Interview with Award-Winning Cinematographer / Director Reed Morano A.S.C.

“There’s no better feeling than getting a shot that everyone on set is getting the chills from.” – Reed Morano

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Reed Morano is a force to be reckoned with. Whether she’s shooting handheld on a 50 lb. camera while pregnant or working double duty as a Director and DP on Meadowland, she has made an amazing name for herself in the film industry.

We had the pleasure of chatting with her after she shot Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ music video for No Love Like Yours, which was filmed on an iPhone and the Beastgrip DOF Adapter. Her approach to filmmaking is so simple, and yet so powerful. In this interview, we discuss filmmaking, her shooting style and how she balances her work and personal life.

BG: You're a notorious "badass" in the industry, for consistently putting out amazing work behind the camera and for your hardcore work ethic. Was your self-motivation influenced by anyone at a young age or have you always been naturally driven? 

Reed: I didn’t originally have the idea to go to film school, it was my father who pushed me to go. When I was in second grade, he gave me a really old video camera that he had picked up when he was traveling as an entrepreneur - and I became the family documentarian. I wasn’t really interested in filming at that point, I was more into writing.

When it came time to apply to college, my father suggested that I go to film school, since it involves storytelling and taking pictures, so I applied to NYU. While I was at NYU, on my first shoot, I became fascinated with what the DP was doing, so I decided that I would pursue cinematography and at some point in my career, direct.

BG: How did your friends and family react when you first told them you wanted to be a DP/Cinematographer/Director?

Reed: In my immediate family, no one really cared [laughs]. Some people in my extended family asked “when are you going to get a real job?” though. The first two years out of college are not usually a reliable source of income, but in the end I kind of got the last laugh, because once you “make it” as a cinematographer, you actually make a pretty good living. It’s not the most reliable job – it’s kind of like saying to your family, “I want to be an actor,” [laughs] but it’s great.

BG: How do you think going to NYU has influenced your decision making on set? Do you think going to film school is something most aspiring filmmakers should consider?

Reed: There’s a lot more information available now, than there was when I went to film school, and they didn’t really have social media when I was in college. If you’re the type of person that already has connections in the film industry, then I think there’s a way to get around going to film school and spending all of that money. But on the other hand, going to film school was really helpful for me, because I didn’t have any connections in the industry and at that time mostly everything was shot on film - and you really want to learn how to do that in the right environment.

The great thing about it [going to film school], is that you’re put into the situation to make several short films and you actually have the time to shoot it. Alternatively, you could just make the films on your own and spend less, but you won’t have the guidance unless you already know people [in the film industry].

Photo: Paul Sarkis

BG: Before you had a career in film, what kept you motivated to persevere until you made it during difficult times?

Reed: When I found filmmaking, I knew that it was the only job that I wanted to do. I love the job and I love creating. I didn’t know if I would ever make any money at it, I just knew it was something that I enjoyed doing. I wanted to keep doing it and doing it and doing it until I would eventually get paid – so I did. I did everything that I could to enable myself to shoot films on the side: working as a waitress, secretary, and a lot of odd jobs. That’s how you can tell who’s dedicated and who’s not. Some people have the ability to stick with it and some people don’t.

BG: You’re known for your handheld shooting style. Where did the desire to shoot this way come from?

Reed: Handheld is what I became known for. On a personal level, I will only shoot handheld if it’s right for the scene. For example, on Vinyl, the look that Scorsese and the creators set up for the show embodied many different ways of moving the camera. In the pilot, we used a Steadicam, dollies, cranes, static moves, handheld, etc. and the trick is to use the right gear when it is emotionally right for the moment. That’s what I brought to the table with Vinyl, to differentiate when it was the right time to shoot a certain way. For Meadowland, [her directorial debut, where she also was the cinematographer] I chose to shoot handheld most of the time, because on that film and script, handheld was the best way to tell the story, because I felt like you needed to feel as intimate and as close to the characters as possible - to sort of envelop the audience in their emotion.

