ONFILM Interview: Uta Briesewitz

Published on website: July 01, 2011
Categories: ONFILM
Uta Briesewitz
Uta Briesewitz - Photo by D. Kirkland

"I have always been inspired and fascinated by images. My parents instilled in me an early appreciation for the arts by turning most of our family's European vacations into cultural fieldtrips. I have fond memories of sitting in wheat fields with my father, sketching and painting landscapes. This taught me to watch the light and how it changed during the day as well as how to compose an image. After finishing school I started working as an intern for a television production company. One day they put a camera on my shoulder, threw me in a helicopter, and had me cover a car race. After that, I was a shooter. One of the things I love about my profession is that it puts me in environments and situations that I would never experience in the real world. It is inspiring to do new things and push myself to find the right images. I like to challenge myself. A true moment of happiness for me is looking through the lens and seeing everything come together."

Uta Briesewitz was born and raised in a small industrial town in Germany. She studied at the Berlin Film Academy and the American Film Institute. Her credits include the independent features Next Stop Wonderland, Seven and a Match, Session 9, XX/XY and The TV Set, the television movies and pilots Homeless to Harvard, Life Support and John From Cincinnati, the miniseries Thief, the pilot and first two and a half seasons of The Wire, and the upcoming feature Walk Hard.

[All these films were shot on Kodak motion picture film.]

A Conversation with Uta Briesewitz
by Bob Fisher

QUESTION: Where were you born and raised?
BRIESEWITZ: I was born and raised in Leverkusen, a small industrial town near Cologne in the Rhineland in Germany. My father was an architect, who ended up working for the government. He mainly did airport planning. My mother was a part-time teacher while she was raising three kids. She really enjoyed teaching.

QUESTION: When and how did you get interested in filmmaking?
BRIESEWITZ: My father supported my passion for painting and drawing when I was very young. I remember how we would sit in the fields during summer vacations, and sketch pictures of windmills and other things together. It was a daughter-father thing that we could do together. There was a point when I was considering studying painting and becoming an artist, but I was very concerned about the isolation that comes with that pursuit of art, because I really enjoy working with people. Film was a visual medium that fascinated me. At some point, I decided that filmmaking was the right path for me to follow.

QUESTION: Were there any photographers or filmmakers in your family?
BRIESEWITZ: My grandfather's hobby was still photography. He had a wonderful eye. His stills are absolutely exquisite. My sister and I were quite often his subjects, but I was very unwilling. I was very self-conscious about being in front of the camera. When I was taking stills of other people, I noticed that when I pointed a camera at them, they changed their demeanor. I didn't feel that was truthful, so I began taking pictures of people when they weren't aware of the camera to capture moments of truth. I didn't like people to pose, though I have a much more relaxed attitude about that now, since I have to do it myself as well.

QUESTION: Were you a movie fan while you were growing up?
BRIESEWITZ: There was only one movie theater a half hour drive from our home, and I didn't have a car until I turned 18 years old. But, German television was very good. It was funded by the government before all the private networks came into television. I saw the outside world through television. There were documentaries about Africa, new cinema from Italy and France, and Fassbinder and others were making great German films for television. I remember how I loved Truffaut growing up.

QUESTION: When did you become aware of the role played by cinematographers?
BRIESEWITZ: When I was reading a book as a child, the first thing I did was open it up and look for pictures. If there were no pictures, I thought it wasn't a good book, and most likely didn't read it. I remember when I had to read "The Magic Mountain" by Thomas Mann. It was a huge novel, but at the very end there was a black-and-white image of a building, the sanatorium. The picture was my reward. I didn't let myself look at it until I read the entire book. It's a wonderful novel. My parents also took us to museums and got us interested in art at an early age. I became fascinated by filmmaking, and one day, I realized that I was mainly responding to the images.

QUESTION: Were you a still photographer like your grandfather?
BRIESEWITZ: I was more interested in painting. I started taking still pictures later on.

