Andrew Callaway is a cinematographer and director who lives and works in San Francisco. He has put together an impressive body of work early in what one can assume will be a long and fruitful career. As a character, he is gregarious, eloquent, emotionally intelligent, and highly perceptive and these qualities are reflected in his work. Take for example "People Running for the Bus in Slow Motion".
The piece is focused on the single experience of trying to catch a bus in San Francisco. It is a low stakes scenario; an insignificant and mundane moment in the every day life of countless strangers every day. But Callaway uses the camera to change the scale of the viewers experience and create comedy. He uses film techniques that we know are meant to evoke an emotion which is incongruent with the stories that are unfolding in front of us and he treats the moment with deadly seriousness. He shoots his actors like they are running to catch the last helicopter out of Saigon and being chased by a tiger. The joke works because we have all run for a bus and we know that the emotional experience that we are watching is true. It is a simple, whimsical emotional truism expressed in clear language.
We sat down for a few beers at Molotov's and watched the United States take on Belgium while talking soccer, cigarettes, and cinema.
HBA: What was the first time in your life that you remember being moved by the cinematography of what you were watching?
AC: I can tell you right now, I have 2 and they're both music videos. I was 7 or 8 and I was watching MTV. The first was "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia.
What's amazing about that video is that the camera never moves. It's stationary the entire time and a story about this couple is unfolding on the screen through a series of jump cuts. Then about a minute in, all this crazy meta shit starts happening where the crew is on set and they're making a music video, but they'll still jump back to Natalie Imbruglia just looking straight into the camera and singing. Eventually they break the whole set down around her. What's amazing about it is that they leave the camera in one place the entire time and they wind up unfolding multiple stories in front of it.
The other is "Closing Time" by Semisonic and it's just the exact opposite. It's a split screen with two different stories going on but neither screen ever cuts. The camera is constantly moving and revealing different elements of the story.
So I was watching these video's and I wasn't necessarily thinking "Oh, that's great cinematography" but I do remember thinking that the way they used the camera was really awesome and it was integral to how they told the story. Looking back on my childhood experience of those two videos now, I know that it's the cinematography that really turned me on.
HBA: What do you think about Quentin Tarantino's work with regards to cinematography.
AC: Tarantino's cinematography is very craftsman, which I like a lot. He is willing to use whatever is appropriate. For instance, in the ear-cutting-off scene in Pulp Fiction, he builds all this tension with the way it's shot and the performances and the lighting and the music- and then in the moment that Michael Madsen is about to go to work with the straight razor, the camera physically turns away in horror.
And if you compare that to the scalping scene in "Inglorious Basterds", he barely builds any tension before showing in a very blunt, straightforward way this horrific act. Because that's what worked for that moment in the movie.
HBA: How about Michael Bay?
AC: I mean, The Rock is a fucking dope movie. I wouldn't call it good, but I'd call it fucking dope. Michael Bay is great at what he does, and that's using cinematography to excite the shit out of you. Robbert Bresson said "Acting is not an art form that is part of film making" and Michael Bay's work really exemplifies that because it barely matters what the people on screen are saying or doing, but they're shot in a way that we just implicitly understand the experience and emotion that Bay is evoking.
You can see most of Andrew Callaway's work at www.CallawayThings.com.