Luis Bohorquez was interviewed by Colette Finkbiner
writer/blogger with Three Horizons Productions
Cinematographer Luis Bohorquez attended Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California. Prior to graduation, he was already working as a director of photography on a number of commercials. He has worked as a cinematographer for over 20 years on feature films, commercials, and documentaries. As one of the core members of Three Horizons Productions (THP), he served as cinematographer on THP’s premier vehicle, Out of Focus, a supernatural thriller written and directed by Remi Vaughn. During Mr. Bohorquez’s interview, we discussed the Arizona film industry as well as THP’s goal to become an independent film incubator and facilitator, and his work in cinematography.
Why do you think it so difficult to attract entertainment business to Arizona?
I’ve worked in Arizona for over 11 years. During that time, I’ve gotten to work with most of the major companies in Phoenix. One thing about the film industry in Arizona is that it has never really been supported by anyone other than those who are in the industry. Once in a while you get someone who comes through and says, “I want to put up a studio.” They get these grandiose ideas, but there’s no infrastructure to support it. One of the reasons we formed Three Horizons is to put in a collective, one that not only incubates new projects but hopefully provides a kernel for starting that infrastructure in Arizona. From the ‘50s through the ‘80s there was quite a bit of filming done there. In fact there were studios in Arizona. A major goal in starting Three Horizons was to create something that does not exist there. When I first went to Phoenix, there was a state film office. There is not one now. When the legislature can see the benefit of the industry, they can then offer tax incentives, which will encourage the construction of that infrastructure.
How did you go about deciding how to shoot Out of Focus?
Having never worked with Remi before, I wanted to clearly understand her vision for the project. We met many times for about a year before we were ready to shoot; talking about the project to avoid using up valuable time on set. During this period, she also sent me a lot of material and I got a good sense of what she would like; especially all her drawings of surrealistic landscapes. By the time it came to shooting, I had a very good idea of what she wanted. We also took some time in developing story boards and I had a book of my own pencil drawings describing camera movements. Remi is very organized and will give you a great deal of information. In the end we wound up with a production book that encompassed five binders. That production book was key to figuring out how to do everything on set. We had developed a shorthand where I didn’t have to solicit a lot of information on set. I have never had a director that was so generous with the materials I required for a shoot. It is to her credit that she made herself so available to someone she had never worked with before.
Did you have any challenges with lighting while working on the set?
The challenges, as with most short films, came from the compressed schedule and limitations on the budget.
During an interview with Lucinda Serrano, who plays the main character Aella, she expressed amazement at how you were able to achieve daytime lighting even though that particular scene was filmed in the evening. How did you achieve that?
Well, I pride myself on being able to work with what I have. It goes back to admiring and learning from the natural lighting look of other cinematographers. I relied on creating a large source of light, as if coming in through a window, and adding a small amount of additional lighting to bring up the shadows. Much like any sunset, there is quite a bit of contrast. Therefore with the large source, I needed very little additional lighting and was able to work with our limited inventory.
Out of Focus, despite being a supernatural thriller, has a lot of natural feel to it.
Thank you. I believe that comes from the original discussions before the shoot.
As a cinematographer, do you have any responsibilities in post-production?
At the time, apart from color-correcting the final edit, I did not. We had a special effects company on board that was going to do the post-production and effects work. So I wasn’t concerned. As time progressed, though, I was given other responsibilities. We were not reaching our objectives through our post houses so I stepped in about a year and a half later to complete some of the effects. I did not do them all by any stretch, my job was to assist in compositing. However, I did have to take over the visual effects supervisor role at the very end to be sure all the outstanding effects were completed for the project.
What are your responsibilities when you are compositing? What does that entail?
When I composite, I take all of the assets that have been rendered for me and combine them in such a way that it looks like it is happening all at once. In the case of Out of Focus, we had a lot of 3D animation. The 3D animation was rendered by other companies and delivered to me along with the 2D artwork that Jim Aiken (production designer/art director) created. I take all of those assets into a program called After Effects, layer them together and manipulate them to provide a single consistent look. So I could have a green screen of our two lead actors and combine a 3D CGI background, then layer in some atmosphere and add some extraneous artwork that surrounds them; all to give their world a very surrealistic look. The final render makes it appear like it was all shot at the same time.
Definitely a challenge. I never thought I’d be doing that job. The assets that were created for the backend of the movie, which is this surrealistic world, were done over a period of three years. From the time we shot the green screen with the actors, to the time the 3D environments were created, to the final composite; we were looking at a long period. It was a challenge to make it look like it was all shot together.
Do you have any outstanding memories from the set of the movie?