BG: Before directing Meadowland, from a shooting standpoint, did you plan out each shot or (have a general idea and let it flow on set)?

Reed: It depends on the director - every person is different - and part of your job as a DP is to “feel out” the director and understand how much input they want from you and what their vision is. I want to get as much of an idea as possible on look that the director wants beforehand, for example, if it’s a low key movie, dark, bright, commercial, etc. You can usually tell all these things from three things: a) who the director is b) clues and description in the script and c) what the subject matter is.

At the bare minimum, we work together to make a shot list, going through each scene and talking about how we might cover the scene, how many shots we need, what type of shots we need, etc. We do this so the assistant director can know how to time out each day, and plan out any specialty shots - every director usually has some specialty shots in every movie, i.e. the big crane shot. You need to know about some of those things in advance, in case you need any special equipment that you don’t carry every day, then there are some more straightforward scenes that involve equipment you always have.

I also like to have freedom - on any given day, if we see something better than we planned or if we’re running out of time and we need to shoot it a different way, you have to be flexible, and ready to change the plan at any moment in time. What I always plan pretty carefully in advance is the broad strokes of lighting, because what usually happens on a bigger production is your rigging crew will need to go in and set up beforehand.

Photo: Paul Sarkis

BG: If you could go back in time and re-shoot any of your previous films with no budget and had complete freedom to do anything you want, would you?  

Reed: I would leave all of my work the way that it is [laughs]. There are a many things that I look back on and wish I didn’t do, which I’m sure everybody does, but I love those memories and wouldn’t change a thing. I will learn from it, though, and do it differently the next time.

BG: Do you have any pre-shooting rituals that you do religiously?

Reed: Not really, I just go to work [laughs]. I don’t look at myself as being an athlete - I just do it. It’s more of an intuitive skill than a physical skill, although operating handheld is pretty physical and requires great coordination. I think my main preparation is getting sleep, watching a lot of movies, being a good listener and observer, and most importantly, practicing my craft all the time.  

BG: If at all, how has your opinion on “phoneography” changed after shooting No Love Like Yours?

Reed: It was a surprise! I wouldn’t see myself shooting on phones on every occasion, but it was a great challenge and I had a lot of fun.

BG: Do you plan and/or would you want to shoot another film on a smartphone in the future? 

Reed: I’m open to it, depending on the situation and the story.  

BG: When you leave the set on a very dark and emotional film like Meadowland, how long does it take for you to adjust back to the real world?

Reed: When you’re directing, you have a doctor’s schedule – you’re always on call. Even when I wasn’t shooting or was at home, I would get a call at any moment from someone in the movie asking for all kinds of things. When you’re on set you’re 100% focused. When I go home, I try to spend as much time as I can with my two kids. You have to balance your home and work life.

I always thought I had so much to do as a DP, but when you direct and DP it’s really a lot of work.

Photo: Taken from indiewire.com

BG: You’ve won many, many awards for your work and have already made an impressive mark in motion pictures. What is one of the most rewarding parts of your job to you?

Reed: To be behind a camera, really close to the actors in a scene, feeling the power of the emotion and to be the first person to witness it in the viewfinder. When I'm operating a scene, I'm making choices based off of the actor's choices - it’s like a chemical reaction and everyone has to be in sync. There’s no better feeling than achieving a shot that everyone on set is getting the chills from - it's such a team sport. Finally, there's nothing like the moment when you finally show your film and you can sit in the theater with an audience. It’s beautiful. When I premiered Meadowland, people in the audience were crying throughout the film and it hit me - we were able to make people feel something. BG

You can catch more of Reed’s work on the upcoming film Lioness, starring Ellen Page and by following her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and by visiting her official website. Also, don't forget to check out her shooting in "Sandcastles" from Beyonce's visual album Lemonade, and watch her directorial debut Meadowland.

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