Award winning cinematographer Shawn Hiatt is another wonderful talent who will be conducting one of the sessions of Pacific New Media’s Elements of Film and Video Production workshop series.
Shawn has more than 20 years of experience in the film and video production industry here in Hawaii. His long list of clients and credits includes The Descendants, Soul Surfer, JEEP Tour of Duty, McDonalds and Steinlager, documentaries for ESPN and PBS, music videos for BET and MTV’s AMP, as well as a number of short films.
Shawn graciously spared us a few moments to participate in our instructor Q & A.
What do you love about working behind the camera?
What I love about working behind the camera is that, I love being there and creating and catching the “perfect” moments that happen, the camaraderie of the crew and working with a director to realize their vision for their film or job is wonderful.
How is today’s film and video industry in Hawaii different from when you started out?
Today’s film and video industry in Hawaii is completely different from when I started in 1988. When I started there were no TV series in town, and if they did come to town they were inaccessible to young folks. There were only 2-3 production companies in town doing all of the commercials that were on the air. You pretty much had to wait for someone to die before everyone could move up… All of the equipment was super expensive and also UH had nothing in the way of gear when I moved here in 1985. You really had to love it and beg, borrow and steal to have any access to anything or any opportunity. The big commercials were all shot on 35mm film, mid-sized budgets were on 16mm and the low end commercials and the ones done by TV stations were all on Portable 1″ videotape or 3/4″ Videotape. Non-linear editing did not exist yet and no one had editing systems except for the production companies, the TV stations and a couple of basic ones at Oceanic Community cable (before it was Olelo) and in the University of Hawaii system.
Everyone’s got some kind of camera in their back pocket nowadays, from Flip cameras to cell phones. Your thoughts on technology and its impact on the access to filmmaking?
With everyone having access to some form of camera system, whether on their phone, an iPad, DSLR, whatever form it will take in the next 5 minutes, it is an amazing opportunity to make any kind of project one can dream of. If you want your finished project to have impact, the language of cinema is still essential to know no matter what you are shooting on, so the basics still matter. It’s just the format that doesn’t matter today.
On the other end of the technology spectrum, what are the beauties and banes of working in HD? Any thoughts on the current 3D trend?
The good and the bad about our camera systems today… The new cameras are beautiful and the images are as clean as they have ever been. The good is the super fast turnaround to put the images to use and the depth of the image data for color correction and latitude. The bad is that the images are all ones and zeros and can be lost accidentally wiped clean very very easily and may not have a long shelf life for archival purposes due to hard drive life. On the set, being able to see so much on monitors has created issues for makeup, set decoration, and given clients / producers / directors a chance to have an opinion about every little thing they see on the monitor. In the beginning there was no video tape and everyone trusted the Director of Photography to make it amazing, then with the video tape being of very poor quality it was understood it was just for framing and not for picture quality. Now the HD picture on the set is still for reference, but with the picture being so clear it has taken away a lot of the independence and mystique from Cinematographers and DP’s. I haven’t done any 3D projects yet, but I’m sure it will be a staple of production from now on.
What’s your favorite movie?
I don’t have one favorite movie, but a short list of my favorite would be: Casablanca, The Matrix, A Room With a View, Gattaca, Blade Runner, Hero, A Hard Day’s Night, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The First Season of Dead Wood, to mention a few.