If you loved the pilot of Westword, there is plenty more blockbuster magic to come from DP Paul Cameron. He recently provided an exclusive interview with ProductionHUB about the current film he's shooting, The Commuter, and provides a sneak peak into what to expect from the newest installament of the Pirates' franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
ProductionHUB: How did you first break into the industry?
Paul Cameron: I lived and went to junior high and high school in NYC. I didn't know anyone in the film business. My brother was an actor and I was around the public theater a lot. I also saw a lot of people shooting films on the streets on New York. My last year of high school, I moved to New Jersey. When asked by a guidance counselor where I wanted to go to college and what to study, I said film. There weren't a lot of choices in 1976. I ended up at SUNY Purchase College just north of New York City. I spent a lot of time at the New York Film Festival and in the city shooting my projects. One day I got the courage to ask someone from a crew I saw. I asked them how does a guy like me get to be in your position and learn about cameras. He told me to show up at Ferco Camera with a case of beer and ask for Walter. I did and slowly learned all the cameras. By the time I was out of college, I started shooting early music videos before the launch of MTV. I also did some smaller commercials. When I got the chance to take the test as a NABET as 1st AC, I failed. Two weeks later I applied as a DP. A few months later I was accepted to NABET as a DP. About a year later Tom Turley represented me at The Gersh Agency. I started doing high-end commercials with Bob Giraldi and Jeff Lovinger shortly thereafter.
PH: Who were some of the filmmakers and photographers who inspired you to get into the business?
Paul Cameron: Fortunately, when I lived with my brother he took me to a lot of films. Seeing films like The Godfather, All The Presidents Men, Manhattan, Klute, 2001, Clockwork Orange and Serpico had a pretty good effect on me to start. Once I started at SUNY Purchase, I began to fall in love with Wenders, Herzog, Truffaut and Godard and International Cinema in general. I went to a lot of galleries and shows in New York. I started an obsession with Stieglitz and Weston and Camera Works. My love of still photography began there, along with Elliot Erwitt and many others.
PH: What one particular shot has stood out to you the most from all of your projects (if you can pick just one) that you wish you could've executed differently?
Paul Cameron: I think I’ve done a lot of shots differently. Not just one shot. I started bigger films with color experimentation and 100% Silver retention on camera negative. I moved on to cross-processed hand-cranked reversal film on Man on Fire. On Collateral, I made the recommendation to Michael Mann to shoot the whole film on SONY 900’s. I designed a two minute Bullet Cam shot at the beginning of Swordfish before it was widely used. On Total Recall I designed a shot that required 4-40ft high-speed overlapping tracks that circles Colin Farrell’s fight.
I don’t really look back. Just forward.
PH: You're currently shooting The Commuter. What's that process like and what approaches did you take for this film? How'd you come up with a vision?
Paul Cameron: The Commuter was a great experience working with Director Jaume Collet-Serra. It was a good collaboration. The challenge for the film is that 75% takes place on a moving train one afternoon into evening. We shot the entire New York based film in London, mostly at Pinewood Studios. Fortunately, I stopped in New York on the way and shot 5D reference plates for what was supposed to be outside the windows at the right time of day. Shooting the film required tunnel lighting, late afternoon sun lighting, dusk and night.
It has to be seamless. The challenge was the 40 days looking at blue outside the windows. I had an awesome lighting rig designed by UK Gaffer Mark Clayton. He gave me the ripping tunnel sodiums along with the dancing sun across the seats. I saw a couple rough comps but not many. I am hoping it works because I embellished the effects for sure.
PH: What's been the most challenging shot(s) to execute so far and why?
Paul Cameron: All films have great challenges. The upcoming Pirates had some of the greatest. That film is predominantly Blue Screen. I designed and built 2 green screen arenas the size of Ikea buildings for the 160ft ships on gimbals. The decks were 36ft in the air. The weather and skies were always changing. I ran 4-120ft Condors w 3 18k armies and movers and danced them around the arena through the day. At night a 200ft crane would swing in the Night Spine w 10-10x10 Soft Boxes. Different condors over the back provided additional moonlight along with boxes within the arena for moon fill and big soft fire effects.
PH: What type of equipment are you relying on and how has that enhanced filming?
Paul Cameron: I don’t rely on anything except big guns like ARRIMAX to help me compete with daylight. I do prefer shooting film when I can. I love the new LED light technology and having everything wireless and DMX ready. I do love the new Stabileye Remote Head. I’m happy about the ALEXA MINI and its size. I wish the race for resolution would spot and more time and energy spent on conceptualization and visualization.
PH: Do you have a "favorite shot." Why/why not?
Paul Cameron: My favorite shot of my own is the final shot of Denzel in Man on Fire. It was a rainy challenging day outside of Pueblo Mexico and Tony Scott and I not happy about the light and what we shot. When everyone went to lunch the skies broke and the volcano in the distance blew. We grabbed the AD and the camera car driver and Denzel and hit the highway. Tony operated. I hand cranked. It was too real too believe. We finished the shot and we new we had an ending for the film. When we got back the light was amazing and I looked at Tony and just knew what he was thinking. We re-shot the previous day and a half’s work and the rest of the work in four hours. It was Tony’s birthday as well. Go figure.
PH: You're also working on the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales film. What can you tell us about that?
Paul Cameron: It should be a pretty good ride. We had a fabulous time on the Gold Coast of Australia shooting the film. Needless to say, I was blessed with an incredible local crew along with some A Level players from the states. I love the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski on the previous Pirates films. Hopefully the film is visually as good as the others.
PH: How will it be visually different from the others, while staying true to the look/feel of the series?
Paul Cameron: You will see a lot of shots I did with a drone system I helped developed with a Melbourne company called XM2. We built it to carry an ALEXA M. It enabled me to do aerials and sweeps around the ship in new ways. The drone also helped marry a number of big CG shots as well. I could get plates with real actors and action in no time at all.
We also had a 45ft Techno on a 60ft MegaDeck around the ships a lot. We on also craned a smaller 20ft Techno off and on the deck all day and night. There are also a few big cable cam shots we did with the Oculus head and our own made sled. There’s definitely some new stuff in there.