Evan Prosofky is a cinematographer based in Los Angeles, CA. Throughout his career, he has worked for the likes of Calvin Klein, Vogue, Lorde, and Lana Del Rey.
How did your cinematography career begin?
I started out completely by accident - like a lot of people my age! As a teenager, I was mainly just skateboarding and messing around. Eventually, I got hurt, and with nothing to do at the skatepark, I ended up just filming my friends to pass the time as I recovered. That grew into a fascination with film. The intros to all the girl skate videos used to blow my mind. I studied them trying to understand why they looked and felt so amazing. Eventually, I realized there is a thing called a director and a cinematographer, and film motion picture cameras… etc. and everything just snowballed pretty naturally. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now without loving and supporting friends and family. Film is so hard when you’re beginning… finding a camera… willing actors… free locations… free lights.. How do you begin? It’s so chicken before the egg. Especially back then, which was really before the birth of a lot of these amazing resources we have now online… DP podcasts and articles...youtube… forums.. Etc. I remember when Amazon started to become more popular, and I started to be able to find rare cinematography books. The first one I bought was called “New Cinematographers” and it was my bible…. still is really. I owe that text so much. I’d love to do a follow up to it one day with all the new cinematographers that inspire me.
You shoot most of your work on film. How do you like film compared to digital? What characteristics of film do you like that digital doesn’t have?
Film just works for me. Everybody has a different emotional response to the images they’re seeing, so I can’t say it’s one particular thing that makes it better or worse. But for me, the whole process is inspiring. I like the magical element of the bath and the chemicals and getting the image back. I wanna live and breathe in that world. We have 100 years of film history all shot on celluloid, and I feel like we’re just beginning… it’s such a new medium compared to painting, and painting still has oils! I don’t want to give it up just yet, I’m not ready. Ultimately, I think there are projects where both film and digital make sense, and it’s the mindset of the director and DP that prescribe what makes sense for them.
We’re seeing a big shift right now in the way people mix formats and think about aspect ratio which is inspiring. I’m thinking of people like Rodrigo Prieto who are pioneering shooting film during day exterior and digital for nights and interiors, and people like Chayse Irvin who are flipping anamorphic lenses sideways, mixing ratios and film stocks like crazy. Its exciting to see film jump out of this 16x9 box its been stuck in for the last decade.
What type of work do you enjoy shooting the most? Commercial, music video, or narrative? And why?
I love it all. I think most DP’s will tell you it isn’t necessarily the camera or the style that matters, it’s the story you’re telling and the group of collaborators you’re with. Mostly, I just want to be surprised in some way by what I’m shooting. Whether it’s travelling to a bizarre location I would never go to if it weren’t for the shoot, or meeting a different culture, or working with a particular actor. I love that film keeps me on my toes like that. When I started, I definitely didn’t realize how little my job actually had to do with cinematography and how political, personal, even spiritual it is. On set, the person you are, the crew you surround yourself with, and your world views can often be more important than the images you’ve made.
We loved Vogue “RollerGirl.” The lighting was phenomenal, how was it executed? Was it a difficult project to light?
That job was all Gordon Von Steiner being open to my crazy ideas. The location was super dark and stale, but had a lot of potential. You could just imagine it with all these colorful neon lights in its roller disco heyday. We shot that in a few hours in one day, and if I recall correctly, my gaffer (now DP) Fletcher Wolfe was amazing. We gelled tubes like crazy and just ran around finding stuff with John Beattie, our steadicam operator. It was a really nimble production. It was all Gordon and his producer Kelly’s easy going approach to film that let us play around like that.
We also really liked “Hunger” from Florence + Machine. How did the creative process for that video come about? Was it executed the way everybody intended?
Thanks! I’m happy with what we were able to do in our crazy two day shoot. We had to squeeze in another video for Florence in the evening on one of our shoot days, so it was actually two videos in two days. It was (like all music videos) a really adventurous script with a lot of scenes we didn’t have the time to do, but somehow magically squeezed in. Again, it really all came down to AG Rojas, our director, and his tenacity. He works incredibly quickly and is amazing at trusting his collaborators to do their job. We rarely shot a second take. He prefers to move the camera or swing a lens to get coverage if we’re going to shoot something twice. AG has a way of keeping everyone on their toes but instead of stressing them out he inspires them to bring their best. It felt less like cinematography but more like dancing… rushing the dolly to different positions, tweaking a light during a take, having eyes on all sides of your head. I kind of go into a manic almost transcendental place on jobs where we have that much to do. Also, kudos to Chris Jones, our amazing production designer, who built that gorgeous statue on a budget.
You’ve also shot some great projects in B&W. Is there a different process (lighting, exposing) you use for B&W cinematography versus color? Aside from the color, what do you think are the biggest differences shooting B&W?
Sure. Black and white can be different. It strips things down when you no longer have color contrast to consider. Personally, I love the simplicity of black and white. It keeps me honest... considering what the essential elements in the frame are. I feel like black and white encourages a more expressionistic lighting style… since you don’t have color.. You have far less visual cues what time of day it is. Sometimes some of the more boring concerns of color can bog you down - like continuity (eg. if the scene takes place at sunset you might only have an hour to shoot it, whereas with black and white you no longer have to worry). Black and white seems to open things up - it’s a gift to the director and also to the budget.
If you had to pick, what project has stood out the most to you over the course of your career?
Too many. I’m very blessed. Travelling to Mexico with my friend Miles to see a protected forest of Monarch butterfly’s during Migration… waking up at 4am to shoot on a gorgeous untouched beach in Spain… flying a helicopter over Manhattan with an IMAX camera… meeting Paul Mccartney (he sang me a song!).
Do you have a particular set of lenses you like to shoot on most? If so, why?
The lenses I like changes from day to day and project to project. Sometimes, you need something really lightweight with a good, close focus. Sometimes, you need something with a long zoom. Sometimes, you just need to give it all up and take whatever the rental house has available because the town is crazy busy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to understand what you’re picking and why you’re doing it, but at the end of the day, what i’m putting in front of the lens is so much more important to me. When I think of DP’s on massive features who will spend weeks testing lenses… it just seems like a total joke to me. I find the whole thing a bit of a ego trip to be honest. I’m constantly blown away by how ‘tricked’ I can be about what lenses certain projects are shot on. I’ll often fail the blind test when certain cues are gone. We all know what a c series flare looks like, but can we really tell the difference between a b series and a c series medium shot without that cue? And if we can, how many of us will know? It it just DP’s? How much of this is truly in service of our audience? I have a dream where I get paid for 3 weeks of lens testing for a feature and I get to tell the producer to save the money and spend it on a better location or something.
Any upcoming projects you would like us to know about?
I’ve been working on an IMAX movie set in Alberta where I grew up for the last five years. I’m looking forward to going back this winter to film some more. Besides that, just praying that some friends’ features finally get green lit! Producers go check out Sam Kuhn!