Rob Hauer

Rob Hauer is a director of photography from Ventura, CA currently splitting his time between LA and Portland. He’s been shooting professionally for 14 years, creating commercials with notable clients such as Adidas, Hyundai, and Ram. He utilizes a combination of 16mm, digital, and analog techniques in order to achieve an image with texture and grit.

What first peaked your interest in Cinematography? What was a young Rob doing with the camera?

Like a lot of young kids, I really liked making home movies. Once we purchased a family camcorder, I dreamed of somehow using my grandfather’s military ID to get onto a nearby Navy airstrip and film with the jets on the tarmac. I also wanted to use the barranca in my neighborhood to shoot a war movie. So as a kid, I was drawn to locations that helped tell a story right away. Despite the resources, my instinct was try to make everything I shot look like the films I saw in the theatres. There was no editing on the little film’s I stated to make, everything was done in camera, down to shooting title cards hand drawn on cardboard. I remember this moment of our character entering a house that felt like a “movie” when I watched it back. He entered the door from one side and I rolled the camera again on the other side. The timing of hitting the start/stop button between the two camera angles created this in-camera edit that distinctly stuck with me. I can recall to this day that powerful feeling of creating something with the camera.

When did you transition from a starving artist to making a living as a cinematographer? What was the turning point for you?

It was a long road and I still look at it that way. I sometimes have a sense of immediacy built into me and this journey is more of marathon. I look at signing with Marie Perry and Pattie Sueoka at Gersh being a tremendous step forward in my commercial career. Success is always viewed in different ways, but I will always remember my dear friend and director, Topaz Adizes saying “Everyone’s moment will come.”

When shooting, what are your preferred medium and tools used?

Film always has a special place in my heart. If the creative calls for it, I’ve really dug making what I call a “quilt work” of texture by mixing in 16mm with digital and even some older analog video formats. But ultimately, it is the story and what is front of the lens (such as talent, locations, lighting, production design and costumes) that matters more than box we are shooting on.

What is the biggest improvement to your work from when you started to where you are right now?

Lighting. For sure my lighting. And, just as important, learning better personal dynamics with client, agency and the director I am shooting for.

What do you look for when you’re trying to create an image for the camera? Is there any specific criteria or is it just something you have to feel?

Authenticity is a big key word for me. Sure, I want to make stunning images, but that’s a hugely subjective word. The word I tend to use most is “appropriate” images. The script should obviously inform the visual approach, so what is the appropriate visual response? We, as cinematographers, have to be careful not to always jump on the obvious, beautiful approach. Like Chris Blauvelt resonated from Harris Savides words: “Don’t show off.” So that, in turn, can relate to an approach that is based on digging deeper into feeling and instinct: quite possibly pushing past what we know to always work. When you can find that, then there’s the chance for some magic.

What’s the toughest challenge you’ve had on set?

Finding a cookie and milk after lunch. Honestly, after having two kids with my wife and seeing some hardships around the globe...I cannot complain. I am grateful to work at a craft I truly love.

With your commercial work in sports and automotive industries, we’ve noticed companies have been pushing for more artistic imagery in their ads. Why do you think that is?

That’s a promising sign, and I agree with this trend. I think the main reason is a change in how, and who, is watching advertising. Nowadays, advertising comes at us from so many many platforms so I hope that the artistry has to match an evolved audience DNA. Attention spans have shortened, for better or worse, so visuals have to find ways to engage much faster. Good stories still grab people and if a client’s product can be tasteful integrated into this, I think most will watch that tale unfold.

How much creative control do you have in the final product with commercials?

I wish I was involved more. Certain director’s with long trusted relationships, like Josh Soskin and Bennett Barbakow, always try to keep my eye in there on the final grade and occasionally show me some edits along the way. That’s really educational for us on subsequent projects. However, the majority of commercial projects in the US, sadly, do not have the DP involved in the finishing. I strongly think that should change.

Where do you go/what do you do to get inspired?

Traveling to new countries, food cart lighting in Bangkok (for both the eats and the visuals) and bringing out my still camera and shooting some film.

What is your preferred medium?

Film always has a special place in my heart. If the creative calls for it, I’ve really dug making what I call a “quilt work” of texture by mixing in 16mm with digital and even some older analog video formats. But ultimately, it is the story and what is front of the lens (such as talent, locations, lighting, production design and costumes) that matters more than box we are shooting on.

What’s one piece of advice you have for upcoming DPs?

Enjoy the journey and along the way make as many lasting friendships as you can because, nowadays, everyone’s a pretty damn talented DP.

Any upcoming work you want us to know about?

It is the 35mm film stock I have in storage, still yet to be exposed, waiting for the right creative project to come along.

More of Rob’s work can be seen on his Website and on Instagram