“Believe what’s in the frame”. When you are shooting, if you can see something in your viewfinder or on your screen, it is there! Don’t pretend that you can suddenly wish it away in the edit suite or whatever. Of course you can a bit these days, but it is hardly sudden and it is always a more efficient workflow to get it right up front, than trying to repair it on the back end. As far as the viewer is concerned the whole world exists in the box you are presenting to them and remember… it is every bit as important as to what you DON’T put in a shot as to what you do.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chris Tangey.
Chris Tangey is one of the most isolated Cinematographers in the world. Based in the small town of Alice Springs, the defacto capital of the Australian outback, his nearest city in any direction is 1000 miles distant. The world’s largest online film, TV and digital creative hub, Los Angeles’ Stage32.com, recently called Chris “one of the most sought after drone cinematographers in the world”. He recently filmed all of the Australia vision for the Nathaniel Rateliff music video “Time Stands”, shot on all 6 continents. Other aerial shoots include the 2 part finale of the U.S. 2020 season of “The Bachelor” for Warner Brothers, “Nomad” under Director and film legend Werner Herzog, a global TV commercial for Tourism Australia “Hemsworth”, BBC’s “Seven Worlds-One Planet”, and various other documentaries and TV commercials.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I was brought up on a small farm just outside Melbourne Australia, where we ran sheep, dairy cattle, pigs and chickens. We were eventually forced out of the farm when the government rezoned our land use, It is now a suburb and no trace of the farm, except the old homestead, exists. This profoundly affected me at 16, so I left Melbourne for good.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I used to drag my sisters into the bathroom to “interview” them as a radio announcer as it had a nice echo in there. Much later I would have a 10 year career as a DJ, with my biggest gig doing the drive show on a commercial station in Melbourne. Radio eventually led to television and my interest in creating images. Here in 2021 I will have the Los Angeles premiere of my short film “Unseen Australia” at the much respected New Media Festival, so it’s been quite a journey.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
While location scouting for a film called “Tracks” I was working near a fire front in a remote area when a huge fire tornado appeared in front of me, and of course I filmed it extensively. The images were broadcast on virtually every news bulletin in the world and even Al Gore got in contact to license the video. It was quite surreal for a little guy in the outback to be suddenly interviewed live on Good Morning America and the Today show on the same morning.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Tom Selleck was my first one-on-one interview, which I conducted during the filming of a little-known movie called “Quigley-down under”. We had only just started a commercial TV station in the outback so we didn’t have any of our own shows yet, not even news. However, we couldn’t let that get in the way of Pathe’ Films generous offer to let us have the world exclusive. So I interviewed Tom extensively but it was only ever shown at our station Christmas party!
One time I was in a jewellery store in Coober Pedy with Werner Herzog, who I had been shooting for that day.
At one stage one of the locals, sensing this was an important guy, came alongside and asked me who was the elderly gent at the other end of the counter. I said quietly (I thought), that he was a Hollywood Director. Immediately Werner turned to me in a scolding voice, “Not Hollywood, I do not work in Hollywood!”. Werner has no hearing impairment.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, I had run away from home when I was a teenager and caught a train to Sydney, living in city parks for weeks and being fed by 2 meal tickets a day from the Salvation Army. Incredibly, I once tidied myself up enough to apply for a job with Jaguar cars in their spare parts section. I’m sure the Manager could see right through me, yet without any experience; he gave me the job. I later found out that “
Lenny” came from a very poor family and he never wore shoes till he was 11.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never expect anything in life and you’ll never be disappointed”. I think it is one thing to hope for various outcomes in your life, but to have those as expectations is setting yourself up for unhappiness. Be thankful for what you have would be another way of saying it.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I think diversity is an overused word, I would instead talk about representation. If your film crews and the stories they tell are nor representative of the people in the country you live in then you need to try a lot harder.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have just finished shooting footage for a Nathaniel Rateliff music video and am working on aerials for a permanent display in the National Museum of Australia.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
I don’t like being “proud”. Too often we are proud of things that have nothing much to do with us. An extreme example might be a supermodel who is “proud” of their looks. Huh? Not sure what is has to do with him or her! Instead I am thankful and I am grateful but always living in the humility that I make just as many mistakes as anyone else and in the knowledge that you are never, ever perfect at your craft.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- “Believe what’s in the frame”.
When you are shooting, if you can see something in your viewfinder or on your screen, it is there! Don’t pretend that you can suddenly wish it away in the edit suite or whatever. Of course you can a bit these days, but it is hardly sudden and it is always a more efficient workflow to get it right up front, than trying to repair it on the back end. As far as the viewer is concerned the whole world exists in the box you are presenting to them and remember… it is every bit as important as to what you DON’T put in a shot as to what you do.
2. “LIGHT, LIGHT, LIGHT.”
Light is everything. A camera can only do 2 things, record a light source, or a light source falling on an object. That’s it. Become a student of light, sit in a park for hours on end and observe how light is falling on people, plants, birds, animals. etc.
3. Start to observe a screen-shaped world.
The world around you is huge, you can’t shoot everything, and why would you? If something catches your attention, have another look, it may be worth shooting. But don’t try too hard, that attention-grabbing needs to be natural not something you consciously think about. BUT, don’t end up making the whole world a “shot” either, I have deliberately driven past many magnificent sunsets, even with camera on-board, just to enjoy them as a personal memory.
4. Learn the rules before you break them.
Both shooting and editing have rules that are over a century old now and, whether you know it or not, we all now understand that visual language. Learn what a jump cut is before you do one, otherwise it is just a mistake! Backlight or front-light your subject, if you are side lighting do it well and with intention. Why is the 180 degree shutter rule a better option than a high frame rate, unless you have a reason for the latter? Etc. etc.
5. Learn what everyone else does.
If you don’t understand the whole process of film-making you literally won’t see the “big picture”. What does a gaffer do? What does the sound person mean when they say they are getting “atmos”? Why is a Location Manager needed? Why is there a hierarchy on set, why can’t I just go and have a good old chat with the Director while they are working? Be humble, telling everyone about your Master of Arts in Cinematography will impress precisely nobody on set. Start at the bottom, and then let’s see what you can actually do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’ve often thought an organization like “Just1” would be a good idea. Basically an international lobby group that would influence Western government to donate “just 1 %” of their GDP (Gross National Product) to alleviate poverty in the world. The total amount of money would astound you.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Not sure a big name equates always with a good person, I’m sure it does sometimes but it is difficult to know
from somebody’s hype or media profile. I think I would enjoy a beer with Clint Eastwood as a person, a cup of high tea with Julie Andrews and a coffee with Tim Cook to tell him where Apple’s going wrong ☺
How can our readers further follow you online?
In a fashion, yes. I only really do Instagram and Linkedin these days, the former has little to do with my work, it is more a bit of fun for me. Just happy snaps and dad jokes really!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!