Nicholas Bupp is a cinematographer based in Los Angeles, CA specializing in Music Video and Commercial content. Throughout his career, Nicholas has shot for clients including Travis Scott and Adidas.
How did your career in cinematography begin?
After I graduated undergrad, I got an opportunity to work in Philadelphia on my first film set as an electrician in the lighting department. I had never been on a professional set before. I fell in love with the lighting process and worked my way up while moving out to Los Angeles. I became a gaffer out in Los Angeles working on various music videos, commercials and feature films. That’s really where I learned the most, by trying out new lighting styles and techniques with the various DP’s that took me under their wing. More importantly, I learned what I didn’t like, which got me the results I wanted.
I went back to school at AFI for cinematography, and it was really at school, while working with my peers, that I started learning how to craft a story's narrative. It was a great space to really experiment without shame, make mistakes, and grow from them. Since graduating in 2015, I’ve been shooting consistently on mostly music videos and commercials.
You have a very distinct style. Can you describe it to us in your own words? Was this a style you have always gravitated towards?
I really strive for truth in all the projects that I work on: A look that serves the particular story or visuals we are trying to create for the project. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact explanation of my particular style because ultimately I’d like to think I could do all genres of film. So much of what we do as cinematographers is relative to the project that we are working on. It really is a reactionary art form. One that comes from seeing various options laid out in front of you and choosing the methodology you feel is best. Style for me is something that has an ebb and flow, something that evolves as you grow. I will say that right now, I gravitate more towards "cinematic realism”. That being largely vertiè handheld camera work with an approach to lighting that feels naturalistic.
What has been the hardest project for you thus far?
To be honest, every project has its hardships. If something goes super smooth, I’m always on edge, questioning when it's all going to fall apart. It wouldn’t be a film set if you weren’t fighting some type of battle in terms of budget, time, artist availability... the list goes on. I do think that what you do with those constraints is really where the creative process becomes exciting. I never want the technical to stunt the visuals, so I usually tell myself and the director “well we don’t have the available resources to do it this specific way, but what if we tried to approach it this way instead”. More often than not, we come up with something better that ends up being more visually interesting.
How integral has your colorist been to give you your consistent look? Are you also consistent in your camera body, lenses, and lighting from project to project or do those change?
I’ve actually worked with many colorists on various projects throughout the past couple years. I'm grateful to all of them for taking my notes and enhancing my work. I try to push the look I want as much as I can on set, whether that be in the lighting, lenses, etc. My hope is to keep my on-set practices as consistent as possible, making small tweaks in the grade once we set our overall feel.
As far as cameras go, I’ve shot 16mm, 35mm, RED and Alexa, so I’m not really married to any one in particular. Same goes for lenses and lighting as it varies from project to project. Really, it comes down to knowing the tools so you can pick the one best for the job.
“Mumbo Jumbo” was fantastically shot with the world you created. How did the concept for the project come about?
I really have to give all the credit to the Director Marco Prestini. He was the driving force behind the conceptual idea, and when I got the treatment, I was super excited to create the world that Tierra Whack lives in. For the dentist office interiors, we referenced a bunch of still images that were driven mostly by architectural design: Interior spaces with minimalism, futuristic style, and harsh angular shapes. I watched “Playtime” by Jacques Tati on repeat the week before we shot, focusing mostly on the use of symmetrical framing. It’s really magical what they did on that film through both production design and camera movement. We ended up building on a stage for the project and it really freed us up to create a world from the ground up. Stressful on a budget, but also very fun at the same time.
Film is such a collaborative medium, and if one thing falls apart, it's very likely the rest will follow. Marco did a great job of building up a team around him that was all on the same page consistently throughout. The production design (Kelly Fallon), Costumes (Kate Fry), prosthetics/make up, and performances worked so seamlessly together. It really made my job so much easier and allowed us to simply create.
“Beibs In The Trap” was also great and one of our favorites from you. Technically, how was the video executed?
RJ Sanchez (Director) and I talked a lot about the use of physical and graphical elements for Biebs. His treatment, references, and the song is based heavily on drug usage. We tried to come up with a visual motif that would translate this throughout the video. Items such as smoke, mirrors, plexi glass, fluorescent lights and plastic bags were some of the elements we worked on with the production designer, Carlos Laszlo.
We shot in a huge loading dock in San Pedro, CA and used the space much like a regular shooting stage, but with much more texture. RJ and I always wanted the camera movement to be classical, avoiding handheld at all times. I used a steadicam and techno-crane for a large portion of the day, choosing G and T-Series anamorphics from Panavison for their clean and sharp look. Carlos did a great job constructing a mirror stage/three walled set. On the shoot day, we accidentally and progressively started smudging the mirrors more. It was a happy accident on set that we decided to embrace. I wanted the lighting to have heavy contrast with cold blue and neutral white tones throughout. I have to give a big shout out to my gaffer Josh Atkins, who took an entire pre-light day to string up over 50 hanging quasar tubes in an array by clear fishing line! I really put him up against a huge task and he did it without flinching.
By the end of your career what would you have want to accomplish?
Telling stories is really my true passion in life. If I can do that day in and day out until I’m washed up, I’ll be smitten.
Are there currently any cinematographers you look up to for inspiration?
So many and the list keeps growing. To name a few; Sean Bobbit for his intimacy and attention to every detail while operating the camera, Conrad Hall for his ability to emulate emotion through lighting, and Ellen Kuras for her constant pursuit of visually driven storytelling that cuts through the norm.