DP Nancy Schreiber A.S.C. On Women In Film And Lighting Without A Budget
Currently preparing for a labor-of-love shoot in Trinidad, Nancy Schreiber, ASC is bubbling with enthusiasm for the project, Moving Parts, a fictional narrative that centers on the international sex trade. “I was just drawn to the subject matter,” she says. Ever vocal for the rights of women, Schreiber says that she will work on several PSAs over the course of a year in between other work, but for this feature length, she has dedicated herself to seeing the project through despite a very small budget. “We did a Kickstarter for it,” she says enthusiastically, “and we didn’t quite get all the money that we hoped, but we’re going to make it work!”
Schreiber says that she often finds herself oscillating back and forth between larger budgets and absolute micro budgets.
Schreiber says that she often finds herself oscillating back and forth between larger budgets and absolute micro budgets. She has access to an ARRI AMIRA for the film, so thanks largely to the incredible low light sensitivity of the camera, all she really needs to bring with her on the trip are a few low weight LED lighting solutions. She’s found local crew in Trinidad that can supply the rest, and she happily admits that she even found someone that is very skilled with Chimera equipment on hand on the island. She laughs that she has been Skyping with him to see what is available to them, only to see his his whole living room totally occupied by all of his gear.
“I mean it’s not like the Panasonic VariCam with a 5000 ISO,” she continues. “It’s not “that” low light, so I do have to light. But I don’t plan to tie in and I’m not using any big lights. The biggest I’ll use is a 1.2K HMI, a couple smaller HMIs and tungsten fresnels. And they do have Chimera down there so we’ll be using them!” In contrast, Schreiber also spent several weeks this last year working on the big budget ABC television series The Family with Joan Allen, Allison Pill, Rupert Graves and Andrew McCarthy. She says in this case she was basically a kid in a candy store. She found herself working with three top-of-the-line ARRI ALEXA cameras, full Steadicam access throughout the shoot and a huge crew that included large grip and electric trucks that would prep and prelight the next location for shooting prior to the production’s arrival.
“One day we shot a political scene of Joan Allen being sworn in as Mayor outdoors, on courthouse steps.” she explains, “I used a fifty-foot Technocrane where the shot started looking straight down, overhead and then craned down dramatically.”
“One day we shot a political scene of Joan Allen being sworn in as Mayor outdoors, on courthouse steps.” she explains, “I used a fifty foot Technocrane where the shot started looking straight down, over heads, and then craned down dramatically. Very effective. Just indoors this large facility, Joan was giving a fundraising speech for another scene that called for a crane to move over the heads of the crowd to a close-up of Joan at the podium. The fifty would not fit inside, so I was able to get a thirty foot Technocrane instead! Quite a costly day! But I am not a snob about doing these little projects that are very different. There’s no studio or network looking over your shoulder, you can do what you want stylistically, and nobody is at the monitor asking about certain choices. The projects can be very creative and rewarding. So I think that’s why I decided to do this Trinidad film. It’s certainly an adventure!”
Over the course of her extensive career in film, Schreiber has racked up more than a hundred credits as cinematographer to her name. She shoots at an absolutely brutal pace, constantly traveling, and so she has become exceptionally well skilled at putting together complex projects regardless of budget or equipment. Recently she put together the #MalalaFund project in only a single day. “It was really fun, and important!” she exclaims about the PSA, which ended up going viral. “We shot at the director’s house, and the next-door neighbor’s, and we stole locations and got it done!” Founded by activist Malala Yousafzai, the organization sells donated clothing to fund schooling for women in developing countries like Pakistan.
As the fourth woman to be invited into the ASC in 1995, Schreiber was on the Board of Governors for several years alongside historic names like Haskell Wexler, ASC and Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC. As a former member of the Women In Film Foundation Board, she is also part of a new group at the ASC currently dubbed The Vision Committee. The aim is to push for programs that help to support women in the field and to promote equality across the industry for cinematographers of color. “I remember the first time that I walked into the ASC,” she laughs, “I wasn’t even sure there was a ladies room!”
She also just completed a feature in Atlanta called Folk Hero & Funny Guy with Alex Karpovsky of the television show Girls and Wyatt Russell, son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell who she says is a terrific singer-songwriter and a wonderful up-and-coming actor. The plot follows a comedian and folk singer on a road trip of sorts, with a large majority of the film involving performances that had to be shot as if they were live. “It was a lot of performance and music, so I needed a variety of lights,” she says. “The production relied principally on local crews, and producers had two RED Dragon cameras to shoot with.” Schreiber says that though she’s owned an ALEXA, she’s fairly agnostic when it comes to cameras, though of course her first preference is always film, even if she doesn’t find herself shooting on it very often. “Sometimes you can’t even find a film loader,” she laments, “although the union is having workshops now for this bit of a celluloid resurgence.”
“I had an Aaton and came up shooting a lot of handheld documentaries and music videos,” she remembers, “which in those days were 35mm and a little bit of 16mm and a lot of Super 8. But I embraced the digital world thoroughly when it was still called video. In NY, I just took whatever projects that I could get, so I learned how to light for video, and how to make it look filmic by using no depth of field, an almost wide-open aperture, and by using as little light as I could get away with. Sometimes if I looked at a person I was shooting, they would look so dark that I couldn’t believe it. Then I’d look at the monitor and it would be perfectly exposed! So I learned how to keep my apertures as wide open as I could, to use the longest lenses that I could, and that way I leaned how to shoot video and subsequently digital. I’ve gone back and forth between film and digital, over the years, but generally, now, it’s primarily digital.”
As a huge music fan, her favorite project ever was for a documentary following the Amnesty International Human Rights Tour with Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, U2, Tracy Chapman and others. “We went around the world, crossing continents, back and forth for six weeks, all traveling on a DC10 plane,” gushes Schreiber, “with another DC10 that had all the bands’ instruments, and our film gear and luggage. While the bands were setting up, I was running around with my 16mm Aaton filming the local color in places like Delhi, Tokyo, Harari and Costa Rica. Springsteen closed each show with nonstop rocking, and my work was done by then, so I had front row access every day. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and for a good cause! But there have been many highlights, I’m sure that Trinidad will be my newest highlight, and I’m excited.”
“In NY, I just took whatever projects that I could get, so I learned how to light for video, and how to make it look filmic by using no depth of field, an almost wide-open aperture, and by using as little light as I could get away with.”
Our thanks to Nancy for the wonderful look at her work and exciting projects! You can learn more about the ASC at theasc.comand make sure to view more of Nancy’s work at www.nancyschreiber.com.