This marks the first time I’ve interviewed a cinematographer, so this is pretty cool. I learned about Richard because he reviewed my novel IT’S ONLY DEATH and my novella WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL. Like most creators, I like people who like my work. No shame there. Thanks to Richard Vialet for taking the time and sharing about himself and what he’s learned with his craft. For fellow writers, up-and-comers and such, I believe we can learn a lot from other creative people (I learn all the time from musicians, athletes, artists, poets, other writers, film makers, etc.) So enjoy! And spread the word about the interview. You can check out Richard’s website here to see cool stills and video clips from projects he’s done.
How much artistic leeway do you have with each project? Or does it vary a lot from director to director?
Richard Vialet: Yes, it definitely varies from director to director. I’ve worked with some directors who are very specific with the shots that they want from scene to scene, providing storyboards and other references, while others are less specific visually, and lean on me to craft the shots while they just work with actors. I try to adapt my working style to fit the style that the director prefers. Most directors give me carte blanche on lighting decisions though, with the occasional suggestions on set. But I never plan a look and approach without letting the director know my intentions first.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far?
Richard Vialet: Probably the most valuable lesson for me at this point in my career is to keep an open mind about every project and everyone you meet, and always treat everyone with respect. I might find a project that doesn’t sound very attractive at first, but by keeping an open mind, you might discover potential. For example, a project might not be paid very well, but the director may be an undiscovered talent and have a unique vision that could lead to great things down the road. So you never know who you’re meeting with. Another great lesson I’ve learned is to stay healthy. I’m still working on that! We work demanding hours that are taxing on the body, and I would love to be doing this job for as long as possible.
What’s a typical film project like? What steps do you have to take to do your job with as few hitches as possible?
Richard Vialet: On a typical film project, the crew is basically just trying the tell the story and support the director’s vision as much as possible. while also trying to predict any obstacles that might pop up on set and being prepared to tackle them.
The key to doing this is: Pre-production. Pre-production. Pre-production. There is a lot of money on the line, and unless you’re David Fincher, Steven Spielberg, or Chris Nolan, you almost never time to get shoot the movie you want to make. So scouting locations as much as possible, being familiar with the script, getting on the same page as the director and the other department heads, and having a clear idea of how I want to approach every scene, goes a long way to a successful shoot.
What are some of your favorite films?
Richard Vialet: 1) Casablanca – It’s a timeless, universally enjoyable, and nearly perfect story of romance and heroism, and explores the choice between striving for personal happiness and acting for something that’s bigger than yourself.
2) L.A. Confidential – It’s probably the best movie adaptation of a book, skillfully converting one of the densest crime novels ever into a 2-hour, 20-minute movie that is really entertaining and extremely well-made. It also has one of the best casts of any movie.
3) Se7en – The textbook movie for what a great psychological thriller can be. It has a creepy and original concept and script and has such a dark, oppressive mood, that after your finished and watch it again, you’re surprised by how little violence and graphic images there are. A feat of filmmaking.
4) Sunset Boulevard – It was amazing how modern Billy Wilder’s movies felt. And this one was his greatest. It’s one of the most scathing satire on Hollywood to date and I consider Gloria Swanson’s tightrope walk of a performance one of the best ever.
5) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – It’s pretty cool that this movie is still endlessly entertaining even though it was made in 1948. It’s an awesome adventure about how greed slowly corrupts and becomes a greater danger to the characters than bandits, wild animals, or the elements.
6) A Separation – Proof that great writing and acting is all you need. It’s interesting how this small Iranian family drama was ten times more riveting than most of the big-budget action movies I’ve seen.
Who inspires you?
Richard Vialet: My mother Eveth, cinematographers Rodrigo Prieto, Harris Savides, Greig Fraser, and Bradford Young, late photographer Gordon Parks, and directors Sidney Lumet and Steven Spielberg.
How did you get your start in the film industry?
Richard Vialet: I enrolled at Howard university in Washington D.C with the goal of becoming an actor and film director. But I fell in love with cinematography and decided to focus on that exclusively. I was then accepted into the prestigious American Film Institute Conservatory as a cinematographer and after graduating from there, I’ve been working, doing what I love ever since!
I know you love to read, who are five of your favorite authors?
1) Stephen King is truly a master storyteller who”s not only entertaining but knows how to skillfully use the art of the written word to tell engaging stories. And he’s constantly challenging himself and evolving. I think King should be included more in talks about the greatest modern American authors.
2) Dennis Lehane is one of our greatest crime writers. His books have a great balance of character development and plot and has yet to write a bad book in my opinion. Mystic River is one of my favorite novels, Gone, Baby Gone is the best detective novel I’ve read to date, and Shutter Island is a great atmospheric psychological thriller.
3) George Pelecanos’s urban morality tales and tragedies continue to touch me. He writes some of the most authentic dialogue and explorations of inner city life than most authors and always treats his characters with love and respect. I feel like I know the people in his books.
4) I recently started reading Junot Díaz and I love how reading his books feel like hanging with a buddy and hearing some good stories about young lovelorn guys and failed romance.
5) I’ve also just started reading Lawrence Block and his writing and crafting of plot seems so effortless. He makes it look so easy.
*Other favorites include the great Walter Mosley, David Goodis (the poet of depression and urban despair), Megan Abbott, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Robert McCammon, Scott B. Smith, Jake Vander Ark, and Chester Himes.
I’m sure you travel a lot, correct? Did you ever fall in love with a particular setting while filming?
Richard Vialet: I fall in love with at least some aspect of everywhere I’ve traveled; I just love to discover new places. But the Pacific coast of Costa Rica might be my favorite so far, and looked great on camera. I’ve also shot in the Redwood forests of Northern California and that was mind-blowing! I kept thinking about the Endor scenes in Return of the Jedi!
You’ve already been part of some great projects. What is something you’d like to achieve that you haven’t done yet?
Richard Vialet: Of course, every filmmaker is dying to get the next game-changing script. But yes, I’ve been fortunate to work on a wide variety of genres with their own individual challenges. But I would love to shoot a Western. A serious one, with classic themes and a great villain. I’m a huge Western movie fan. I think a musical would be tons of fun as well!
What are you working on now? Can you tell us a little about it?
Richard Vialet: I can’t talk lot about the specifics, but it’s a sequel to a popular revenge thriller remake. At first, I wasn’t excited about it because I’m not really a fan of the gory genre that the first movie belongs to. But after a director I’d worked with before signed on and I read the script, I realized that there was more of character and story in this sequel and I was excited about doing an installment that brought something new to the genre.
Thanks so much for taking time to answer questions, Richard!
Again, check out Richard’s website here!