SKSM: Could you start with telling me a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Alex Simon: Hi, I’m Alex Simon, and I work as a Director of Photography in film and television.
SKSM: When did you know you wanted to become a cinematographer?
Alex Simon: Growing up, I always had an interest in film and photography. When I went to film school in college, I quickly realized I wasn’t a director, but knew that I still wanted to be a part of crafting a story visually. That’s where I learned that being a cinematographer sat right at the perfect intersection of artistry and technical skill.
SKSM: How do you communicate with a director to design a visual strategy for a film?
Alex Simon: Typically, the easiest way to design a visual strategy with a director is to refer to parts of other films that we’ve seen in the past. By looking back through the history of film we can find certain commonalities we like and apply those ideas and styles to our own projects. This is especially true when working with Julia Marchese, who has an encyclopedic knowledge and deep appreciation of older films.
SKSM: You worked with Julia Marchese on this film, what do you think the relationship between a director and a dp should be?
Alex Simon: Communication and trust are the two most important aspects of any Director/DP relationship. You have to both be on the same page about how each shot should look, and then you have to trust each other to assemble the pieces that will tell the story the way that you have visually planned it.
SKSM: You worked in a Dollar Baby based on a Stephen King short story. It was your most challenging film?
Alex Simon: Honestly, working with Julia is a breeze. She is so good at letting me know how she wants something to look, and how she wants the audience to feel while watching the film. And then she lets me craft each shot so that we can transmit that look and that feeling to the viewer. Sure, there are challenges when working with a small budget on a short film, but nothing that can’t be overcome. The most challenging shoots are the ones where my vision and the director’s vision aren’t in line with each other, but I didn’t have to worry about that on our set.
SKSM: When you’re going to shoot, what are your favorite lenses? formats?
Alex Simon: My favorite lens and format is whatever is most appropriate for the project at hand. Every film is different and I don’t necessarily like to stick to any one style. That being said, I do usually prefer to use older lenses that have some grit and character built into them due to older materials and manufacturing processes that are less-precise than those of today. I find today’s ultra high-def cameras to be too crisp and clean for most of my films, so I like to “dirty up” the image a little with vintage lenses. Super clean images are great for doing futuristic sci-fi films, but a film like I Know What You Need just absolutely had to be shot with vintage lenses. Luckily we were able to procure a set of vintage Panavision lenses from the 70s: they looked absolutely gorgeous, and perfectly captured the 70’s vibe we were going for.
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when you made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Alex Simon: I’d say the most special thing about making this film was that we actually got to shoot in the very dorm room and library on the University of Maine campus that Stephen King attended when he was in school. Knowing that Stephen walked those hallways was a special feeling that everyone in the cast and crew felt. As far as funny moments, every ad-libbed line that came out of Colin McKechnie‘s mouth was drop-dead hilarious. It was such a shame that we had to cut down his part due to the length of the script, but it made for some very funny lines that, unfortunately, we couldn’t use in the film.
SKSM: Who are some of your influences (favorite dps/films)?
Alex Simon: There’s such a rich and massive history of amazing films that it’s impossible to narrow down a list that doesn’t then insult any film or filmmaker that isn’t listed. I will say that I’m always floored by Steven Spielberg’s camera-work, Jordan Cronenweth’s revolutionary style in Blade Runner, Roger Deakins’ and Emmanuel Lubezki’s ability to create gorgeous images that feel natural, and the Coen’s and Edgar Wright’s masterful visual comedy.
SKSM: Are you a Stephen King fan? If so, which are your favorite works and adaptations?
Alex Simon: I am a Stephen King, though maybe not to the extent Julia is! But I have read dozens of his novels and short stories. I think my favorite book of his is probably The Stand. As far as film adaptations go, it’s hard to beat Kubrick’s The Shining, even though I know it doesn’t exactly line up with how Stephen wrote the book. I also absolutely love the films Carrie (1976), The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, and Misery.
SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?
Alex Simon: I’m currently in a hotel in Denver on my day off of a drama rom-com feature I’m shooting. It’s called Adventure Tom, and it’s a movie about two people meeting on a road trip across America after the death of the protagonist’s mother.
SKSM: What one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Alex Simon: I’m kind of a baseball nut and actually play in a couple adult sandlot leagues in Los Angeles and Dallas.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to the fans that read this interview?
Alex Simon: I hope everyone gets a chance to watch our little film that we put a lot of hard work and love into!
SKSM: Do you like to add anything else?
Alex Simon: I think that about covers it all. Thank you for reaching out to me.