Crew Stories

P.J. Raval, director of photography

Crew Stories

P.J. Raval

Director of Photography

"Cinematography, in general, refers to the visuals of the piece," P.J. Raval explains. "I say piece, because it could be film, it could be video, it could be Pixelvision, but cinematography is the visual expression of whatever idea in whatever form."

He should know: The Austin-based director of photography on Kyle Henry's highly anticipated, Sundance-premiered Room has been busy of late, traveling with Henry to Cannes, shooting Steve Collins' coming-of-age comedy Gretchen, and, at this particular moment, attending the Sundance Filmmaker's Lab, which, for cinematographers, is an invitation-only workshop that pairs directors and DPs with editors and crew in a fully immersive creative environment.

Sundance moments aside, Raval's work behind the camera has already netted him the kind of résumé most beginning filmmakers would kill for, including a Charles B. Lang Jr. Heritage Award from the American Society of Cinematographers this past February, and a SXSW Competition Award for Collins' "Gretchen and the Night Danger," the short-form springboard for the currently cutting Gretchen. And, oh yeah, in his spare time he's been lecturing at UT, and he's just been picked to shoot Bryan Poyser and Jacob Vaughn's upcoming The Cassidy Kids.

Beyond the obvious questions – when does he rest? could he be some sort of cinematic superbeing? – Raval, who apart form his DP duties also directs his own films, has refreshingly concrete ideas about what, exactly, a cinematographer's job is:

"The cinematographer is responsible for anything anyone sees onscreen, including camera, lighting, and composition," he says, adding that one aspect too often overlooked is that one of the main responsibilities "is to be supportive of the director.

"The director has a lot of decisions to make and they have many options open to them, and part of your job is to help find the right way to visually express that idea. You can disagree with something – that's fine – but, at the same time, you have to always understand that you need to be supporting the director. You might have a whole other idea that's completely different from what the director wants and so you need to figure out what that director's seeing and see it with them. And see it better for them."

In film, as in all artistic disciplines, influence is often a tangible thing, and Raval counts Jane Campion DP Dion Beebe and Wong Kar Wai's frequent collaborator Christopher Doyle as chief among them.

"When I watch the films of Wong Kar Wai that [Doyle] shot," Raval says, "it's just amazing. He'll go from handheld, very colorful, very grainy, wide-angle lens, like in Fallen Angels, and then he'll do something like In the Mood for Love or even something like Hero, which is completely different. I think there's a tendency sometimes for everyone to think that cinematographers do one look specifically, and I love the fact that he can go from wide angle to long lens and from extreme wide space, handheld, to compressed, smaller spaces."

Ultimately, though, it's all down to Raval's well-honed philosophy of cinematography. "Good cinematography is something that enhances the story, the directing, the acting, the production design," he says. "It doesn't overtake it. In a way it should be invisible. People should walk away and say, 'Wow, that was a really awesome scene,' or 'That was a really awesome film.' They shouldn't be saying, 'Those shots were really cool.'"

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P.J. Raval, Room, Gretchen, The Cassidy Kids, Kyle Henry, Sundance Filmmakers' Lab

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