How long have you been making films?
I experimented with filmmaking as a kid, but started making proper films after graduating from New York Film Academy in 2008. NYFA taught me the foundations of filmmaking on 16mm and 35mm cameras. Then, once the Canon EOS 5D Mark II came out, shooting films became incredibly easy.
How are the worlds of still and motion similar or different to you?
I find the two industries share some similarities, but at their core, they’re very different. The approach to taking an impactful still image has very little in common from capturing a motion sequence. In my opinion, the complexities of camera and talent blocking, lighting for a person moving throughout space, and setting angles for multiple cameras make motion productions far more challenging. I think that for the talent, honesty and vulnerability can be similar in both mediums, but the ways in which a photographer and a director use their tools to create that connection is wildly different.
What gear do you use?
I believe that the project informs the gear to be used, and since each job is different, there’s not a set list of gear I work with on every job. That being said, I’ve found myself really enjoying shooting on the RED EPIC camera system for its ability to shoot in 5K. I’m very fond of older glass to take the edge off a little when shooting HD, so I’ve been using the Cooke 18-100mm MKII T3.1 lens on a number of projects lately, as well as some old Soviet-era glass I found on eBay. Another lens I really enjoy using because of its range is the Angénieux Optimo 24-290mm T2.8 lens. I’m also a big fan of the Easyrig System when I need a controlled handheld look. Lastly, there are many projects I couldn’t do without a J.L. Fisher Model 10 Dolly.
What would you say to an independent filmmaker looking to create the look and image quality of bigger-budget productions?
There are a few things you can do to up your production value and not blow the entire budget on the camera department. I’d say that making smart decisions when it comes to choosing your glass is a huge one. Using a versatile zoom that’s fast enough so you can get away with a smaller lighting package can save you a lot of time and money. I’d suggest testing a number of lenses at your rental house first to see if their color properties and bokeh are right for your project. Another great tool for creating a bigger-budget look would be to rent a slider for some added motion. I like the Dana Dolly System because it slides on a speed rail, which makes things incredibly easy and inexpensive. For inexpensive crane shots, the Losmandy Standard Porta-Jib is a great way to go, as well.
Lastly, I think that putting a beautiful color grade on the film will always up the production value. I tend to shoot as even a histogram as I can on set. That way, my colorist has as much information as possible to tweak the grade in post and get the exact look we want after the fact.
Go to alexanderhankoff.com to see more of Alexander Hankoff’s work.