By Randi Altman
Long-time cinematographer Dejan Georgevich, ASC, has been working in television, feature film production and commercials for over 35 years. In addition to being on set, Georgevich regularly shares his experience and wisdom as a professor of advanced cinematography at New York’s School of Visual Arts.
Georgevich’s TV credits include the series Mercy, Cupid, Hope & Faith, The Book of Daniel and The Education of Max Bickford. In the world of documentaries, he has worked on HBO’s Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World, PBS’ A Wayfarer’s Journey: Listening to Mahler and The Perfumed Road.
One of his most recent projects was as DP on Once in a Lifetime, a 30-minute television pilot about two New Jersey rockers trying to make it in the music business. The show’s musical roots are real — Once in a Lifetime was written by Iron Maiden’s bass player and songwriter, Stephen Harris.
Georgevich, who was in Australia on a job, was kind enough to use some of his down time to answer our questions about shooting, lighting, inspiration and more. Enjoy…
How did you decide TV production and cinematography, in particular, would be your path?
Perhaps it all started when I hauled around a Bell & Howell projector half my size in elementary school, showing films to an assembly of kids transfixed to a giant screen. Working on the stage crew in middle school revealed to me that I was “a fish to water” when it came to lighting.
You work on a variety of projects. How does your process change, if at all, going from a TV spot to a TV series to a documentary, etc.?
Each genre informs the other and has made me a better storyteller. For example, my work in documentaries demands being sensitive to anticipating and capturing the moment. The same skills translate perfectly when shooting dramas, which require making the best choices that visually express the idea, mood and emotion of a scene.
How do you decide what is the right camera for each job? Or do you have a favorite that you use again and again?
I choose a camera that offers the widest dynamic range, renders lovely skin tones, a natural color palette, and is user-friendly and ergonomic in handling. My camera choice will also be influenced by whether the end result will be projected theatrically on a big or small screen.
Once in a Lifetime
You used the Panasonic Varicam 35 on the TV pilot Once in a Lifetime. Why was this the right camera for this project, and was most of the shooting outdoors?
Once in a Lifetime was an independently financed TV pilot, on a tight schedule and budget, requiring a considerable amount of shooting in low-light conditions. This production demanded speed and a limited lighting package because we were shooting on-location night interiors/exteriors, including nightclubs, rooftops, narrow tenement apartments and dimly-lit city streets. Panasonic Varicam 35’s dual ISO of 800 and 5000 provided unbelievable image capture in low-light conditions, rendering rich blacks with no noise!
What were some of the challenges of this project? Since it was a pilot, you were setting a tone for the entire series. How did you go about doing that?
The biggest challenge for me was to “re-educate my eye” working with the Panasonic Varicam 35, which sees more than what my eye sees, especially in darkness. To my eye, a scene would look considerably under-lit at times, but surpringly the picture on the monitor looked organic and well motivated. I was able to light predominately with LEDs and low-wattage lights augmenting the practicals or, in the case of the rooftop, the Manhattan night skyline. House power and/or portable put-put generators were all that was necessary to power the lights.
The pilot’s tone, or look, was achieved using the combination of wide-angle lenses and high-contrast lighting, not only with light and shadow but with evocative primary and secondary colors. This is a comedic story about two young rockers wanting to make it in the music business and their chance meeting with a rock ’n’ roll legend offering that real possibility of fulfilling their dreams.
How did you work with the DIT on this project, and on projects in general?
I always prefer and request a DIT on my projects. I see my role as the “guardian of the image,” and having a DIT helps preserve my original intent in creating the look of the show. In other words, with the help of my DIT, I like to control the look as much as possible in-camera during production. I was very fortunate to have Dave Satin as my DIT on the pilot — we have worked together for many years — and it’s very much like a visual pitcher/catcher-type of creative relationship. What’s more, he’s my second set of eyes and technical insurance against any potential digital disaster.
Can you talk about lighting? If you could share one bit of wisdom about lighting, what would it be?
As with anything to do with the arts, I believe that lighting should be seamless. Don’t wear it on your sleeve. Keep it simple… less is best! Direction of light is important as it best describes a story’s soul and character.
What about working with colorists after the shoot. Do you do much of that?
As a DP, I believe it’s critically important that we are active participants in post color correction. I enjoy outstanding collaborations with some of the top colorists in the business. In order to preserve the original intent of our image we, as directors of photography, must be the guiding hand through all phases of the workflow. Today, with the advent of digital image capture, the cinematographer must battle against too many entities that threaten to change our images into something other than what was originally intended.
What inspires you? Fine art? Photography?
I make it a point to get my “creative fix” by visiting art museums as often as possible. I’m inspired by the works of the Grand Master painters and photographers — the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Caravaggio, Georges de la Tour, Edward Hooper, Henri Cartier Bresson, William Eggelston — too many to name! Recreating the world through light and perspective is magical and a necessary reminder of what makes us alive!
What haven’t I asked that you feel is important to talk about?
We’re currently experiencing a digital revolution that is being matched by an emerging revolution in lighting (i.e. LED technology). The tools will always change, but it’s our craft reflecting the heart and mind that remains constant and so important.