Nicholas Wiesnet Is a Director of Photography based out of Los Angeles, CA. Describing his style as "naturalistic, moody, dark, abstract and impressionistic" Nicholas strives to make his work leave an impression on whoever watches.
Final Song” by Mø has such a naturalistic feel to it. How were you able to achieve that look? Did you use any artificial light? Or just modifiers?
Thank you very much. Every shot except for one setup used natural light, where the artist was backlit by the sunrise and we used some bleached muslin as a reflector to bring her up a bit. I spent a lot of time during our location scout determining where the sun would be for each of our locations, making sure we’d be shooting South predominantly, using the sun as a ¾ or full backlight. For mid-day material when the sun was high and not that flattering, we scheduled our lower angle shots. The dry ground provided an incredible bounce source. We used Panavision C-series anamorphic lenses which really helped capture the impressionistic and soft image we were after. The Trona and Mono Lake landscapes are absolutely breathtaking and we shot primarily at a T8 to resolve the deep backgrounds and bring out the texture of the environments. A lot of credit goes to our colorist, Derek Hansen at The Mill who did an incredible job finishing this video.
Mermaid has absolutely gorgeous underwater photography. Can you walk us through the camera rig set up and how you crafted that look through lighting?
I initially wanted to shoot Arri Alexa w/ anamorphic lenses underwater, which was what we shot the rest of the footage on, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to properly test before the shoot so we opted to use a Nauticam housing with a Red Dragon and 15-40mm Angenieux spherical zoom. Whenever you have to crack the housing, it takes quite a lot of time, which was a luxury we did not have on this shoot so the zoom really helped us a lot in the end. We had an underwater intercom system so the director could talk to Pauline and myself easily while we were underwater if we needed to make any adjustments with blocking/framing. We wanted a dark and mysterious quality to the light for the underwater work. I used (3) Arri Skypanel S-60c LED units at 4300K on the roof, bouncing into the wall of the pool area through a small skylight mimicking recessed lighting. This gave a nice soft, subdued ambience to the space. When we were underwater I added a 4Kw HMI as a backlight at full spot at the end of the pool at about 4m high aimed directly at the center of the pool. This created hard rays of light and added a great amount of depth to the image. We bounced an additional 4Kw HMI into the pool wall to increase the ambient light effect of the skypanels and create a slightly lower contrast image. We needed the punch from the 4k’s because we were filming everything at 120fps and needed quite a bit of light. In general I concentrated all the bounce and direct light behind the actor and artist keeping the shadows camera side.
You’re represented by Artistry here in the US. Could you tell us how you came about being represented and your journey up until that point?
It was a long road to Artistry but a combination of hard work, opportunities, and dumb luck eventually got me there. I went to film school, which was a great starting point. I got my BFA at Chapman University in Orange Country, CA and was able to shoot about a dozen narrative short films which afforded me the luxury of making lots and lots of mistakes when they didn’t count. I also did quite a lof of documentary work in and after film school which really helped develop my understanding and ability to work with natural light. I think docs help build some pretty thick skin for when shit hits the fan. They can be exhausting and quite dangerous sometimes and I think it really helped me be more zen on narrative shoots. Child actor issues … It could always be worse… After film school I started shooting music videos which eventually led to more commercial work. My closest collaborator Carlos Lopez Estrada, who I’ve known since film school, is a low-budget music video genius. We did a tiny promo together that was co-directed by Nelson de Castro called Hook N’ Sling ‘Break Yourself’ which got us a nomination for best cinematography at the Camerimage festival of cinematography in Poland. It was truly a life-changing experience having our work screen at the premier cinematography festival of the world. I got to meet a lot of fellow DP’s, directors and agents and it was a very inspiring and humbling experience. Shortly after the festival a producer friend of mine Kim Stuckwich, who actually produced the Mø video mentioned earlier, introduced me to Artistry and I signed the next day.
Have your roots always been in cinematography and camera work?
It took a while to realise that cinematography was my true passion but I eventually got there. Both my parents were in film, working as producer/directors in the Seattle area. I think naturally I didn’t want to do what my parents did. I had always been really into drawing, art, and photography and it wasn’t until I was about 15 or so when I saw the Brazilian film ‘City of God’ which was the first film where I really noticed the craft of the filmmaking; the documentary aesthetic mixed with bold color choices and a kinetic and cinematic camera. I couldn’t get those images out of my head. I told my parents the next day that I wanted to be a cinematographer. It was an incredible feeling and my parents were very happy i’d be joining the “family business”.
What types of projects do you enjoy shooting the most; commercial, narratives, or music videos?
I enjoy them all equally. I love music videos for the amount of creative freedom and room for experimentation. I love commercials for pushing the boundaries of telling concise stories in a limited amount of time. I love narrative for making a freaking movie and telling a story that people are going to see on a massive screen! I think each medium informs the others and I enjoy having a balanced career in all these disciplines.
Is there a single project that you are most proud of or have a special connection to? If so, why?
I would have to say a feature film I did in 2016 called ‘LA Times.' Michelle Morgan was the writer, director, and lead actor and is just an absolutely brilliant filmmaker and human. We wanted the film to feel as if Gordon Willis had shot a Wes Anderson film. Dark, romantic, but comically objective like Yorgos Lanthimos work. This film in particular has opened a lot of doors for me in the feature world and I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished on our modest budget. It premiered at Sundance earlier this year and will release in theatres later this Fall.
Where do you see yourself by the end of your career?
It’s a long ladder to climb but I hope I’ll still be shooting movies when I’m 70 or 80. I hope that one day I’ll be shooting memorable, groundbreaking, and universal stories. I don’t have a desire to do blockbuster films. I just want to tell good stories. Emotionally challenging films that make the audience feel something and maybe even second guess their own beliefs. I would also love to teach one day. That’s something that really interests me as well. Besides that, I hope the end of my career involves a nice beach someplace quiet with my wife.
If you have one piece of advice for young cinematographers entering the field, what would it be and why?
Work hard, be kind, get Inspired and just go for it. There is no right or wrong way to get there but you have to want it. Take risks and believe in yourself. Whenever possible, never take a job for the money. Don’t compare yourself to others. Focus on you. Find ways and take opportunities to shoot projects that represent the types of projects you want to do and represent who you are as a artist.