QUESTION: Did you enroll at a film school or go for a more traditional education?
BRIESEWITZ: I studied at the Berlin Film Academy for four years. When I applied they had between 600 and 800 applicants each year. They would choose 40, and invite them for a week of testing at the school. You had to write a short story, shoot a short film, and do things like that. The teachers and application judges selected 19 students in the end.

QUESTION: Was that short film your first movie?
BRIESEWITZ: It was my first film shot on black-and-white Super 8 mm, but I had already shot some video for a television production company in Cologne, where I started as an intern before I went to Berlin. When I applied for an internship, they told me they never had an intern before. They really didn't know what to do with me. It wasn't typical to have internships in Germany, and there wasn't much of a film industry to begin with. They had me make coffee, but I got bored so I tried to do something useful. I started working with a new graphic computer. Since I had a painting background, I felt like I could apply my talent there. Within a couple of weeks, I was made responsible for creating computer graphics for their coverage of the Olympic Games. Needless to say, after they figured out they could use me for that, they hired me right away.

QUESTION: How did you get from computer graphics to shooting video?
BRIESEWITZ: One day, they were short a cameraman, while they were covering a sports car race. The boss said if I could do the computer graphics I could also put a camera on my shoulder, get on a helicopter, and shoot some footage. When I came back with my footage, the people who were editing for the network said that it was obvious that my footage was shot by the chief cameraman. My boss pointed to me and said, 'No, it was actually shot by our former intern, and it was her first time out.' After that I was put to work on everything they shot for television. I covered all the major sporting events-the German soccer league, tennis tours, golf matches, ice hockey, car races and motocross racing. You name it, I shot it. I was a good operator, so they put me on this very long lens, super slow-motion camera on live broadcasts.

QUESTION: Was it all sports, or did you cover other things?
BRIESEWITZ: I also covered a lot of talk and entertainment shows. That experience on live broadcasts really helped me learn to think on my toes. I learned about framing eyelines really quickly on live television, and how to match over the shoulder shots. I also covered some short documentaries for news magazine shows that taught me other valuable lessons.

QUESTION: What kinds of lessons?
BRIESEWITZ: It taught me to be ready when unexpected things happen. I mentioned earlier, sometimes the moment you point a camera at someone they completely reveal themselves to you like you opened up a floodgate. It can get very emotional. Other people automatically filter themselves, so you never get to that moment of truth. I learned how to tell stories with images, and how to shoot, so the footage could be edited well.

QUESTION: Why did you move to the United States?
BRIESEWITZ: I felt like I didn't fit in at the film school in Berlin. I was also still working as a camera operator. The production companies kept calling with offers to fly me to Cologne to cover sports games and other events. It was great, because I got to go home and see my family on weekends. I also made enough money to pay my rent, but I realized that I wanted more than a comfortable job and that this job could be a dead end for me or even a trap. I realized that in order to not get stuck being a TV camera operator, I had to leave it all behind. I had to leave Germany.

QUESTION: What did you do?
BRIESEWITZ: Someone told me about the American Film Institute. I applied, was accepted, and loved it from day one. The Berlin school specialized in directing, but I always shot my own films. I applied to both the directing and cinematography programs at AFI in 1994. They accepted me for cinematography. That was no problem for me. I loved cinematography, and really wanted to go to America. I told myself, maybe fate made a decision for me. Maybe cinematography is meant to be my path. Looking back, I was really thankful that AFI made this decision for me.

QUESTION: Did you know anybody in the United States?
BRIESEWITZ: My brother had already been in America for several years. He was a biology student at Columbia University, and later he went to Stanford to earn his doctorate. I knew how positive he was about his experience. My sister had just moved with her husband to Chicago, where he was asked to teach at the Chicago Art Institute. I felt bad for our parents, because we all somehow ended up in America. I had also learned how to speak English at school.

QUESTION: Who were some of your mentors who came to speak at AFI?
BRIESEWITZ: I was so impressed, because so many of the biggest names came to do workshops. I was just amazed that these renowned cinematographers would be available to talk to us students. I remember being in awe when we had Roger Deakins (ASC, BSC) and Owen Roizman (ASC). I also remember visiting camera rental houses, where they would greet us with coffee and donuts and treat us with respect like we were somebody rather than students who wanted to get something for free. It was incredibly motivating that they took us seriously.

