Of film: Matt Satterfield 

by Justin Stokes

The beauty of art is that each of its incarnations possesses different qualities, with different skill-sets, different audiences,and different means to appreciate each form. With the motion picture, you have a medium that synthesizes elements from music, literature, theater, and visual art into something entirely original. When you add to the equation that filmmakers are artists who appropriate technology to creative ends, the term “hybrid” seems to understate the complex nature of cinema. So, it would stand to reason that with such a special form of art, a special kind of artist is required to see a creative project through to completion. And while movies are a collaborative effort, the craft of cinematographers – those who capture the beauty of the moving image – is one of the most important crafts on set. It also remains one of the least understood, with many audience members unaware of just what goes through the mind of the person behind the camera.

Matt Satterfield looks to change that. A cinematographer based in the greater Nashville area, his approachable nature and dedication to film are as impressive as his body of work. Wanting to enlighten movie fans about the art of cinematography, Matt was able to answer some questions for Nashville Arts Magazine.”

Q) How would you describe your work? How do you feel that you are different from

other cinematographers?

A) The refreshing thing about art in general, is that every artist is different. We all may find
similar influences, but we each draw subconsciously from our own individual experiences: personal relationships, random memories, and fears. My cinematography comes from my desire to transfer myself to a more fantastic world. That’s what makes films magical to me.

Q) Do you differentiate between the terms “cinematographer” and “director of photography”? If so, please explain.

A) I believe the two words are synonymous- each being used respectfully in different contexts with the same meaning. However some cinematographers will say otherwise, such as the great Vittorio Storraro, ASC.

Q) What about motion pictures do you find captivating?

A) As a child, characters attracted me to films. As an adult, challenging situations and interesting technique seem to catch my eye. Primitively however, the magic lies in the frame rate. 24 Frames Per second is just enough to maintain the illusion of life but does not overwhelm the sense of reality.

Q)Are there any genres you would prefer to work in?

A)I have great respect for all genres. Drama, Adventure, and Horror have been resonating the strongest with me lately.

Q)At what point did you decide to identify yourself as a cinematographer?

A) Throughout high school, filming skateboarding became a passion. It didn’t occur to me until college that films were created by these cameras and someone had to do it. During college, I tried my hand at directing. Once I was honest with myself, I realized that my love was with camera movement and light- not with actors and client. Directors carry a lot of political weight on set. Thats something I’m happy to avoid.

Q) What resources and opportunities do you feel are lacking as a cinematographer?

A) Fortunately, I’ve been mentored by many greats technicians and filmmakers. My journey so far as been a pleasant one. However, narrative work can be hard to come by.

Q) In what way has being a filmmaker changed your perspective?

A) Looking at life through the eyes of storytelling helps me to savor everyday moments- a mother and her child on a bus, street lights on a rainy drive, how it feels to lose at your favorite sport. The art of storytelling eventually will require you to replicate situations and emotions. It helps to be aware of your surroundings.

Q) In what was has the present culture of film-making changed your vocation? Do
you find yourself encountering obstacles that may not have existed ten years

A) Most people will argue that with the advent of high quality digital cinema cameras a bit f the process was lost as celluloid film took second place. However; higher end cameras such as Arri Alexa, Red Epic, and Canon C500 have really made shooting any type of project a much less painful process. Higher light sensitivity sensors has given way to smaller lighting tools and allowed filmmakers to do things they never could have done before. If there are any obstacles now, its how to manage all this data and how to maintain the original intent of the cinematography through the color correction process.

Q) What should an audience expect for the world of motion pictures in the future?

A) New technologies will emerge and fade away. New artist will come and go. It all seems very cyclical to me.

Q) What artists (inside or outside of film) do you admire?

A) Roger Deakins, Bruno Delbonnel, Don Burgess, Janusz Kaminski, Lance Acord, Emmanuel Lubezki, Jeff Cronenweth, Matthew Libatique, Wally Pfister, Robert Richardson, Daniel Henry, Dustin Lane: All of which are cinematographers whose work has inspired me. Many photographers as well, Richard Avedon, Gregory Crewdson, Peter Lik, William Eggleston, Annie Liebovitz…

Q) Do you have particular associates with whom you like to work?

A) I love to work with directors whose passion is film- not just there job. I want to know that my colleagues are as intense as I am. It also helps to work with friends.

Q) What are your thoughts on digital film-making technology versus film itself?

A) Film has an incredible texture and palette built in that with most digital cinema cameras is unattainable. Shooting on film also leaves a lot more creative control in the hands of the cinematographer. With a digital workflow, everyone has access to the image throughout the entire process. That creates a much more “democratic” process-for better or for worse.

Q) Give us your background.

A) Skateboarding started my love for video recording. In college, Middle Tennessee State University, I learned the production process from professor Michael Johnson. I was lucky enough to be an early member of the MTSU Film guild, a student organization founded in order to give students the means to create their own films. The MTSU Film Guild helped me make connections in the industry that would later allow for a smooth transition into the working world. Once inside these seemingly illusive gates, there have been a few key people who have helped me succeed: Dustin Lane for giving me my first major contact, Brian Glitt for consistently giving me work in the earlier stages, Tonia Floyd for giving me my first lighting position, Jeff Atkins for still sharing is vast knowledge with me everYday, and Rhett Bear for entrusting the Gaffing position. This is only a small list of people who have, maybe without knowing, helped me succeed. I thank them and the countless others that are not listed.

Q) Tell us of your relationship to the city of Nashville. How would you describe Music
City, as one who deals in pictures?

A) As is the Nashville standard, music videos make up a large portion of my work. Music videos lend themselves to a more abstract approach which can be refreshing. Working within the constraints of a determined reality; however can really help to make you sharp at your craft. Commercial work is a great example of this.

Q) What would you define as a “good composition” for a photographed image?

A) “Good composition” being a relative term is about balance. Although there are guidelines, such as the Rule of Thirds, composition is something instinctual. Its primary purpose is to decide what is most important in the frame and direct the eye there.

Q) To what avenues (local, national, etc.) should avid fans of cinema pay attention?

A) The Belcourt is certainly at the top of many lists. Just be weary of films projected in “IMAX” if they weren’t photography in IMAX. Sales gimmicks run rampant in the film industry.

Q) As a cinematographer, what risks are there to be taken?

A) Risks are inherent in the process of motion photography. Some of the biggest risks that can be taken is to truly allow the story to be the guide for the photography- not letting societal norms overly influence. If the story would best be told with no light, be bold enough to turn them off.

Q) What does the future hold for you?

A) My hope is to be on the track to photographing strong independent features within the year. I have a few different projects in the works with some of my favorite local filmmakers.

For more information about Matt Satterfield visit his website.

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