INTERVIEW: director & cinematographer Geoff Reisner

Today we host a very interesting interview with Geoff Reisner, the winner of this year's DramaFest short-movie competition. Geoff currently works in Hollywood, but his roots in the indie film-making is apparent in his short films like "Heritage" and "Project 47" (both available for free download). Read more below.

1. Please tell us how you got into film-making and what's driving you to express yourself through this art.

At the age of eight, my initial interest in film-making sparked and I began to toy with my father's camcorder to make short films with friends and family. From then on, the idea of pursuing a career in film always lingered in the back of my mind. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that I ultimately made the decision to commit exclusively to film. I had many directions which I could have chosen at the time but the idea of becoming a filmmaker gripped me like no other.

I attended Columbia College Chicago and worked my way through the film curriculum. I didn't have a mentor or know any advanced students in the program to point me towards a certain direction or specialization. So rather than focus on a specific field, I studied anything the school had to offer relating to film. The one aspect of my work ethics which has really helped me is my need to understand all facets of the production effort. I studied cameras, sound, editing, producing, and directing among so much more. I needed to understand how everything worked. Although my ambition is to be a director, I can operate camera, do sound, and edit if necessary. I felt that in order to maximize my abilities, I had to learn and understand all the technical aspects of making a film.

Storytelling has and always will be the number one way to communicate a vision and share a message. Whether it's a small group in front of a fire or a large group in a tightly packed movie theater, a deep and profound experience occurs. The idea of sharing an idea and stimulating emotions is very powerful. I don't sleep much because I'm always anxious to start the next day. Each day is another opportunity to use my mind and hands to build and create something from nothing. Creation itself is my driving force; be it painting, drawing, sculpting, music or film. It's a deeply rooted need to create and share my passion. Mine just happens to be film.

2. Do you think there's room for more directors or film makers in the industry, or is the market completely saturated at the moment?

I think there is plenty of room for more directors in this industry. Content itself is king and forever will be. If you make a good film that people want to see, it'll spread, no question. You could be a no- name director with nothing under your belt, but if you make the next 'Citizen Kane", the industry will quickly make room for you. This industry is massive and the truth is, there aren't enough great films out there to close the doors. If every film that came out of Hollywood were a huge success, only then would it be hard for new directors to break in. I feel that for every bad film which is released, there's an opportunity for a new director. I'm encouraged when I see bad films in the theaters because I know there's still room for improvement. It means there's still some room at the top.

3. Budget aside, what else impacts the quality of an indie film compared to a big movie studio film?

Although the production of a 'script' is definitely dependent on its budget, the script itself is not. With a studio film, you have access to some of the best writers in the world. In an indie film, you usually don't have that luxury unless you or someone you know is a great writer. Regardless of your abilities as a cinematographer, director or editor...if your script is bad, your film will be bad. Story is everything, the absolute core of your film and too often, indie films are crafted from poorly written scripts. You might have the passion and technical proficiency to craft a film but I feel that many strike too soon with a script that isn't bulletproof.

4. I read that you have directed a number of music video clips. How do these differ from directing a TV episode or a full film in terms of technique?

I've been the cinematographer on a few music videos but I haven't had the opportunity to direct one yet. But the role of the cinematographer is tightly intertwined with directing and there are some very noticeable differences. With a film or TV episode, things have to be constructed as a narrative with linear logic; a beginning, middle and end. With music videos, you can shoot in very distinct beats. From a production standpoint, they're easier and faster to shoot. You get that precise look or beat you need and move on to the next shot. You can't move like that with a regular film or TV episode.

5. What's the most gratifying experience you had during your career?

In February of this year, I took first place in the Drama Film Festival. The idea of other people all over the world viewing the film and voting for it was incredible. It was my second film, made for nearly nothing, created from an idea I had one night a few weeks prior. It strengthened my drive and fueled my ambition as a filmmaker and told me I was heading in the right direction.

6, Do you think that HDV consumer camcorders at around $1000 are 'good enough' to shoot professionally-looking short films, commercials or music video clips? If yes, do you think that this can have a negative impact on the higher-end cameras that sell at around $5000 and indie film makers usually prefer?

The camera in use is only as good as the operator who controls it. An HDV consumer camera in the hands of the right person will shine and emulate those $5,000 cameras quite well, if not better depending on whom they're being compared against. I've seen both great and bad work come from the exact same camera; it's up to the person behind the lens to create that professional looking image. I don't think this has a negative impact on higher-end prosumer cameras in the $5,000 range because filmmakers choose the tools they need to tell the right story. A great cinematographer will be able to create beautiful looking imagery with a $1,000 camera...but it could look even better with one that costs $5,000. But even that can be subjective depending on the look you're hoping to obtain.

7. What's your favorite genre and why? Who's your favorite director, movie and TV series?

My favorite genre would be action; but action with a story...I would love to combine the visuals of Michael Bay with the storytelling of Michael Mann. My favorite director is currently Christopher Nolan, all of his films are incredible. I don't really have a favorite movie...there's just too many to pick one exclusive film but I will say that 'Jurassic Park' is the film that really encouraged me to pursue a career in film. I only watch one TV series, '24". I'm hooked!

8. Some say that the RED ONE will change the industry completely. Do you agree?

From an industry perspective, yes. It's going to change the numbers and allow both indie and big studios to change the way they make movies. Indie filmmakers themselves will be able to have production quality and value that more closely rivals a studio film, at least cinematically speaking.

Bigger studios will be able to cut their production costs significantly. Perhaps we'll see a surge of low-cost movies coming from the studios. I'd like to believe that they'll fund more small-scale projects which in turn will lead to more productions, more jobs and more opportunities for up and coming filmmakers around the world.

9. What are your current projects?

I'm working on two television pilots; one for a reality show and another for a one-hour drama. I'm producing a feature horror film that I'm trying to get into production with a few of my partners. Besides that, we've got some music videos to shoot over the next few months. I'm also busy working on a few more short films of my own.

10. Given the choice: would you prefer to shoot a full-length theatrical film for not-so-much-money, or accept a contract with a TV series for more money?

I'd prefer to shoot a full-length feature. I have nothing against TV but I'm more interested in creating feature films. It's more difficult to have consistent creative control over a TV show; producers and writers are always changing, the show evolves in both good and bad directions. With a feature film, it's a glimpse into a fantasy world that exists only for a short time. You've got that one chance to tell the story and you better get it right.