QUESTION: Who were some of your other mentors?
BRIESEWITZ: Denise Brassard was one of our teachers. She was always available, and was wonderful to us. Bob Primes (ASC) critiqued the first project that I showed in class. Afterwards, he looked me in the eye, and said, 'You will never have to worry about anything.' I asked what that meant, and he was very complimentary. Russ Carpenter (ASC) gave a workshop about Titanic. I remember sitting with my fellow students who were taking notes about how he lit Titanic. Someone asked me why I wasn't taking notes. I answered honestly by asking if they thought they were going to graduate from AFI and get hired to use hundreds of 20Ks to light a film like Titanic? I was more interested in hearing why he did what he did than how. By the time any of us got a chance to light a film like Titanic, chances are that we will have figured it out by ourselves.

QUESTION: Did you get to shoot projects for student directors?
BRIESEWITZ: I teamed up with directors who had different ways of thinking, which was a great preparation for the real world.

QUESTION: What were the independent films that you shot?
BRIESEWITZ: I shot Next Stop Wonderland while I was still in my second year at AFI. My friend's father, who was a theatrical director in Boston, gave Brad Anderson, the director, my little AFI reel. I was embarrassed by that, but Brad liked what he saw, and decided to meet with me. He said that he wanted a documentary look. I had shot some documentaries by then. One was with Anne Makepeace called Baby, It's You. It was about her attempt to have a baby in her late 40s. Return of the Eagle was a documentary about the American Bald Eagle. There were a few others.

QUESTION: What did you do after you graduated from AFI?
BRIESEWITZ: That's a long story. We all felt so special at AFI, and then suddenly you are finished and in a whole new world. I saw my fellow students starting to work as camera assistants and electricians, but I was very stubborn, because I had already worked as a cinematographer for six years in Germany. I wouldn't call myself a true cinematographer at that point. I was more a camera operator and shooter. It wasn't easy getting started again here in the U.S., because I was making far less money a year than I did when I was 19 or 20 years old in Germany. I remember watching a political speech where someone said a waitress in America makes $24,000 a year, and I was barely hanging on at that time, and I thought that was a lot of money! So I was not quite sure how to take that statement, because I was making far less than a waitress. German television chased me down in L.A. to produce, shoot and direct a couple of small documentaries for them, which gave me a little bit of income during those years. But I didn't want to continue with that path.

QUESTION: What happened with Next Stop Wonderland?
BRIESEWITZ: It played at Sundance and there was a cinema release by Miramax. I really hoped that my career would get a good boost after that, but nothing really happened. Three agencies were interested in meeting with me afterwards. One signed me, but I didn't get another film until eight months later, which was quite a disappointment.

Years later, Session 9, my second movie with director Brad Anderson was released. I had friends calling and congratulating me on how great my career was going. Meanwhile, I was thinking, do you guys know that I'm completely broke? For the first time in my life, I had to call my brother and ask if he could help me to pay my rent. I remember thinking maybe I'm chasing a dream that is not going to happen.

QUESTION: What else do you recall about your feelings at that time?
BRIESEWITZ: I definitely went through a dark period of unemployment, where you wonder if you are ever going to make it. I got chances to shoot a couple of independent films that didn't pay much. In general, I would get one indie film a year, if I was lucky, maybe two. It takes a long time to build your resume that way. And if the film turned out bad, it didn't matter if you shot it or not. So I went through some long periods of unemployment in between projects, never really knowing when the next job will come, or if it will come at all. It gave me a very valuable insight into unemployment, and how it can paralyze you in your ambitions and who you are.

QUESTION: We understand that you moved to Brooklyn around that time. Why?
BRIESEWITZ: My sister and her Spanish husband, who is an artist, had moved to New York after he was done teaching in Chicago. They were fed up with their living conditions in their Williamsburg loft and looked to move to a nicer apartment nearby. I had visited her once in that loft, and told her to let me know if she ever was thinking of moving out. I knew that it was difficult to find a place in Brooklyn, and somehow I always had this naive idea, that it would be great to live in New York for some time and pick up on my passion for painting again. So I took over her lease when they moved out. During that time, many people got evicted from their lofts because of fire safety issues. I lived with the same fear. All of us in that building were threatened with eviction constantly.

