/Interview by Natalia Dukhovnikova/
Ian Guevara is a cinematographer from the Philippines. He is making magnificent projects with various creators and local brands. He really feels the magic of the photography and can impress people by his works. We talked to Ian and found out what cinematography means to him, how it is to be a director of photography and why imperfect things are perfect for him.
Ian Alexander B. Guevara
Ian, you are a director of photography. What’s the difference between a director of photography and a film director?
I’m in charge of the visual storytelling of the project. My job is to frame the project and at the same time do that creatively. While a director sometimes would have chosen frames in terms of editing, I would put in some comments to make it looks better. Long story short, with a director we do a lot of stuff collaboratively.
However, I think in any project anybody can be a director as long as they have a story to tell that is sincere and close to their heart. That’s why I chose to direct my personal projects. The best person to tell my story would be me.
One of your recent projects is the music video “Fall” for Ben&Ben. How did you get the opportunity to take part in creating the clip for a famous Filipino band?
The director of this project is my friend. He recommended me and they chose to hire me because of my narrative background. Honestly, I think we got this project because the band found out that we prefer to do things differently than others. They just liked our unique style, especially in visual storytelling.
Did you get a chance to work more with Ben&Ben after that?
Actually I worked with them for five more projects after filming “Fall”. I really like their music, it’s in touch with every Filipino. They are a really mellow band and each of them is so nice and friendly. They are very open to work with new people.
Coming back to the beginning of your creative career, how did you start working with photography?
When I was in college, I enjoyed taking photographs. One day an old friend of mine who was studying filmmaking took me to work on his project. That was the moment when it all started. Right after graduation I had some weird jobs in the creative field. I even dreamed of becoming a fashion photographer. But I wasn’t so rigid with my career. Luckily, some time later I found a mentor who took me under his wing. He taught me everything I know and thanks to his mentorship I slowly went up the ranks until I could shoot my own projects as a cinematographer.
Captions from Ben&Ben – Fall
And have you studied photography anywhere?
Actually, no. In college I was studying multimedia arts which gave me the basic foundation for visual arts. That was also the same time when my love for photography began.
But why photography? What attracts you in this art?
When I started, I just really liked capturing moments but in time I’ve discovered that I can bring emotions into the visual world. Now it’s not just taking photos anymore. It’s how I build an image that could portray emotions. As a cinematographer, for example when working on the music video, I would listen to the song and then try to interpret the lyrics, the melody into a strong visual language. That’s the fun part of being a director of photography. And the best part of all this, for me, is the opportunity to work with friends on interesting things. It can feel like playing because of the atmosphere on set. Like you have the liberty liberated to create something new.
Would you like to become a film director?
Currently, I’m enjoying being a director of photography so being a video director is still pretty far from me. I think being a director of photography is also kind of a meditation for me because it doesn’t bring so much stress. And, honestly, I don’t like talking to so many people as a film director has to do every time. I’m focused only on my frames and pictures when I’m working. And I want to be the best with what I’m doing right now.
What type of photography attracts you today?
Something that brings a mood that you can feel. I really like photography that tells stories. If to name one type of photography that attracts me, it would be not perfect photography. The most beautiful photographs are those that have imperfections. Like it is in life. I’ve seen so many photos that were too technically perfect but at the same time boring. Perfect pictures are not unique for me. I can’t find spice in them. Every time I see a photo of an event or a person, I look for the eye of its photographer. I really appreciate this detail.
Then what is your eye as a photographer?
It’s a really difficult question to answer but I think my style is making a viewer feel something when watching my work. Maybe my photograph or video will be shot not 100% properly, will have some imperfections but that’s what I strive to do. I try to look at things in different perspectives and enhance what makes these things special. My aim is to take a mood out of it.
Are you working on new projects now?
Right now I’m working on my personal project which is about dreams. I’m documenting and interviewing some people to find out what their dreams are, what they are doing to achieve these dreams and if they are happy with their life.
Would you like to work in big feature films as a cinematographer?
Incidentally, the projects that are coming my way now are short films but each with rich
stories to tell. I’ve been gravitating towards these stories that I – in some way – relate to and am given a chance to explore how to visually narrate them. Not that I don’t want to be involved in a feature film — I’m waiting for a script that I can connect with on a personal level.
How many personal projects have you already created?
I did lots of personal things when I just graduated from the school. But after that, I think, I was too focused on my career and chose not to do personal projects. But now I feel that I want to tell my stories again, I want to see what I’m able to do now with all my skills and opportunities.
