Gaul Porat is a commercial and narrative cinematographer based in New York. He creates content in hopes to make a difference and inspire others and has shot content for brands such as Johnnie Walker, The North Face, Cartier, Google, and Vogue.
What first got you interested in cinematography?
A love of movies is what got me started on cinematography. In middle school was when I was first illuminated to the depth of care and love that got into filmmaking when my dad gave me a LOTR special edition DVD which had a dozen hours of “making of” footage. Something that doesn’t really exist much these days with streaming, but I really miss those making of sections that were in the DVD menu. Following that initial interest, I spent years taking film photography courses in high school where I also worked a lot and essentially lived in the theater department. We had 9 productions every year and I worked on nearly each on either the set building or light design. That was a great training ground for learning some technical things, but also just having an environment where I could play with light intensity, angles, color and with actors too. I really only started working as a DP however in 2015 when I shot my friends first thesis film.
What are the most rewarding and also the most challenging things about being a cinematographer?
I feel lucky that I get to struggle and grapple with emotion in trying to craft stories for a living. Watching movies while growing up was how I learned about the world, so getting to make them and hopefully impact others is something that is a true privilege to get to do. The process of being on set and working on a story- long or short- is something that I find has enormous potential to be personally as well as selflessly rewarding. However, while features are the goal, I am still growing and have a lot to learn which can be challenging. I think right now, the hardest part about being a cinematographer is cutting through the clutter and finding your voice in what you want to say and how.
What is your favorite thing to shoot (narratives, commercials, etc) and why?
Hard to pick! Its like New York or LA, both are great and both have challenges unique to each. Narratives can be enormously rewarding but can be long hauls and low pay, while commercials you can flex and play with big toys and get paid more for less time, but they can also be quite soul sucking at times which sometimes takes a bigger toll than a low budget project that I’d be passionate about.
What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on?
I have to say that my favorite project that I’ve worked on was my own “More Than The Sum” not because I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever made, but because of the journey it took me to start, grapple with and finish it as a director and DP. It was also so personal and almost everyone working on it put in a lot of time for free and it was a story about a friend of mine, which I co-directed with my oldest childhood friend, and made new ones along the way. Personal projects- highly recommend it.
What has been the most challenging shoot you have ever done and why?
I just finished what was probably the most challenging shoot of my career. Major client for a worldwide campaign and we had about 12 days, but we just had so many shots. Something like 200 shots boarded from the start, with more added along the way, and I think we maybe nixed one off the whole time. We shot in 2 countries, 3 cities and had no days off and every day went over 12 hours with some days being the 16 and 17 hour range. It was extremely rewarding to hear at the end that the client was thrilled and I could go nap for a couple days before my next shoot.
What was it like working with Hailey Benton Gates and what was the idea behind that shoot?
Hailey was great to work with because she everything you want for a subject. She’s very eloquent, has experience being in front of the camera, has an interesting background, and is beautiful in any light basically. She was calm, casual, no frills which is great and helps everyone feel comfortable on set. The idea behind the shoot came from my director, the Amber Johnson. She came to me with the idea just a week or so before and told me we had to make a love letter to water and feature Hailey in it. She had some amazing references already in mind and maybe 20 unique setup ideas which I think we ended up doing 10 of them somehow in one day.
More Than The Sum with Adidas was extremely inspiring. What was the inspiration for that shoot and what aspects of cinematography helped you share such a powerful message?
More Than The Sum was something that started as something and became something completely different, yet much better than originally intended. I was in the New Orleans area for a shoot which for many unfortunate bureaucratic reasons ended up getting shelved, but I was already in the area and had one friend I knew there: Edward. He is a dancer and is very athletic so I thought it would be cool to either do a dance film with him or shoot some cool athletic looking shots while I had the gear and talent there. We shot some stuff, took it home and tried to edit it into something exciting, but it just felt very devoid of any substance and was forgettable. I knew that there was something better that could have been told because of the time I spent getting to know Edward and his life’s story. I ended up going back to New Orleans a few other times for other jobs and always stayed a bit extra to try and film with Edward. It was a real struggle because we had no gear other than camera and one lens that I rented, but it really taught me how limitations can be freeing because I didn’t have any options other than what available light we had, the lens I picked to rent, and the locations we could find. Having those limitations let me really focus on the story I was trying to tell. I really wish that I could tell more of Edward’s story because there a lot more in there, but what we made covers some of the themes that define Edward as a person but just barely scratch the surface.
Any upcoming work you’d like to tell us about?
I’ve been working on a passion project with a talented young director and we got to shoot both on my film and digital cameras about a story from his hometown in Virginia. Pretty excited to share that soon, but otherwise I’m just reading scripts and looking for the next opportunity that will challenge me to push myself further than before.