Science Fiction Filme.) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re work have got a huge fan base here in Germany. Especially because for films like A NIGHTMARE ON ELMSTREET 1 & 2, SHOCKER and THE HIDDEN of course.
Could you please tell us what you did before you come into film business. Why have you chosen the way of being into cinematography?
Jaques Haitkin) Before I entered the film business, I was at university pursuing a career in film. I have had no other career. I did, for a short time, early in my university stay, pursue medicine.
I chose cinematography because I’m interested In Art, Science and Politics. And I wanted to self-express. Cinematography fulfills all those endeavors. From storytelling to lighting, composition, design, logistics, physics, engineering, management—it’s a challenging and fun playground. I’ve been fortunate to have my work and play be the same. A gift for 40+ years.
HOT DOGS FOR GAUGUIN was my first “movie”. But it was not a job; it was a student film made at New York University film school. ‘Hot Dogs’ was my first collaboration with director Martin Brest (“Beverly Hills Cop”, “Scent Of A Woman”).
Two significant things about HOT DOGS FOR GAUGUIN: 1) It garnered the attention of the American Film Institute, allowing Martin and I to attend as AFI fellows—critical turning points in both of our careers that would lead us to Hollywood. And 2) In 2011, HOT DOGS FOR GAUGUIN was selected for preservation by the U.S. National Film Preservation Foundation as a national treasure. One other distinction: The film starred then-unknown actor, Danny DeVito.
SFF.) Do you have any personal idols or favorite movies in your business? Mine is PHASE IV for example. And which movies do you really don´t like and why?
J.H.) There was no seminal event or movie that motivated me to become a filmmaker. All movies inspired me because of my love of Story. That’s why still photography has not held the same draw for me. I’m drawn to great storytelling, regardless of genre. Stories—particularly allegories—are part of our human DNA; very much so for me.
I don’t really have a favorite movie, as there are many movies that hold deep meaning for me. But if I had to pick just one, it would be A FACE IN THE CROWD, directed by Elia Kazan (1957). From the writing to the filming, in my opinion, it’s a masterpiece.
SFF.) You have done a lot of genre movies. Some of them are kind of cult-movies right now like EVOLVER or FIST OF THE NORTH STAR. Do you have a special love for films from the fantastic genre and if so, why?
J.H.) I do love DP-ing genre pictures, but it’s not for the reason you think. I love shooting them because their complexity is challenging; they require much original design and problem-solving. That’s the fun for me. It’s always about having fun… J.
My mantra: Have fun, be creative, stay curious.
SFF.) What is your opinion about education to become an expert in cinematography?
J.H.) I think education is obligatory to become a competent cinematographer. Aspiring cinematographers must study in the classroom and in the field to gain complete experience. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. To be an Artist, one must know more than how to do something. One must know how to self-express. Studying all art forms, to know where art comes from within the human psyche, is a prerequisite for becoming a professional cinematographer.
It takes a certain temperament to deal with the rigors of cinematography. The process involves overcoming obstacle after obstacle and constant problem-solving, whilst at the same time being self-expressive. There’s a certain amount of conflict involved in the filmmaking journey. It requires patience, insight, flexibility, resilience, collaboration, compromise and physical stamina. It also requires curiosity, passion, and an eye for design, composition and color. And a desire, willingness and fearlessness to learn and grow from success and failure.
SFF) Do you have some favorite works of yours and is there a project that, unfortunately, never came to fruition, even though you had already designed a lot for it?
J.H.) My most gratifying work was A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. We overcame Herculean physical, creative and financial challenges to portray a rich world—despite the challenges. A great collaboration between all filmmakers involved.
SFF.) As a director of photography you are responsible for the design of movies like CHERRY 2000 or AMBULANCE. And you are also a director of photography of the second unit in movies like for example KONG: SKULL ISLAND or FAST AND THE FURIOS 8. Is it difficult to realize the visual wishes and specifications of the director of photography of these movies when you might have a lot of creative ideas by yourself in order to take a scene?
J.H.) Shooting spectacle action sequences on Hollywood movies is a completely different craft than shooting Main Unit with actors, where central story, characters and themes are portrayed center-stage. Main unit sets the creative look of the film. The lighting, composition and camera movement—ALL cinematic expression and voice—are set by main unit. The action unit is strictly a “ghost unit”. Our job is to be invisible; to shoot sequences as if we are main unit. Our job is to be them. When audiences watch the finished film, intercuts between main unit and action unit should be virtually indistinguishable; as if it was all shot by main unit. I find embracing and mimicking main unit’s creative expressions challenging, gratifying and fun. And it’s not an easy craft; it takes experience, poise and humility.
SFF) Could you please be so kind and describe the following professional titles: gaffer, camera operator and additional photographer.
Gaffer: Oversees set operations and staff of the lighting department.
Camera Operator: Physically operates camera. Directors of photography can be camera operators, but camera operators are not directors of photography.
Additional Photographer: A cinematographer who shoots scenes included in the movie (oversees their photography and possibly operates camera), but is not on a designated unit.
SFF.) Do you have a certain style of camera movement that you admire the most?
J.H.) I admire and embrace all camera movement. Every technique is a different nuance of the visual voice of cinematography. From the latest drone work, to telescoping cranes, to ingenious stabilized hand-held rigs, camera cars, mounts—it all adds emotion, dimension and clarity to the world we portray. These days, I am fascinated with the potential of using small drones to do intricate, never-before-seen camera movement on interiors with actors. It opens up a whole new world of expression for the filmmakers and a more immersive experience for the audience.
SFF.) I love the look and style you were creating for certain productions. Do you have a special approach to the pictorial design of a movie?
J.H.) My “special approach” to pictorial design is to resonate with the script’s and the director’s visions of the story. Since no two stories are identical, every project requires a great deal of original design work. That’s the joy of cinematography, and of filmmaking in general.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
J.H.) I don’t have a “pet” project. For the time being, I am retired from cinematography due to a physical disability. But recently, I have taken up screenwriting to fulfill my passion for storytelling. Time will tell whether my new journey will bear fruit.
SFF) Dear Mr. Haitkin. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
J.H.) My pleasure. Thank you for showing interest!