Interview with director of photography Daniel Patterson



Director of photography Daniel D. Patterson creates an inimitable naturalist vision for each story he works on. His work can be seen five nights a week, as he photographed the opening sequence of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.


His latest feature, director Spike Lee’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, opened nationwide on Feb. 13, 2015. The film previously closed the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) on June 2014. The PBS documentary series POV will be kicking off its season on June 22nd with Out In The Night. That film is the story of (the "New Jersey Four") a group of lesbians who were arrested for fighting a straight man. Its a powerful and important film that needs to be seen. Daniel was kind enough to answer some questions I had about his work.


How do you define the role of cinematographer?


The cinematographer creatively helps bring the director's vision to the screen using cameras, lenses, light/shadow, interesting angles/frames, significant camera motion.

Is there a film or film maker that inspired you to pick up a camera?
My first inspiration for picking up a camera is life. I think it is important that we share our experiences. Within the film industry, I've been inspired by Ernest Dickerson, Roger Deakins, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Frank Capra, Spike Lee...and countless others.

As a DP what are the main differences between working on a narrative feature and a documentary?

The main difference between fictional narrative and documentary narrative is that you do not get many "do-overs" in documentary. Often in documentary, you only get one chance to capture the moment.


Out In The Night is an impressive film from both a visual and an emotional standpoint. What attracted you to that project?

My first attraction to any project is the story. When my friend, and the director, Blair told me the story, I was horrified. I wanted to participate in exploring our judicial process, pointing the camera at our media, and most importantly getting to know these women, was key in my reason(s) for getting involved with the film.

What were the challenges unique to working on Out In The Night?
One unique challenge was accessing prisons to conduct some interviews. That challenge was more so for production/the producers. Visually I think it was challenging be in the right spot with the camera, because nothing is scripted, and there are no do-overs.


Do you think film can have an impact on the culture, be it positive or negative?

Film impacts our culture both positively and negatively since film has been in existence.
The impact depends on the audience and depends on the film.

When I look over the projects you have been associated with I can't help but assume you are selective about the films you become involved with. Gun Hill Road, Out In The Night, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus and Evolution of a Criminal are all thoughtful examinations of people who have been hurt by our society. What makes you decide to take on a project?
That is an interesting interpretation/observation you have with those projects.
I decide to collaborate on a project if it speaks to me, if it moves me when I first hear the story, or the pitch. In between Gun Hill Road, and Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus, I also shot a film called Newlyweeds. Many folks thought it would be another "stoner flick", but it's not. I decided to take on Newlyweeds because of the challenge of presenting a romantic relationship story with the inherent prevailing stereotypes in our culture surrounding "weed movies"...I also felt kin to the characters.

I've always loved Spike Lee's films. Even the one's that don't completely work for me have visual elements that are compelling or a point of view that lingers around in my head for several days. How is it working with a director who has such strong visual style?

Working with a director who knows what he wants makes my job easy. I also received the benefit of learning his visual style/ sensibility.

There is a shot early in Da Sweet Blood of Jesus that pans across the ceiling of a church and we are shown the florescent lights forming a cross. In the hands of a lesser film maker that shot could have easily been too on the nose or jarring but for some reason its quite evocative. How do you strike a balance between subtle and overly forthright?

You are 100% right. That shot could have gone wrong, easily. You strike the balance between being subtle and being overly forthright by editing. What the editor Randy Wilkins decided to put before and after a shot dictates the flow, the order and the audiences sense of balance. I also would like to think that the crescendo style camera motions help make digesting a shot like that smooth and easy. The technical elements have to be present and correct to perceive evocativeness. The dolly move, the booming camera movement on the dolly while in motion, the camera angle slowly tilting down, the racking of focus, the lighting, the geometric elements present in the frame, all effect how you feel while viewing a shot.





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