Arnaud Carney is a cinematographer based out of Paris, France specializing in commercial content. Throughout his career, Arnaud has shot for clients such as YSL, L’Oreal, and Emporio Armani.
How did your cinematography career begin?
Quite weirdly, I feel like I started many times. I started lighting for feature short films, a great place to fulfill this passion for filmmaking. Then, I started lighting for TV soap. It was way better for the money, but aesthetically not what I wanted to do. I definitely learned how to light fast and for multi-camera situations though.
I should say the real turning point was pairing with a successful director who stood up for me no matter what. So, my best answer would be that your cinematography career really begins when you find a director you “click” with! From there, it all grew naturally.
You are mostly known for your fashion and beauty commercial cinematography. How did you end up shooting big commercials? Was it an area of filmmaking you were always interested in?
It’s actually funny, but all my classmates back at cinema school agreed that I would light for commercials one day! I guess I wasn’t afraid of being more technical on things. I also didn’t mind turning on an extra light “just because it looks better.” Remember, we are talking french cinema school here, so we like “raw” and “real” style. I still dream of Terrence Malick’s natural lighting though, don’t get me wrong.
Probably for me, on fashion and beauty work, the real turning point happened at Panavision Paris. I was an AC on feature films back then and one of the very few specialists in digital filmmaking at that time. The word “DIT” didn’t exist yet and we managed our own LUTs and data transfers, on top of being ACs. I was told to meet with Panavision’s commercial boss (the highly respected Jean-Claude Ruellan at the time, who then co-founded Vantage Paris) and he told me that I had three days to learn the Phantom camera system and be Darius Khondji’s phantom operator on a big commercial. Easy! (Of course we are talking early phantom days here, so some pressure there).
The shoot went very well, and Panavision started to put me on the biggest beauty and fashion jobs as a Phantom tech. Then, it came all very naturally, shooting one day as a phantom guy, the next as a DIT and the next as a DP. At some point, I was asked to choose.
How do you think French filmmaking and cinematography differs from that in The United States? What’s the biggest difference that you see?
Aesthetically, I don’t see much of a difference anymore. We kind of globalised our taste since the 70’s. We only start questioning this (a bit) when we work for Asian, Indian or Russian markets. But, French and Americans are in common ground. The difference we may still have is in the process. I still think we like to work lighter in gear and human resources because it has allowed us to improvise more. Improvisation is important for Europeans I think, as it can be sometimes seen as a flaw from an American perspective.
If you had to pick your favorite or most interesting project you’ve shot, what would it be and why?
Probably, one of them (and it is hard to choose!) is the YSL “Vernis à Lèvres” with Staz Lindes and directed by Fabien Constant a few years back. I worked a lot in prep and previsualized the whole thing: lenses, angles, perspective, size of the set, CG to be integrated, and lights. I previz’ed everything on my laptop. The great thing is that Fabien really likes to stay fresh on a project and preparation is something he is cautious about. You can definitly go too far in previz and loose the essence and freshness that is needed. We had a lot of phantom for textures and also a VR film we had to shoot on top of the commercial (a 5 RED camera RIG). Those needed their own lighting. A little bit of everything, quite a technical project and not so much time to shoot it.
What made all the difference was Staz Lindes’ “rock attitude” and perfect beauty (she came in with her own guitar!). The whole thing came together when she stood there backlit with glowing blond hair and gorgeous lips (we were featuring lipstick). The look of the film worked great even with so much red on screen. Fabien Constant and Maxime Gillier, the editor, did an amazing job. It was a tricky project but everything went so smoothly.
Can you explain the differences you have to use in lighting beauty commercials viruses music videos or narrative projects?
On a beauty commercial, I often hear something like “I cannot see her face, can you make her face brighter?” It’s never bright enough! Also, when a famous actress comes to, let’s say, an L’Oréal shoot, she expects L’Oréal quality, meaning smooth, bright and perfect skin. Of course, this same actress could have shot a really roughly lit (on purpose) feature film two days ago without complaining. So, it’s also a matter of context. When you have to feature make-up, it is always a challenge to bring a narrative look into a beauty commercial. It all comes down to trust.
In fragrance commercials, you have more possibilities, but clients are often uneasy when they don’t see the face of the model they pay so much money for. So… back to square one. The best DPs are the ones who know how to gain trust. Music videos and narratives are projects I need to get involved with once in a while. They are good habit breakers and are refreshing.
You have done a lot of work with director Fabien Constant. How did you begin working with him? How important do you see a Director - DP relationship?
Fabien had this project of following Carine Roitfled in the fashion industry and personal life during a year and make a documentary feature out of it, “Mademoiselle C.” We met, and I soon realized he needed to be the one behind the camera so she could answer him almost looking at the camera lens. It was really a one-on-one story. Fabien already knew how to shoot on his own, so I just gave him a few tips on lighting and camera exposure. He did very well!
He called me back a few months later, and since then, he has been a career difference maker. He really stood up for me in meetings and PPMs when I had a very thin reel to show, so I know I owe him a lot. He could have easily went for a safer and more popular choice for a DP. But, from minute one on set, people always notice how well we work together, in an organic way, and this is really how I like to work. As a DP, I like to try new things, but only in a long term relationship. I’m lucky directors I’ve worked with always call me back!
We really like the YSL campaigns you shot with Zoe Kravitz. Were they all done consecutively in a short time period? Which one of them was the most difficult to execute?
I’ve shot several times with Zoe Kravitz. The first time was more than two years ago. The latest was a few months ago. She is becoming really big and influential in the business at the moment. Every YSL campaign was his own moment, mostly a one day shoot, every time, if I recall well. The first time was in the YSL “Before The Light” series. This campaign is still going on with a new episode coming out soon. It’s the best project you can wish for. Raw shoot, black and white (mainly), handheld, small crew. Of course, some mandatory beauty shots, but beside this, just a story, a mood, an attitude. Almost no preparation. We just go see some locations, throw a bunch of ideas, and a few days later, we shoot, allowing ourselves to follow any interesting idea that presents itself. Of course, it could become a very tricky shoot with a director you don’t know well or don’t connect well. I have the feeling we found a few nice ideas in each one of the episodes.
The others were bigger in terms of budget and preparation. We had moments like the one we had to cover an entire street with blackouts because we had to do an exterior night shoot during day time (I think Zoe had an early photo-shoot call the next day and couldn’t stay late). I like the “Touche Eclat” in the car. I still don’t know how we managed to put three talents and two cameras in there! This one was a bit stressful because we had changing weather, a very short time, and we were supposed to finish the story shooting with a real sunset. We were lucky to get a little bit of sun rays at the right moment after an entire day of uncertainty.
What is you favorite camera and set of lens to shoot on?
No official preference, but I tend to use digital ARRI MINIs and LEICAs or ZEISS (Ultra Primes and some Master) a lot. I am also a Panavision Primo and Cooke S4 fan, but have not shot with them lately. Primos are a bit heavier, and Cookes flare a little bit too much to my taste in beauty situations.
I’d like to shot anamorphic more, but it has become very hard to sell a 2.40 frame ratio when client wants a TVC with no black bars (16:9), and an Instagram version (16:9 vertical and square). All in one in a nicely framed image, I also like old lenses (Kowa cine prominar and Canon K35 mainly), but it is complicated to use them as a main lens set on beauty commercial. I like ARRI for quality, size and simplicity of use, but always ask if there is a director’s preference before sending a camera list to the production.
Any upcoming projects you would like us to know about?
Sometime the process is very long, and things that I have shot a year ago are still not out yet. There are actually a few films for YSL, Armani and L’Oréal that I’m really looking forward to be released!