Do you have a constant team that works with you on all projects?
I have the team but now I’m trying to make it a bit smaller so that it would be a group of people with the same vision and understanding of projects that I have.
Do you need to hire an operator for projects or you can do everything by yourself?
When I started as a director of photography, I would like always to operate my cameras but now projects are getting bigger and because of the pandemic shoot times got shorter so everything is in a rush and it’s hard to do all stuff on your own. I would prefer to get an operator for highly technical shots so I can see the bigger picture. But there are some projects wherein it’s so personal to me that I still want to operate 100% of it.
How did the covid change your working process?
Well, previously in the Philippines we could shoot 18-24 hours and sometimes even days nonstop. But now we are required to shoot only 12-14 hours, which gives us a very strict cut off. We are used to be slow pace in terms of shooting but now we are forced to do that really fast and be very focused. For sure everyone in the hierarchy of our filming process became more productive. There are less people but everyone is working 100%. You won’t see anyone sleeping on set anymore. And the quality, definitely, has become better. And I hope we retain the habits we learned from this situation even after it all ends.
Where do you find inspiration for your creativity?
I think it came with what my mentor told me: life should always be your inspiration. How would you know how good the sunset looks on set if you haven’t seen a good sunset. I think aside from watching movies, I really like observing everything around me. Ever since I was a kid, I would observe people and nature. So basically my inspiration for the projects would always be life itself.
How do you deal with creative crisis?
I often get that especially when I shoot nonstop. After a long shooting I just try to step away and do different things. When you loose your love or your passion, it’s really hard to find it back. But I already knew that’s gonna happen even before I became a cinematographer so I made sure that I would always do photography as a hobby. Thus when I get burned out with cinematography, I have something to do. I just pick my camera and take photos of my cats or everything that’s around me and surely enough it slowly goes back.
As we understood, you have quite a successful career in the Philippines. Isn’t that enough for you? Why have you decided to take part in various film festivals?
I’m sure that my projects are good enough to be shown somewhere else. I want to show people how the Philippines are doing their work. We live in our own “bubble” and we send only a few projects abroad. You don’t know many filipino cinematographers working in other countries, right? And that’s what I’m talking about. I won’t say that I’m gonna change it but at least I want to push myself and see what new level I can reach.
How would you describe filipino cinematography?
When I started, everyone wanted to shoot glossy, very high key, smooth lighting on faces. But right now we are in a transition where we shoot more darker scenes, more shadows although everyone started doing this years ago. We are trying to catch up, I guess. Every filipino cinematographer has a unique style. We are trying to be as brave as we can. Mostly cinematography tends to look natural but this year we are getting more and more fictional projects. And of course sometimes budgets don’t allow to create something we want.
Do you agree that every cinematographer should be good at editing and color correction?
If you know all these things, it really helps but it’s not necessary. Cinematographers are storytellers so they should know how to work with shots, color grade. Di ako sure sa gusto mo sabihin dito. Na ang director nalang ba ang dapat magbabysit ng project ba?
In your opinion, are there enough opportunities today for beginners to make their career?
When I started, it was really hard to get in. I was lucky enough to apprentice under someone already inside the industry. He guided me and at the same time introduced me to a lot of filmmakers even before I became a cinematographer in my own right. It was a slow process for me to become one. But in every generation everything becomes faster. Today’s young cinematographers have been popping up and they don’t even need to climb up the ranks anymore. It’s easier now to show your talent. But at the same time harder to get solid foundation.
What platforms do you use for personal promotion?
I’m not very used to Instagram like young people now. But I’m lucky enough to be discovered in Instagram because of my work and I got sponsorships because of that. It gave me a boost in confidence that I should just continue doing my work. Today the most helpful platforms for me are Vimeo and Instagram.
What disadvantages do you find in your job?
Sometimes there can be a lack of communication with the team, especially in advertising projects. They are so fast and it’s hard for me just to let it go after finishing my work. When I am creating a project, I care about it but in commercials it shouldn’t be so. Sometimes I look at the final result and realize that it looks so differently than I intended it to be. That’s always heartbreaking for me.
And then what do you like about it?
I like creating itself. I think it’s a blessing to create what you love and get paid for it. Especially nowadays when it is so hard to get a job that you really want. And cinematography gives me everything I love: photography, storytelling and collaborating with friends.