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INTERVIEW: DP Carolina Costa Talks TIFF & New Projects

Hi Carolina, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hi Carolina, welcome to VENTS! How have you been? Hello there, I’m doing great, thank you.

How were you initially drawn into the world of motion pictures?

I think I was always into films and watched many from an early age. Actually one of the reasons I learned English when I was a little girl was so that I could watch movies made in the US. I remember seeing “ET” at the theater and how much it touched me. I told my mom that I was crying so much I got a headache… lol. I started with journalism, then migrated to photojournalism and did some experimenting in video art, but eventually landed in making movies.

Was cinematography always your main passion?

Yes. I wrote a lot when I was younger, but photography was always my passion. When I migrated from still photography to motion pictures it was a natural transition. I never really thought about doing any other job in the business.

Throughout your career you’ve been mentored and collaborated with some big names in the industry – how would you say these experiences have influence you?

Tremendously. My first mentor was Sue Gibson, BSC. She made me believe that I could graduate from AC’ing to being a director of photography. She never talked about how hard it was being a woman in the business. She just gracefully paved the way. I also worked for many DoP’s and gaffers that were generous and taught me a lot about lighting. I’ll always be thankful to them since many were my teachers, mentors and all-around generous people. That’s one of the main reasons I mentor young aspiring cinematographers. I think I need to give it back.

Past and this year have been pretty busy – how have you managed to juggle all of these projects including Jada Pinkett Smith’s Hala and Barbara Paz’s Babenco: Tell Me When I Die?

I always say that the project you’re on at the moment is the most important one. I try to keep focused on the story I’m trying to tell at a certain point. But it’s inevitable – as a DoP you will have to juggle. Sometimes I shoot a film and then I’m on another one and color correction for that first one comes up. It’s hard to go back and forth sometimes, but I feel that if you have a real connection with the stories and the characters you are portraying then you can always go back to that. And I prep like a mad woman for every project. I have always notes from my first instincts and feelings, and I also create lots of mood boards. In addition, you also need to have an ace team that will support you as you move from one project to another.

Have you gotten to the point where you have crossed any wires and confused one project with the other?

No, I don’t think so. They are all so unique, I think it would be impossible.

A festival darling at this point – what was it like to go back to TIFF with Hala and Workforce?

“Hala” premiered at Sundance and the whole team went. It was a beautiful experience. Sadly I couldn’t go to TIFF because I was shooting a series for Tinder, but the director, Minhal Baig, told me it was a great screening and the theatre was packed. Since the film’s premiere, many young women have reached out to me, and that’s the beauty of filmmaking. It’s like shouting into a black tunnel and you hope that someone shouts back at you from that other end. “Workforce” is just starting its festival run but it has been getting many great reviews. It’s an important film. I hope folks will go watch it.

With each culture having their own view in life and the world as a whole – does shooting a film like Workforce was any different to Hala?

Yes, I mean, every film is so different. I like to start fresh and not bring thoughts and feelings from a previous project. I let the story guide me. “Workforce” is set in Mexico and talks about the clash between classes. It’s really a metaphor for revolution and change in the social system. “Hala” is a coming of age story through the perspective of a young Muslim woman raised in the US. For each story I have to put myself in their shoes, I can’t judge them.

When it comes to framing and the photography, how much importance do you give at the emotional weight from a certain scene versus just focusing on the aesthetic of the image?

I never just focus on the aesthetic. It seems impossible for my work to do that. The visual language will always be born from the story and the emotional string. The first thing I do when I start on a job is actually do an emotional/psychological breakdown of the script with my directors.

What are some of the elements you take more in consideration when working on the color palette?

That’s a tough one to answer, because it can be so many things. The environment is so important. But then the journey the characters take can also determine a color palette. A huge part of that is instinctive.

Many of your projects have a great use of shadows and contrast, how important are shadows for you on a film? Do you tend to use the contrast as a simple aesthetic resource or to highlight an emotion in particular?

I feel that life is about contrasts. We can’t see one side of life without the other. A film is the same way and the amount of contrast in the film should relate to that story. I tend to set a contrast ratio during camera tests and I usually stick with it for the entirety of the project. Sometimes I feel a scene in particular needs more or less contrast, and I respect that.

What would you say is the importance of a lens at the time of building or provide certain emotion or feeling for the audience watching or does it rely more on the framing and the direction?

They are all important elements of the visual language. If you look at someone with a 25mm far away or if you look with that same lens but closer it will feel completely different. If you look at that same person at those same distances but with a 50mm, again it’s all very different. The focal length and the distance to the actor are key elements of creating a certain feeling for the audience.

When and where can people watch these projects?

“Hala” is premiering in November in a few theaters across the U.S. and also on Apple+. “Workforce” just started its festival run and will play at San Sebastián, Zurich, London and Morelia. It already has a distributor in Mexico but not one in the U.S. yet. Hopefully it will be in theaters next year. “Babenco: Tell Me When I Die” has just started its festival run too. Another film I previously shot, “Icebox,” is on HBO. “Flower” and “They” are on ITunes and “Chosen Ones” is on Netflix. There’s a few that you can find.

What else is happening next in Carolina Costa’s world?

I just wrapped a series for Tinder and I’m currently prepping for a period piece set in Mexico in early 1900’s that will be directed by David Pablos who I collaborated with for “Chosen Ones.” I also just finished the last version of the script that I will be shooting and directing next year. It’s what I call a mystical sci-if.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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