By Randi Altman
Autumn Durald Arkapaw always enjoyed photography and making films with friends in high school, so it was inevitable that her path would lead to cinematography.
“After a genre course in college where we watched Raging Bull and Broadway Danny Rose I was hooked. From that day on I wanted to find out who was responsible for photographing a film. After I found out it was an actual job, I set out to become a DP. I immediately started learning what the job entailed and also started applying to film schools with my photography portfolio.”
Her credits are vast and include James Franco’s Palo Alto, the indie film One & Two, and music videos for the Jonas Brothers and Arcade Fire. Most recently she worked on Emma Forrest’s feature film Untogether, Max Minghella’s feature debut Teen Spirit and director Ry Russo-Young’s The Sun Is Also a Star, which follows a two young people who hit it off immediately and spend one magical day enjoying each other and the chaos that is New York City.
We recently reached out to Durald Arkapaw to find out more about these films, her workflow and more.
You’ve been busy with three films out this year — Untogether, Teen Spirit and The Sun Is Also a Star. What attracts you to a project?
I’m particular when it comes to choosing a narrative project. I have mostly worked with friends in the past and continue to do so. When making feature films, I throw myself into it. So it’s usually the relationship with the director and their vision that draws me first to a project.
Tell us about The Sun Is Also a Star. How would you describe the overall look of the film?
Director Ry Russo-Young and I wanted the film to feel grounded and not like the usual overlit/precious versions of these films we’ve all encountered. We wanted it to have texture and darks and lights, and the visuals to have a soulfulness. It was important that the world we created felt like an authentic and emotional environment.
How early did you get involved in the production? What were some of the discussions about conveying the story arc visually?
Ry and I met early on before she left for prep in New York. She shared with me her passion for wanting to make something new in this genre. That was always the basis for me when I thought about the story unfolding over one day and the arc of these characters. It was important for us to have the light show their progression through the city, but also have it highlight their love.
How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the look?
Ry was into anamorphic before I signed on, so it was already alluring to me once she sent me her look book and visual inspirations. I tend to shoot mostly in the Panavision anamorphic format, so my love goes deep for this medium. As for our camera, the ARRI Alexa Mini was our first choice since it renders a filmic texture, which is very important to me.
Any challenging scene or scenes that you are particularly proud of?
One of my favorite scenes/shots in the film is when Daniel (Charles Melton) sees Natasha (Yara Shahidi) for the first time in Grand Central Station. We had a Scorpio 23-foot telescopic crane on the ground floor. It is a beautiful shot that pulls out, booms down from Daniel’s medium shot in the glass staircase windows, swings around the opposite direction and pushes in while also zooming in on a 12:1 into an extreme closeup of Natasha’s face. We only did two takes and we nailed it on the first one. My focus puller, Ethan Borsuk, is an ace, and so is my camera operator, Andrew Fletcher. We all celebrated that one.
Were you involved in the final color grading? What’s important to you about the collaboration between DP and colorist?
Yes, we did final color at Company 3 in New York. Drew Geary was our DI colorist. I do a lot of color on set, and I like to use the on-set LUT for the final as well. So, it’s important that my colorist and I share the same taste. I also like to work fast. Drew was amazing. He was fantastic to work with and added a lot to the overall look and feel.
What inspires you artistically?
Talented, inspiring, hardworking people. Because filmmaking is a team effort, and those around me inspire me to make better art.
How do you stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
Every opportunity I get to shoot is an opportunity to try something new and tell a story differently. Working with directors that like to push the envelope is always a plus. Since I work a lot in commercials, that always affords me the occasion to try new technology and have fun with it.
Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work, looking back over the past few years?
I recently wrapped a film where we shot a few scenes with the iPhone. Something I would have never considered in the past, but the technology has come a long way. Granted the film is about a YouTube star, but I was happily surprised at how decent some of the stuff turned out.
What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
Always work fast and always make it look the best you can while, most importantly, telling the story.
Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years.