Richard Sanborn on Cinematography in the Indie World

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Were you always interested in filmmaking?
Honestly, no not really. I had a light interest when I was a kid; my siblings and I would make home movies, but other than that I can’t say I had a big interest in filmmaking. I was always interested in movies themselves and the process of making them intrigued me, but I always viewed filmmaking as a pipe dream, something that I could never do myself, something that was out of reach for someone not in LA or who hadn’t already been doing it for years. I started seriously pursuing film after I graduated college in 2008, right as the economy crashed. At the time I had a Bachelor’s in Business Management from Texas State University and was looking to be a commercial property manager. No one was hiring at the time and my only work option was Starbucks so I figured if no one was going to hire me anyway, I might as well not get hired pursuing my pipe dream.

You dabble in everything. Writing, Directing, Sound, Cinematography, etc. Which are you most comfortable with?
I’m definitely most comfortable with cinematography. I went to a small film school on the east coast wanting to learn how to work with cameras, but the closest program they had was directing, so I took it upon myself to learn both. Learning the technical side of filmmaking in tandem with the artistic side really helps me shoot for the edit in my own projects. The reason I dabbled in so many different departments was because I started freelancing in Virginia; obviously a much smaller market than Georgia, especially at the time. In Virginia no one was going to pay for a full crew, the projects just weren’t big enough there, so if you weren’t a “one man band” then you just wouldn’t get work. It forced freelancers like myself to write, direct, light, edit, all of the above. The industry dynamic is much different here in Georgia, down here you need to be very skilled towards one aspect of production instead of just “alright” at everything. This gives me the opportunity to focus on camera work and cinematography.

How was your time with Threat Tec, LLC? Pretty badass I bet.
Threat Tec was definitely a fun place to work! In the 9 months I spent in their marketing department I was given essentially free reign of any film projects I wanted to pursue (aside from the projects I was contracted to do, of course). My primary job was to create “digital field manuals” for U.S. soldiers so instead of taking courses on how to properly perform military operations they can watch a 10-12 minute video showing them exactly how it’s supposed to be done. Whenever I wasn’t working on that I would write and shoot spec scripts for commercials for the many companies umbrella’d under the “Threat Tec” name. It was interesting because the building we worked in housed 3-4 companies all with their own products, goals, and personalities, and I got to work on projects for each so I was forced to change gears on the fly when I had multiple productions going on at once. Whenever I’d have free time they also had a virtual reality station set up in the office which I’d sneak away to play around on…often…

“Hubcap” has a pretty interesting premise: a killer hubcap. I bet shooting that must have been a challenge.
The premise was what got me so interested in the project in the first place! I love silly, stupid premises like that, as a DP it lets you go wild because you get to give this inanimate object a personality. It also led to a lot of problem-solving on set in the vein of “Ok, the director wants this hubcap to bounce off this tire and fly onto the top of this trailer. Due to time and financial constraints we didn’t previz this shot, so let’s figure this out.” Luckily, l have a VFX background (another side effect of the “cross-department dabbling” in Virginia) and most of the hubcap shots are actually practical puppetry shots so things like that weren’t too big of a problem for us. We had a great crew on that show and because of them, we were able to finish that production on a strong note.

“Hubcap”

I interviewed Adam Boyer from “Hubcap”. Great guy. Very talented. “Entre Nous” also has a hell of a cast & crew. You are in good company. How has that experience been?
Adam’s a great actor and an equally great guy! “Entre Nous” was a wonderful show to DP. Coming off of a comedy like “Hubcap” it was nice to switch gears to a drama. It was the first show where I feel like I was given the resources and time to achieve the look the director, Seth Hendricks (who is awesome, by the way), and I had initially talked about, and I feel that it shows. Aside from a few scenes that Seth already had meticulously planned out, he essentially told me what kind of cinematography he loved, the color palette he wanted, and left me to my own devices. The trust that he put in me and the freedom he allowed me to let me take his vision and supplement it with my own to create the final product. The cast and crew were great on “Entre”, and honestly, the fact that everyone on set was so talented was the only reason we made our very dense production days. The actors all came incredibly prepared, without Gabriel Cruz as my gaffer and Jeremy Cournyea as my AC/Op (both of which wore multiple hats throughout production while I sat behind a monitor with my coffee), along with the many other people who helped us on this show, we would have fallen behind every day. Instead, we made every one of our days and we finished principle photography as scheduled.

“Entre Nous”

How did you enjoy working with Mark Ashworth?
I loved working with Mark! He’s definitely in the top tier of the most talented actors I’ve ever worked with. He’d show up to set incredibly prepared for his scenes, and when he was in character he was very intense and professional. I can’t give anything away story-wise but he’s awesome in Entre. It was a pleasure to work with a talent of Mark’s caliber.  

Mark Ashworth in “Entre Nous”

Do you feel the Georgia film community will continue to grow in the upcoming years, especially in the indie world?
I sure hope so, I don’t want to move again. I do think the Georgia film industry is going to keep growing though, more and more productions are shooting here every year and I hope the trend sticks. As long as the tax incentives stay intact, I don’t think we’ll have much to worry about. I think with the growth of talent coming to Georgia we’re definitely going to see more and more impressive indie projects coming out, hopefully, I’ll get to light some of them! Georgia was never known as an “indie hub”, but the more union shows that come here, the more talented cast and crew they bring with them. Hopefully, this will lead to more and more indie projects getting made!

Are you a film or digital guy?
Since I started working in the film industry after 2010, I’ve only shot digital, but I love film. My first cinematography professor essentially trained me to shoot for film, so the techniques I use to light my films now have a very traditional “natural” feel to them. I have a high respect for the artists who had to shoot on film because it’s a whole other animal to do digital. Nowadays it’s hard to tell digital and film apart especially with all the freedoms in post that come with shooting digitally. I love film, but all the advances in digital cameras sure make life easier.

What do your duties as Locations Management consist of?
Man, where do I even start? Locations department has different jobs depending on if the show’s in preproduction, production, or post so I apologize if this answer goes a little long. In preproduction Locations department is in charge of finding the locations, talking to the owner of said location, making sure everything we’re going to do on the shoot day is alright with the owner, we find parking for crew, base camp parking, places to put our work trucks, we lock down streets, gets permits, hire cops to block traffic, the list goes on. On the actual shoot day, locations is in charge of essentially being the liaison between the location owner or rep and the crew since the majority of the crew has never been to the location before then. We make sure that the location is being treated with respect and all of the crew on the show are acting in accordance with the permits we got through the city. At the end of the day, it’s the Locations department which is in charge of making sure the owner of the location is happy and (hopefully) be alright with letting us come back and shoot again. We manage compensation for the use of the location and finally, we manage the wrap out of all of the rigging and we fix any damage done to the location during shooting.

Locations department is extremely taxing, but on the shows I’ve worked locations, I’ve found it to be a nice change of pace from DPing.

What’s next for you?
Right now I’m DPing a short film in December, then later that same month I’m DPing a pilot for an “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” meets “Master of None” style comedy that I’m definitely excited to shoot. For next year I’m in talks to DP another project in January, and from there I just hope to keep working on camera team or as DP on bigger and bigger projects!

Richard’s IMDB

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