The memories I have typically revolve around solving issues. I would say that strikes me most. We were under a time crunch. We did have a very limited budget. And we were trying to finish this movie within a very short time. A lot of the problem solving went into getting things done and working around obstacles. For example, I believe on the very last day, we lost our generator. We had been fairly lit up in this location. From six or seven units, we were down to one.
Remi included me in the location scouting ahead of time. However all the location scouting can’t prepare you for everything. At the last minute we did lose one important location, a luxury home. It was vital to the scene. So the location we did secure, I had not seen before the day of the shoot. I had to work a little harder and improvise a bit to work within that environment.
So would you say problem solving was one of the major experiences in filming the movie?
It usually is! You’re always problem solving. Not everything goes the way you plan. On Out of Focus it was more the nature of the short shoot, limited budget and working with a crew that had not yet worked together.
In addition to your projects with THP, do you have any other recent projects?
Most of my recent work has been on documentaries and industrial videos. I took some time off to teach film studies both in Arizona and California. Three Horizons Productions is my main project right now. Not only are we developing a feature but we are working to get a company off the ground. That is taking a lot of my time. I do pick up some freelance projects, which usually means commercials.
Have you held any other positions on set?
I guess I have been fortunate that I have always worked as a cinematographer. However, I have also worked as a commercial director, an editor and have been a producer on various projects including commercials and documentaries.
With commercials, I usually have a lot more freedom in how I design, compose and shoot.
With feature films, I typically work with directors who have very clear ideas. I am given very specific instructions on how they want the film to look. Some documentaries I have worked on are much like features. More often, though, you’re flying free on those. You don’t know what lighting conditions you will find. You don’t know how you’ll be able to move the camera – or not move your camera because of the situation. Sometimes with documentaries, you become a slave to the environment, to the characters and to the story being told.
You seem to have done a lot of documentaries that address the issue of social injustice. Is that something you sought out, or did you just find yourself becoming involved in those projects?
After some time working in features and commercials, I determined that film should serve a higher purpose than just entertain. The documentary gives me the venue to accomplish that. I think I grew more as a filmmaker doing documentaries than I ever did doing commercials or features. As a cinematographer, instead of transposing the stylized image of the narrative to documentaries, I found that the story and characters in my documentaries dictated the cinematography.
Among the documentaries you’ve worked on which stands out the most for you?
I think Artist of Resistance had the biggest impact on me. Going to a country after a civil war is emotional. These people have been through great losses. You’re looking at a country devastated by war and how Individuals now have to resurrect that society. You have heroes, villains, and their stories. I think Artist of Resistance opened my eyes to that kind of human story and how one can tell it through cinema. While I don’t think a documentary could adequately illustrate what these people went through, a film like Artist of Resistance does come close.
Did you start out going to college thinking, “I’ll be a cinematographer”?
I think a lot of people go to film school saying, “I want to be a director.”, but then you quickly realize what that really means. As the director, you are also the producer and have to find the funding for your projects. I didn’t have a whole lot of funds at the time so I seriously considered cinematography. Cinematography provided the opportunity to gain a reputation and shoot a lot of projects without having to put up my own money. Before I left school, I had a reel and resume that said I was a cinematographer and from then on, that’s what everyone took me for.
What cinematographer do you admire?
There are so many cinematographers that have inspired me. When you go to film school, you learn the techniques of great cinematographers like Vittorio Storaro and Gregg Toland. But I was also drawn to emulate the looks of cinematographers like Caleb Deschanel, Steven Poster and Jordan Cronenweth who were creating some amazing images with natural and source lighting.
Were you influenced by cinematographers like those who worked with Hitchcock?
Those high key, stylized studio films never appealed to me. I think that’s why I gravitated toward the look of films like The Natural. It looks like it was filmed with no lighting whatsoever; just what was available either in a room, or outside in sunlight. However, at the time I went to school, it was a very stylized period—glossy looks and saturated colors—especially in the commercial field, which oddly enough is where I ended up working.
You used to teach. What type of advice would you give your film students?
That’s the big question! In my advanced courses, the students would always ask if they should go to film school. Having gone to film school myself, I have to tell them the truth—that no one ever asks if you went to film school. They don’t care. They’re only interested in your abilities and your references. Can you do what you say? And can anyone back you up? You need to go out there and get a gig—start working. And once you have a few projects under your belt, concentrate on making the best reel possible.
Three Horizons Productions is a team of independent filmmakers who want to develop, acquire, and produce multi-media projects that showcase inspirational themes, compelling stories, and provocative characters to entertain or educate international audiences. Three Horizons Productions, located in Arizona, has a global outreach.