QUESTION: What were some of your other projects during that period?
BRIESEWITZ: Getting Personal was an independent feature produced by the line producer of Next Step Wonderland. I also shot a documentary about grizzly bears called Bear Wars, and another documentary called American Indians that was also directed by Anne Makepeace. I loved working on that one, because it took me to all these different North American Indian tribes and gave me insights into their traditions and ceremonies.

QUESTION: It sounds like you were getting a lot of diverse experience.
BRIESEWITZ: I was doing a lot of different things. I also shot an independent film called Seven and a Match that had about a $100,000 budget. It has a terrific cast and is still one of my favorite films. Our craft service consisted mainly of M&Ms. It was directed by Derek Simonds, whom I met at Sundance when I was there with Next Step Wonderland. He was sitting next to me in the theater during the screening, and said he would like to make a movie. I just smiled and said, 'Everybody wants to direct a movie.' I didn't know at that point he was a serious writer who is Brad Anderson's stepbrother. XX/XY was another independent film that I did right after I moved to New York. It was directed by Austin Chick with Mark Ruffalo as one of the stars. There was also a television movie called Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story that was directed by Peter Levin, which got three Emmy nominations. I also shot another film with Brad Anderson that was called Session 9, which I mentioned earlier. It was a psychological horror film set in an asylum for the insane in Danvers, near Boston. I also shot a film in Louisiana called The Scoundrel's Wife that was directed by Glen Pitre. After that film, I got a phone call from an agent with the Gersh Agency. She was interested in meeting with me. I signed with them. After a couple of months, they sent me on an interview for the pilot of a new TV series for HBO. My agent cautioned me not to get my hopes up. I met with Robert Colesberry, the executive producer. I didn't hear anything for a couple of days afterwards. I was almost losing hope, when my agent called again and said they wanted me to meet with Clark Johnson, the director and Bob Colesberry. I really liked both of them and what they were saying. I thought it would be great to work with these guys. About two days later, I got a phone call from my agent saying, they wanted me to shoot the pilot for The Wire.

QUESTION: What was that experience like?
BRIESEWITZ: One of the things that I love about my profession is that it puts me in environments and situations that I would never experience as a tourist or just a normal onlooker. I shot the pilot and the first two-and-a-half seasons of the series. The Wire explored the dark side of Baltimore where people were trapped in a vicious cycle of drug abuse and violent crime. We had situations where we'd be at a location and a S.W.A.T. team was two blocks away cleaning up a crime scene, or we would have to stop shooting for a while because there was a sniper on a roof. I used to say to myself, if I was a producer, I could have given Robert Colesberry 10 good reasons why he should not have hired a young woman from Germany to shoot a show like this. I thought how courageous it was for a producer to tell HBO that he wanted to hire this young woman, who they never heard of, to shoot this really tough show in Baltimore. It must have been a fight for him, to get me approved. I said earlier in this discussion that in the beginning of your career you depend on people who are willing to give you a chance to be successful, a chance to prove yourself. Robert Colesberry gave me that chance. I will be forever grateful to him.

QUESTION: How did The Wire affect your career?
BRIESEWITZ: The moment I started shooting The Wire, my outlook completely turned around. It was the first time I got a real paycheck. While I was shooting that show, I told myself that I might actually be able to make a living doing what I love.

QUESTION: What did you learn from shooting The Wire?
BRIESEWITZ: One of the things that I learned was that you have to be really fast on episodic television. I also got really good with night setups. Sometimes we would have a night scene that was one-eighth of a page, but we'd have to shoot eight or nine setups, because there was so much story or so many characters. You learn to light fast and shoot in an efficient way, hopefully without sacrificing your vision.

