classes to appreciate even more the art and craft of cinematography. And to recognize and to encourage a diverse range of visual stories.
PH: Anything else we should be asking that has value?
Matt Siegel: I am sure there are many more things to ask and to answer. We can tackle them in the next interview as we launch the Arri Academy Camera Systems and Cinematography Workshops in 2019.