Media Makers Profile: Carlos Montaner
Cinematographer / Filmmaker What I do: I shoot commercials, branded content and documentaries as a freelance cinematographer, director and producer. Since when: I started shooting professionally in 1992. Education: B.F.A. in Film from School of Visual Arts / New York, NY M.F.A in cinematography from American Film Institute (AFI)
I was raised in Spain and started working in short films as a film loader in the film community of Madrid, before starting my film education in NYC. When I was sixteen, I read the autobiography of Oscar award winner cinematographer Nestor Almendros (1930-1992), A Man With a Camera, and it changed my life. Little did I knew them that not only I would have the chance to meet this amazingly talented man, but also to work with him three years later on one of his personal projects, the documentary Nobody Listened. To know more about how he changed my life, you can read this article I wrote in my blog: What got you interested in digital content or content storytelling as we call it? New audiovisual technologies and easy access to online digital distribution, has enabled me the possibility to create digital content quickly and effectively. I can explore new narrative styles and subject matters without the cost and time-consuming requirements of traditional broadcast and cinema productions. What does a typical day look like - or give the reader an idea what you do when out in the field. As a content producer, I am attracted to the life of others that can inspire, make you take action or move your soul, by the simple nature of the subject matter. Here are the steps I usually follow:
Find a premise: Before shooting, I consider pre-production very important. I audio record or Skype an interview with my subjects to know them better, hear their voices, see their faces and ultimately find a strong premise to the story. It also helps me to narrow down the points I am going to select when I start building the script.
Find the locations: I scout and choose locations for interviews as well as for the complementary visual material I will shoot to tell the story. When I scout I think of production logistics, such as lighting, sound, backgrounds, and time.
Script: Based on the interview/s and the locations, I write a two-column script breaking down what I want to hear and what I want to. This is my blueprint before I start shooting.
Shoot: As a filmmaker I like to go light and carefully chose camera and lighting gear that allows me to move quickly and effectively as a one-man band. I strive for the highest quality without being slow down by complicated set-ups that distract me from my goals. When sound is an important element, I rather bring a sound person to help me out. I prefer to shoot the interview first and them all the supporting material.
These are some highlights I have learned in the field: 1- Work with what you have: Never fight a location and take advantage of their arquitecture, windows, light and space. When scouting, look at the light and see how you can enhance it or modified with whatever tools you have quickly. 2 – Simplify: instead of adding more in the frame, take away whatever might be distracting; too many props, the wrong colors, etc. It’s easier and focuses the visual attention on what matters. 3 – Get good coverage: I like to shoot handheld a lot as I like to move quickly and get as many interesting angles as possible. In post you will be happy to have it. 4 – Stay alert: Some of the best moments might come unexpected, I make sure I can improvise and shoot at any given moment by being very much in tune with what is happening in front of me. 5 – Get Permits: I Make sure I get signed permission from anyone in front of the camera to use their image as well as locations if is required. A lot harder to get later! Why has digital content become so important in the information marketplace? Online distribution has open up access for new content, and new content has to be updated constantly. What advice would you give any young aspiring content producer (filmmaker, producer, director)?
Don’t imitate the people that inspire you. Find within yourself what are the stories and questions that move your spirit. Your true curiosity is the differential factor that defines the originality of you work, from the one created by people you admire. Your voice, its your storytelling. The craft comes from practicing; every piece you make will make you better. Don’t worry about expectations, work on your communications skills and your ability to learn and stay curious all the time. Why is it important to ensure that the people who define and create content reflect the audience/readers - essentially why we need more diverse digital storytellers... People are seeking all kind of diverse content. But is up to you to find your audience. Look at the data and do your own research. Once you find them, establish a dialogue with them, as they will be the ones supporting your career.