SKSM: Could you start with telling me a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Rachel Garcia-Dunn: First of all, thank you for including me on your website. My name is Rachel Garcia-Dunn, and I’ve had the pleasure of being the cinematographer on two dollar baby films; “Gotham Cafe”(2004) which is covered in another interview, and the most recent film “In the Deathroom”(2020) directed by Nicole Jones-Dion.
SKSM: What did you want to be as a child? Why did you end up being a cinematographer?
Rachel Garcia-Dunn: I wanted to be a photographer, even before my grandfather left me his old camera. Turns out I had a knack for it, and got a degree in photography and film.
I started in NYC as a photography assistant, and had the opportunity to move to England and do commercial photography, which I pursued for several years. Eventually, I got into visual effects and worked on a few high profile projects.
After a few years, I wanted to get back behind the camera, so I combined all of my skills, and started shooting movies.
SKSM: How do you communicate with a director to design a visual strategy for a film?
Rachel Garcia-Dunn: Sometimes the director will put together a pitch deck that will define the look in pretty specific terms, but often it’s as casual as e-mailing images, and clips back and forth for what certain scenes should feel like.
SKSM: You worked with Nicole Jones-Dion on this film, what do you think the relationship between a director and a dp should be?
Rachel Garcia-Dunn: DP stands for ‘Director’s Pal.’
The Cinematographer is there to support the director’s vision through thick and thin.
If you can, help make it better, but always remember who’s film you’re making. The Director has the ultimate word.
Independent films have severe constraints on their resources, and the DP has to figure out how to make a couple of flashlights and folding chairs look like something out of Star Wars… or Spaceballs.
SKSM: When you’re going to shoot, what are your favorite lenses? Formats?
Rachel Garcia-Dunn: I’m agnostic when it comes to gear. What’s the best camera? The one you have available.
A good DP can squeeze a great image out of a low end camera as easily as a high end one.
The latest iPhone has better quality than s16mm film from 15 years ago when I shot the other Dollar Baby, as well as a “turret” configuration 3-lens package, and the $500/hr color suite from back then is on my desktop now.
However, In the Deathroom was shot with Sony a7sii with Canon L ii series lenses, and the Sony A7siii looks very promising. But remember, you should never turn down an opportunity to shoot with a camera that costs more than $10k.
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when you made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Rachel Garcia-Dunn: My spine tingled when Mark “Red Dog” Fenlaston switched on the torture device. We had to call an immediate safety meeting.
Nicole, Mark, Jorge, and I have all worked together on other projects, and it is always a great experience, despite the very dark material.
SKSM: Who are some of your influences (favorite dps/films)?
Rachel Garcia-Dunn: Don McCuaig, Asc (2012, xXx, Dragonfly, Bates motel), Conrad Hall: Road to perdition, Darius Khondji: City of lost children, Jordon Cronenweth: Blade Runner, John Mathieson: Gladiator, Rodger Deakins: Any Choen Bros collaboration, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Choen Bros, Jordon Peele, Barry Sonnenfeld, Wachowskis, Sam Fuller, Coppola, DePalma, Kubrick Tarantino, Peckinpah, John Houston, and Buster Keaton.
SKSM: What advice would you give to those people who want to be cinematographers?
Rachel Garcia-Dunn: Learn how to light. Enjoy it, especially the difficult parts. Don’t ever give up. Stay optimistic. Don’t be a jerk.
SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?
Rachel Garcia-Dunn: I’m working on several projects at the moment that are going through the final color/vfx finishing processes, and I’m also lining up shooting projects for the post-apocalyptic summer/fall.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to the fans that read this interview?
Rachel Garcia-Dunn: If you have a desire to tell a story with film, Do it! Don’t wait. Write a 3 page story and film it with your phone. It can be bad and it can be stupid, as long as it’s finished. The next one will be better, and so will the one after that, and the one after that and don’t be a jerk!