QUESTION: Do you think your documentary experience helped?
BRIESEWITZ: My documentary experience helped me make decisions about how to light so it looked realistic. You learn what natural light looks like at different times and in different situations, but life in general teaches you that. Observing natural light makes it easier to recreate it. That's important, because there is nothing more beautiful than natural light. Documentaries can also teach you about blocking, like when you remember how things play out in real life, without following the common rules when you can control everything and just try to recreate a reality. With narrative films your lighting has to be both; it has to support the drama of the scene and it has to be consistent. The sun doesn't stand still, so you have to recreate it. Shooting The Wire also taught me a lot about lighting African American actors and their different skin tones.

QUESTION: Could you be more specific?
BRIESEWITZ: Light gets reflected off various skin tones differently. Some actors almost absorb light and others reflect it. You have to light darker faces from different angles, and use backlight and sidelight that just kisses their cheeks. I also worked with a wonderful makeup artist on The Wire, Debi Young, who knew how to give the faces of African American actors just a bit of a shine to help reflect light beautifully.

QUESTION: Has your early interest in painting helped you as a cinematographer?
BRIESEWITZ: I think my painting helps me most with composition, and watching natural light and how it changes throughout the day, the seasons and in different places, but framing is inseparable from lighting. Sometimes I will change framing at the last second, when I see an actor doing something different than we anticipated. That also affects lighting. For me, the true moment of happiness is being behind the camera with the film rolling, and I can see everything that everyone has done is coming together. I feel a responsibility to the intentions of the director, actors, and everyone in the art, hair and makeup departments to portray their work to the fullest and hopefully enhance it with the work I do.

QUESTION: What was it like working with different directors on episodes of The Wire?
BRIESEWITZ: Sometimes it felt really refreshing to be working with a new director every nine days. It re-energized the crew. Other times, it was kind of frustrating, because we would finish a show at the end of a long day, and start the next episode with another director without little or no preparation. The fast pace of TV doesn't leave you much time to worry about anything. You just make it work.

QUESTION: What was the general visual approach to filming The Wire?
BRIESEWITZ: Bob Colesberry really wanted The Wire to look as much like a feature film as possible. He also loves the energy you can get from moving the camera. We usually worked with a single camera with the exceptions of days when we had scenes with something like 12 actors. Then, we used a second camera for coverage. In general, we would have two days where we worked with two cameras out of nine shooting days. The camera was usually moving on tracks. If we needed a close-up, we'd reach in with a longer lens. We never had a Steadicam. We also weren't concerned with hitting marks unless an actor wanted them. That of course makes it harder on my focus puller, but it frees up the actors. They don't have to focus on hitting a mark, but they can concentrate on their performance. If an actor is blocking somebody else, we just move the camera, instead of asking the actor to move. I like working that way, since I believe that only a good performance makes a good image.

QUESTION: What was your approach to lighting?
BRIESEWITZ: It wasn't a stylized look. We wanted it to feel real, so it was atmospheric but also truthful. There is no white light in Baltimore at night. There is an orange glow in the city, because of the sodium vapor lights that are on the streets everywhere.

QUESTION: Have you had an opportunity to shoot in black and white?
BRIESEWITZ: I just shot another picture (Walk Hard) directed by Jake Kasdan, where we created some fake documentary footage. They wanted several scenes of a musician in the 1960s with a black-and-white documentary look. I shot with a 16 mm 500-speed color negative (KODAK VISION2 7218) that I underexposed one stop and pushed two stops to create grain. We'll desaturate it in post. That's as close as I've come to shooting black and white, besides doing some black-and-white Super 8 mm work as a student.

QUESTION: Why didn't you just shoot with a slower film in black and white?
BRIESEWITZ: I like the imaging characteristics of the 7218, but basically the decision was made because I knew I wasn't given any time to re-light the sets for the additional black-and-white shoot. It was usually extra footage we just wanted to grab, after we were done shooting the entire scene in color. With the 7218 I just know what I get, and how it holds up in the dark areas. I knew I could do everything I wanted to affect the look of it afterwards in post.

