Fujifilm Optical Division Blog > August 2012 > Q&A With Guy Mossman, Cinematographer - Part 1
Q&A With Guy Mossman, Cinematographer - Part 1
"Buck" premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival where it won the U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award. It has since received overwhelmingly enthusiastic, positive feedback and recognition. The film, which focuses on the life, career, and philosophy of the real-life "horse whisperer" Buck Brannaman, owes some of that credit to star cinematographer, Guy Mossman. We had the privilege to sit down with the highly-respected DP/Director to discuss film making, his views on the industry, what’s next from him, and more.

How did you get involved with Buck, and what was it like to film?
 
My wife and producing partner, Lisa Hepner, was asked to direct a few shoots in California in 2007, and she introduced me to "Buck’s" director, Cindy Meehl. I DP’d the shoots and ended up capturing one of the pivotal scenes in the film. So much of what we do as non-fiction DPs is intuition and having a feel for the subject and situation – hopefully we make it beautiful or visually interesting at the same time. I was drawn to "Buck" immediately and had a good rapport with Cindy, so I was extremely fortunate to finish the film with her. There were a number of very talented DPs who worked on this film, including Dyanna Taylor and Luke Geissbuhler, and their beautiful work is evident in the film, too. It was a true honor to be working alongside them and learning from them in this way.
 
You mentioned that you shot some key scenes with the Fujinon XT17x4.5BRM-K17 lens. What about the lens do you find so useful?
 
It’s a versatile lens with really good reach, which was important for shooting the horses; they are very sensitive animals and, with this lens, I could get in close without being too close physically. I thought it did a great job shooting outdoors where there was plenty of light.  It’s a 1/3” bayonet mount so it’s not the best performer in low-light situations, but it was sensitive enough to shoot in most indoor situations.  Also, we were shooting in very hot and dusty conditions for extended periods of time, and the lens did a nice job of withstanding vibration and dust.  The servo was also great.
 
You obviously spent quite a bit of time working with horses while shooting Buck. Is this something you’d done before, or were there boundaries you needed to learn to get your shots (and not get hurt)?
 
I had never spent a lot of time with horses so it was an incredible learning experience for me. They are such sensitive animals and very smart.  I had to learn and understand a little about what Buck was doing with the horse (and with his clinic participants). Cindy was very good at explaining the subtleties of his work, having studied under him for many years. Most of the time, we were shooting at a distance, but when Buck was brushing the horse or preparing the saddle, I was able to gently get up close with the camera.


Is there one instance you can pinpoint that turned you on to filmmaking?

 
I fell in love with documentaries later in life. I grew up watching dramatic features, foreign films, and music videos like many in my generation. It wasn’t until I first saw Martin Bell’s and Mary Ellen Marks’ film, "Streetwise", about homeless teenagers in the downtown streets of 1980’s Seattle that I thought to myself that this is what I need to be doing. At the time, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay and had been raiding the video collection of my Country Director, Diego Hay. In the collection were documentaries - "Sherman’s March", "Burden of Dreams", "Grey Gardens", and "Streetwise" – that blew me away. "Streetwise" really resonated with me, as I had been working with street kids in a small town in the interior of Paraguay. Over the next two years, Diego and I went on to make a short documentary about issues facing the teenagers of Coronel Oviedo. I discovered that documentary filmmaking combined all of my interests: art, storytelling, and people.
 
While in Paraguay, you produced and directed short documentaries for the Peace Corp and the United Nations Development Program. Tell us about that experience.

 
I was teaching a Sex Ed class to community members, and I wanted to get them fired up to talk about certain issues they faced in the barrio – in particular, exceedingly high rates of teenage pregnancy. Everyone spoke the indigenous language, Guarani, and very little Spanish, so, as you can imagine, it was impossible to find a film in Guarani that community members could understand, much less connect with.  That´s when the Peace Corps director proposed that I make the short film if he could find the money. He found the money.
 
For my graduate school master´s thesis, I went back to Paraguay in 2004 to make a series of short videos for the web with the United Nations about the community radio movement in Paraguay.
 
These experiences in Latin America have influenced me tremendously, and I am often asked to shoot overseas, especially in Latin American countries.


What is it that draws to you filming non-fiction rather than anything else?

 
I have not shot a scripted narrative yet, so I can’t say I wouldn’t be drawn to it. Non-fiction, however, is my passion because I feel a responsibility as well as a creative impulse to give voice to important issues and people of the day. Shooting stories and commercials about real people can be a transformative experience and no less strange or compelling. It’s an amazing opportunity to connect with people who are totally different than you. To convey what’s singular, humorous, or remarkable – that’s the challenge.  It can be exhausting and the risks are significant, but it needs to be like this in order to build trust with your characters. And trust is our currency. 

It’s not a passive “fly on the wall” experience; it’s one where you’re in the room, interacting, and you’re welcomed into their “circle of trust,” as the DP Joan Churchill said. And you’re willing to take a chance and commit. If you’ve done your homework and have a bit of luck, you’ll seize that fleeting moment or capture something profoundly emotional and meaningful. It’s a great feeling at the end of a long day. I believe Roland Barthes called it the punctum.

Stay tuned for Part II of this interview.

See more of Guy Mossman's behind-the-scenes photos on the set of "Buck" here.

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Posted: 8/7/2012 12:44:38 PM by Thom Calabro | with 0 comments
Filed under: cinematography, documentary, Festival, Film, Fujifilm, Fujinon, Guy, horse, lens, lenses, Mossman, Optical, Sundance, whisperer, Buck


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