Tell us a little about yourself and were you’re from?
My Name is Tavis Pinnington, I’m 22 years old and currently live in Melbourne, Victoria. I was born in Sydney but moved to Tasmania when I was very little. I moved to Melbourne in 2013 to study film and television at Swinburne university. I am in my final year and majoring in Cinematography.
photo credit: Wilson Huang
Have all things cinematic and photographic always been an interest for you?
My father has always had some kind of camera in the house. He would make family videos and v-logs all the time just documenting our family’s time together. I think he started when I was born, he has every christmas morning on video since 1993 (the year I was born). I remember finding all of the videos in a cupboard one day and I spent the afternoon watching all of them. It was great to see memories preserved in that way, they had ups’ and downs and thats when I started getting some interest in filmmaking. My curiosity didn’t fully kick off until 2012 which is when I made my first short film for a class at school. When I moved to Melbourne I started taking photos of anything I could find interesting. I was afraid to take photos of people because usually they don’t like a camera in their face.
My cinematic interest really kicked off at the start of 2014, I had been doing a lot of sound work and I started to hate it, I wanted to be behind the camera and shape light. So I started studying Cinematography intensely during the summer, reading magazines (American Cinematographer), helping other Cinematographers on set to get an understanding of how to shape and create light thats right for the story as well as learning camera. Since then I haven’t looked back and Cinematography is my primary passion. I never stop thinking about it, which can be really bad at times. My love and passion for it grows everyday.
What are you shooting with at the moment?
I shoot with whatever I can get my hands on, I even use my iPhone 6+. The camera is great but it varies from project to project. For photography I use two cameras depending on what needs to be done. I use my Leica X2 for quick shoots and street photography, It’s a really awesome point and shoot camera with a fixed 24mm F2.8 lens. I love the image I get from it, its great for Street photography but its a pain in the ass to manually focus so I usually leave it on Auto focus. For bigger shoots I also own a Sony a7s. It is by far the best camera out there for video and low light. I can shoot at ISO 6400 and there is very little noise, It’s like having night vision. It takes great photos but I feel as though Sony made the camera for video. I use the Sony for video and photography so it gets used quite a lot. For video I use an Atomos Ninja Assassin which can record 4k video. The footage looks amazing and it really impresses others when they see the footage. For lenses I just use the Sony kit lens 28-70mm.
For short films and depending on budgets, I like to use bigger cameras. This year I have been using RED EPIC and Arri Alexa’s for the short films I shot, but it really depends on the story and what format will suit it best.
With so much competition between brands all trying to create the ‘perfect’ camera, who do you think currently has the edge in the industry?
Sony hands down. Over the past 3 or so years, Sony have dominated the mirrorless camera market with their new Alpha cameras. The sony a7s is one of the best cameras out there for video and low light. It’s so upgradeable and versatile. The Mark ii is coming out soon which will have internal 4k video which will change the way people shoot so much. The Sony a7r Mark ii has insane resolution which is great for photography. I just don’t see Canon or Nikon doing these things yet. It feels as though every time Canon release a new camera, it is already out-dated by a year or so. People look at me weirdly when I say: “Get a sony over a canon.”
If you could only shoot in film or digital ever again, which would you choose and why?
I love shooting both. Both have their pros and cons but when it comes to photography, I shoot a lot more digital. The only reason is because I don’t have a lot of film in the house. I like Shooting Kodak Portra 160 for colour and Tmax 400 for Black and White. I just haven’t had the time to go out and buy film stocks, so 90% of the time, ill take my Leica or Sony. I recently got my first roll of 120mm film back from the lab and it looks amazing. Film plugins for digital aren’t there yet. Companies like VSCO are getting close, but there is still something missing. Plus, having the film negatives in your hands are great.
In filmmaking land, you pick digital or film based on the story. Filmmaking is about the story, everything must work around the story, even cinematography. Most of my favourite films were shot on film. There is a certain look to it that separates it from digital. I love gritty, contrasty images and I believe that film does that way better than digital, especially when shooting on 500T stock.
I hope Film stays around for a long time, but it is really struggling at the moment. I feel pretty lucky to have shot on super 16mm while it was still available.
What are your favourite things/subjects to shoot?
Depends on my mood. I love photographing people on my Leica, I’m not sure why. I tend to shoot landscapes on my Sony because it’s full frame and I can go really wide. People are more interesting than landscapes and I learned that the hard way. I shot landscapes for a long time and it got boring. It was like looking at postcards. I started off photographing my friends around school and home. It is really hard to photograph strangers in the street because people don’t like it and I have been stopped by people before to delete the photo. I don’t like studio shoots because everything feels fake, although it’s different in filmmaking I try to keep photography and cinematography separate. I like capturing ‘now‘ moments in my photos rather than point the camera and get someone to pose in front of it. I also don’t know what I am doing when it comes to using a flash (Laughs).
