Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, ASC: “When I’m Stuck”
Do you ever wake up in the morning with that “I don’t want to go into work today…” feeling? I have those days… we all do!
Those are the days that test you the most, the days when you have to dig deep inside and find the drive and the determination to get out of your comfort zone. Our partners at Musicbed have today started a fantastic campaign called “Find Your Breakthrough” using the hashtag #WhenImStuck to encourage a real, vulnerable conversation within the filmmaking community. Musicbed wants to hear about what it feels like to be stuck and the practical things people do to break through.
There are days that you work on jobs and the director isn’t very nice, the job is difficult or less inspiring or everything seems to be going wrong. You thought it was going to be amazing and it didn’t live up to your expectations.
Do I have a lot of those days? No, but I do have them. I have them about a handful of times a year.
What do I do? I jump out of bed with a spring in my step, ready to rumble because this is my life! And I absolutely love being a cinematographer, love being on a film set, and love working with a team to get the very best results and solve problems together when we’re stuck.
Footage of me at 5am – (don’t mention the Christmassy wallpaper)
Have a listen to this podcast…
In it, I tell people one technique I have learned to change the whole vibe of the set, to ooze positivity and good vibes from the moment you walk on! That’s your first step in avoiding being stuck.
Everything must feel like you’re doing it for the first time in order to keep you on your toes and keep exploring. What’s that phrase – “What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail?” That’s why I’m constantly challenging myself to do new things. For me, that’s the key to an exciting and fulfilling career.
If I fail, so what?!
It’s only by failing that we learn – like learning to walk or ride a bike.
Always challenge yourself, always push forward into new territory, push the boundaries of what you thought you could do.
I have to do that on a daily basis. That’s what challenges me and it keeps me sharp. It keeps me with a very positive attitude and a humble attitude as well.
Get comfortable and you get cocky.
You don’t know everything. Nobody does! And film is an art form, it’s constantly evolving. 20 years ago some of the filmmaking equipment and techniques that we have today were a pipe dream, cameras were vastly different, platforms for the way we viewed the films we shot have changed massively! We have to constantly challenge ourselves as that’s what’s going to create a very long career where you’re always trying to do something different.
Finding new ways to light, new ways to lens, prep for a shoot, or communicate my vision and the director’s vision is what gets me out of bed with that spring in my step. Working in ways that are unique and different from what everybody else is doing.
BELOW: Screengrab from Into The Badlands – You need a lot of haze to get those shafts of light – check out this article on haze.
Let’s use a Wiz promo I did for an example:
Here’s the run-down: The whole camera crew had never worked with Red Dragon cameras. We were shooting this in New York, where Alexa rules, (at the time Alexa was ruling everywhere in the world).
I’m there with my Red Dragons. We’re firing them up and they don’t know how to do the different settings, they don’t understand how to put the right color space on the monitors and they don’t know how to black shade – they don’t even know what black shade is!
They were stuck on how to do any of the basic and crucial things you do to properly prep a RED camera.
So, as a team we went onto Google and found Black Shading for Dummies and I took them through it. I did not want to just do it for them because if I just went in there and did it, they’d never be able to learn for themselves or know how to adapt to something similar in the future. They had to find and learn and master the process.
We had a good hour and a half before we had to shoot and they used that time to figure everything out, get all of it in the right place, deliver the right imagery, the right signal to my monitor and to the card, and get it correct for post. All because they pushed themselves out of their usual comfort zone.
“Every day I wake up and I feel like I’m a 5-year-old.”
When you are a 5-year-old, everything is BIGGER, and everything is BETTER. The light might actually just be white, but to your 5-year-old’s eyes, it’s golden and glowing. You get stuck, you find a way around it.
BELOW: Okay, I wasn’t 5, but it’s a younger me and lights were golden and glowing!
When you’re on set, and you set up a shot and the director says,
“Okay, so what are we going to do here?”
What I don’t say…
“I’m going to put a little light here and a little light there … “
You know what I’m going to do? I say..
“I’m going to bring in this 18K that’s going to put these platinum shafts of light that just blast into this room, and it’s going to explode off the floor. Then, when they come around the corner, they are going to have this under light that makes them kind of glow, and in the background, I’m going to blow out that window, so they have this ethereal quality around their head.”
That is the way you describe stuff. You don’t just say…
“Oh yeah, I got it, it’s going to be good …”
Embrace Change for Positive Growth
Writing this is funny because I recall being in a production meeting on a movie and the head of production at New Line was sitting right across from me. She had done Semi-Pro with me in the past and after the whole eight-hour production meeting, she turned to me and goes:
“You are so different.”
I go, “Well, thank you. Yeah, I think I’ve finally grown up and understood who I am and what I’m about.”
She goes, “I cannot wait to do this movie with you. Your inspiration, your attitude, everything about it is completely changed.”
That really grabbed my heart. I was like, wow, this business is so crazy sometimes. You just look at it and see how far you’ve come and how many people you’ve met and worked with. To hear that really made my year. It made me realize that I am growing and I am changing. I am being a better leader and a better cinematographer, and a better inspiration to filmmakers all over the world.
That’s why I am writing this article about being stuck. It’s also why I started Filmmakers Academy. Like with that camera team on the Wiz, I want to give filmmakers the education and hopefully the inspiration. That way, they can have the confidence to push themselves and propel our industry even further forward!
So many of you have helped this transformation for me. I cannot thank you enough for helping me be a better leader, a better mentor, and a better filmmaker.
Get the hell out of your comfort zone, get out of bed excited for the day. Then, get in touch and let me know how you did and what you’re going to attempt next. Don’t ever feel stuck!