Goodness gracious

Meet The New Wave / Vanessa Whyte

Goodness gracious

Meet The New Wave / Vanessa Whyte

Filmography (so far): cinematographer on BBC’s Murdered For Being Different (2017) and Operator  (2015), Best British Short BAFTA Winner 2016; second unit DP on Broadchurch  (season 3, 2016), Fortitude  (season 1, 2015) and Get Santa  (2014).

When did you discover you wanted to be a cinematographer?
From a young age, I wanted to be an actor. I was about 14 when I realised I was really terrible at it! Around the same time my Dad built a darkroom in the laundry cupboard and taught me how to take pictures and print them. I guess that’s when my love of cinema transferred from in front of the camera to behind it.

Where did you train?
I did a Master’s in Cinematography at NFTS, having completed a BA in History Of Art before that.

 What are your favourite films, and why?
The Shining (1980, dir. Stanley Kubrick, DP John Alcott BSC) – I watched it on repeat as a teenager. It’s one of my first true loves of cinema. The cinematography from John Alcott, the design, the acting, the story – I love everything about it.

Don’t Look Now (1973, dir. Nicholas Roeg, DP Tony Richmond BSC ASC) – so sad, so beautiful, so dark. I love Nic Roeg and his visual and editing style. I love so many of his films (Bad Timing – 1980, DP Tony Richmond BSC ASC – is a close second), but this was the first one I got to know and, as I studied Venetian architecture for my first degree, it holds a special place in my heart.

In The Mood For Love (2000, dir. Wong Kar-wai, DPs Christopher Doyle/Pung-Leung Kwan/Ping Bin Lee) – Christopher Doyle’s lighting is just mind-blowing. It felt so rich, stylish and new to me when I first saw it. Absoutely perfectly composed for the melancholy of the characters and story.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?
My Mum always encouraged me to deal with difficult situations on the phone or in person. It’s too easy to fire off an angry email that you might later regret. I try to never burn bridges.

Who are your DP/industry heroes?
Christopher Ross BSC, who’s been so encouraging and brought me on a number of projects as his second unit DP. Sean Bobbit BSC was a massive inspiration when he taught me at NFTS. Charlotte Bruus-Christensen who’s one of the few women working on big Hollywood projects and breaking through that celluloid ceiling!

Have you won any awards or received any nominations?
The first proper short I ever made with a director and crew, Brixton 85, got me a nomination at the Kodak Rushes Festival when I was at film school and was screened at the BSC’s New Cinematographers’ Night. It was a real confidence boost for a student who’d never made films before. I was honoured to have my work screened in front of BSC members.

What’s your proudest moment?
I worked with Panalux to design a lighting kit of LED panels, called NessLEDs. I was blown when I learnt they’ve been used on such movies as Spectre and The Force Awakens.

What’s the worst knock-back/rejection you ever had?
It’s horrible when you’re in love with a project and they choose someone else, but that’s a reality we all have to deal with. I try to learn from each experience and not dwell on it too much.

What was your biggest challenge on your latest production?
A piece for Gucci and GQ in Morocco. We had two days in Tangier, working with local crew, on S16mm and digital, plus kit from several camera houses and a crazy-tight schedule. It was pretty tough juggling the formats, navigating the language and cultural barriers, whilst trying to maintain the look. But I think we were all pleased with the results.

Tell us your most hilarious faux pas?
I was having a laugh at lunch with the client on the set of a commercial. He told a joke that was so funny I spat my entire cup of coffee all over him. He was dripping. I was mortified. Luckily he didn’t hold it against me and we’ve worked together since.

Away from work, what are your greatest passions?
Books, art, travelling, cooking.


"I was over the moon when Operator  won the BAFTA for Best British Short.

It was one of those projects where I loved the director and producer, the script, the cast, the whole process from start to finish!"

- Vanessa Whyte

What one piece of kit could you not live without?
My iPhone. On the move all the time, I end-up doing so much admin on it. Plus the camera and all the Apps help me on recces and to plan shoots.

Which films are you most proud of to date?
I was over the moon when Operator won the BAFTA for Best British Short. It was one of those projects where I loved the director and producer, the script, the cast, the whole process from start to finish! We received huge generosity from the crew, who worked for free, as well as Panavision and Panalux. I was really proud to be able to share that award with them.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever shot in?
On my own in the back of a tiny campervan with an extremely smelly reindeer.

What’s the hardest shot/thing you’ve had to light/frame?
Uncooperative squirrels. CGI mice talking to real cats. Whoever said you could train animals?

 Tell us your hidden talent/party trick?
I learnt to ice-skate for a film last year, so I can do some operating on the rink.

In the entire history of filmmaking, which film would you love to have shot?
In The Mood For Love. It’s perfect.

What are your current top albums?
“Corvus” by Recondite.

What’s the best thing about being a DP?
Working in a team of movie-lovers and getting to see all sorts of unusual places.

What’s the worst thing about being a DP?
Having to caveat every future plan with… ‘work permitting’.

Give us three adjectives that best describe you and your approach to cinematography?
Personal. Passionate. Versatile.

If you weren’t a DP, what job would you be doing now?
I used to work in production before I went back to study, so I’d probably be a very unhappy producer.

What are your aspirations for the future?
I would love to shoot an action movie like the Bourne series or Mad Max.

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