In Filmmaking I love a range of genres. I don’t like gore horror though, I respect it but I’m not good with gore at all. I like shooting drama, thriller and sci-fi. There’s a lot you can do with the cinematography in those genres and they are all completely different and offer their own sets of challenges. Sci-fi is a lot more technical and there’s a lot of room to experiment with lighting and camera movement but when I shoot drama I like to shoot with soft light. I like gritty and contrasty thriller films. Fight Club (David Fincher) and Man on Fire (Tony Scott) are perfect examples of films that are gritty and contrasty. To me, that represents the ugliness of the world.
What is your favourite creative work to date?
In August/September I shot a short film called ‘Butterly’ (Dir. Fraser Pemberton). It’s an experimental drama that focuses on a mans life after he is involved in an accident. We shot parts of it in New Zealand’s North Island. We went over for five days and shot in glow worm caves, redwood forests and sulfur lakes. We came back to Melbourne and shot the main part of the film over a week. I shot the film on the Arri Alexa cinema camera with Cooke S4i prime lenses. I’m really proud of the way it all turned out and the director was really happy and impressed with my work. The film is still in Post Production so it won’t be released until December.
These days anyone can take a photo and share it on social media, what do you think sets apart a good photographer from a terrible one?
Anyone can take a photo at any time now. I don’t put down other peoples work because there is always going to be someone out there that actually likes it. Everyone is different and has different tastes and views. I read somewhere that “There’s no such thing as bad Cinematography (photography too), there’s just good cinematography that fits the story.” That’s the biggest thing I have learned so far. I don’t try to out do myself with every shoot, I just try to find the balance of photography/cinematography that suits the project.
Whose work has influenced you most, if any?
I’m more influenced by Cinematographers and filmmakers than photographers. My favourite cinematographer is Emmanuel Lubezki. He shot Children of Men, Gravity, Birdman, Tree of Life and Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest film ‘The Revenant’. He has a very unique style to shooting close ups and people. He tends to favor wider lenses to shoot his close ups. It pulls them closer to the camera and pushes everything else out, it makes you feel attached to the character. His work heavily influenced me on ‘Butterfly‘. I shot the majority of it on wider lenses because we were only dealing with one actor and character, the director wanted people to attach themselves to the character. I really love David Fincher as a director too (Fight Club, Gone Girl, The Social Network, Zodiac and Seven). His films are pretty dark compared to the films Emmanuel shoots. He is my go to influence when it comes to thriller and grit. Every time I watch one of his films I feel sick and dirty, Fight Club especially. I think Fincher’s films really capture the dark side of humanity. Seven is a perfect example of that darkness. Those would be my big influences on my work. Rodger Deakins is everyones go to Cinematographer, that guy isn’t even human I swear because everything he shoots is just perfect.
Have you worked on any films recently?
This year I have worked on three short films. Butterfly (Dir. Fraser Pemberton) After Today and What You Don’t Know (Dir. Lily Patrick-Connor). I shot a music video at the beginning of the year but it still isn’t finished yet. I work as minor roles on films. I love to Focus Pull/First Assistant Camera, Second assistant Camera/Film Loading and to work in the lighting department. There is always something to do in those fields and you learn so much on every set. You can take everything you learned from sets and apply them to your own work. Its a collaborative effort and thats what I love about filmmaking.
Who would you aspire to work with?
I have close film friends I would love to work with but unfortunately they have their ‘go to’ crew. I like having that “go to” kind of relationship with a writer/director because you start to know what they like and dislike. I would like to be someones go to cinematographer.
What are your top 5 films?
They change all the time. At the moment they are:
– Fight Club (Dir. David Fincher)
– Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back (Dir. Irvin Kershner)
– Skyfall (Dir. Sam Mendes)
– Killing Them Softly (Dir. Andrew Dominik)
– The Dark Knight (Dir. Christopher Nolan)
What do you think is the worst film ever made and why?
The Room but it’s so bad that it’s good (laughs). Star Wars Episode II The Clone Wars. I am a HUGE Star Wars fan but the Prequels were just so bad. Episode 7 and JJ Abrams will save the Franchise.
I love the Twitter account ‘one perfect shot’. Can you narrow down your favourite ‘one perfect shot’ from a film?
I’ve mentioned Fight Club a lot. The film has had a massive impact on my life and it is an inspiration to the work I like to do. This was a tough choice but I kept coming back to this shot. This is the scene where the line “Everything is just a copy of a copy of a copy” is delivered and the narrator starts to see Tyler Durden. I love the absolute sterile, boring environment of the shot, people are just copying copies of paper for no reason other than ‘that’s their job’. The shot defines modern workspace and how a sterile, boring job like this can really push you to change who you are, which is what the narrator starts to do.
Ideally where would you like your work to take you, career wise?
I would love to shoot feature films, short films, high end television commercials and music documentaries. This is by no means an easy street. To be successful in this industry you end up sacrificing a lot of yourself and personal things in order to have a job like this. I’m already starting to feel the sacrifices in order to do something you love. I would love to shoot a feature film within the next two years but I an very open to shooting. As my final weeks University weeks come, I am pretty nervous and anxious about the future, but If I work hard and keep my focus clear i’ll hopefully get there. As for now, I am happy to work a part time job and put all my responsibilities into filmmaking and other creative outlets.
– Aisling Abbey