QUESTION: What else did you learn from shooting documentaries?
BRIESEWITZ: I am also a keen believer of getting the shot on the first take. I believe that can give you something fresh that you don't get on the sixth or seventh take, but it doesn't always work that way. Some actors need time to warm up, and most directors like multiple takes, but you have to be ready and get it right on the first take. I like to give directors the option, to get it perfect on the first take. There is just a different sense of truth, when something is experienced for the first time. In documentaries, there is no second take.

QUESTION: You went from The Wire to shooting the pilot for LAX.
BRIESEWITZ: Joe and Anthony Russo, who produced and directed LAX, asked me to shoot the pilot just before the third season of The Wire. I took so much pride in being part of that amazing show, but I realized that I needed to stretch myself and not get labeled as someone who shoots gritty looking television series, and that's it. The truth is that The Wire was very carefully lit. The environment was gritty, but we worked really hard to be very creative with the lighting and always made sure we placed eye lights as well. I knew LAX would have a bright, cheery look with an actress who had to look beautiful. Doing LAX gave me the chance to work on a completely different look to make sure I won't get pigeonholed into gritty TV shows, even though I love shooting them. Later, I hooked up with Jake Kasdan when he directed an independent movie called The TV Set. It was a wonderful script, and there was a great cast, including David Duchovny and Sigourney Weaver and a brighter look. Jake told me of the reasons why he wanted to work with me because he saw and liked what I did on The Wire. I thought it was kind of funny, that he picked me to shoot a comedy, based on my work on a really dark drama. I guess getting pigeonholed wasn't as much of a problem as I thought it would be.

QUESTION: Was LAX the project that brought you back to Los Angeles?
BRIESEWITZ: I had already planned to move back to Los Angeles, but I thought it would be better to come back for a job, which put me back on the map. It was a totally different type of show. We lit a small airport on a daily basis using several 18Ks and dealing with huge lighting setups that my long-time gaffer Jenna Perkins and the crew handled extremely well. I was very proud of the look we created. It was a good experience.

QUESTION: We know that you shot a couple of television pilots, Sixty Minute Man and What About Brian?, and then you filmed a television film for HBO called Life Support that got a sensational reception at Sundance. Tell us about that experience.
BRIESEWITZ: Life Support was directed by Nelson George with Queen Latifah in the leading role. We shot that film in Super 16 format in New York, pretty much all on location. It was a personal story of the director, which made it a wonderful experience, because I think it has a very important subject. After that, I shot John from Cincinnati, another HBO pilot. It was a mind-blowing experience working on a show created and produced by David Milch and directed by Mark Tinker. They are an amazing team. When I had my first meeting with them, David Milch made all kinds of references to art and literature. It was an incredibly inspiring meeting.

QUESTION: Give us an example of what it was like working with them.
BRIESEWITZ: We wrapped production late one evening knowing that we had a really big scene to shoot the next morning with eight or 10 characters. David Milch wanted to talk to the actors to give them a warmup to what the scene was about. It was kind of an abstract, almost two-hour monolog, but everyone, including my crew, stayed and listened to the last word. After he was done, my gaffer Paul McIlvaine came up to me and said that this was one of the most inspiring moments he has had in his entire career. We were fascinated and determined to make that vision happen.

QUESTION: Your second film with Jake Kasdan was Walk Hard.
BRIESEWITZ: That was my first studio feature. I felt very grateful that Jake had faith that I could do it. Like I said earlier, you always need that one person who is willing to give you a shot at something bigger to move on. The production design by Jefferson Sage was absolutely amazing. The sets were wonderful reproductions of different periods, ranging from the 1950s to the present. We had scenes with as many as 500 extras in period costumes, which were accurate right down to the earrings. All of the extras looked and acted like they came straight out of the 1950s. We felt like we were living in the period that we were shooting in. I took so much joy in all the details that they were giving us to work with. The richness of the sets and costumes was just unbelievable. I felt a huge responsibility to faithfully portray everybody's work.

QUESTION: You are still in the dawn of your career, but you have already worked on very diverse projects, including documentaries, television series, TV movies, independent films and now a studio movie. How do you feel about that diverse experience?
BRIESEWITZ: They all give you different challenges. Mixing it up is what keeps you involved and passionate about what you do. If you stick with one or the other for too long, it kind of drains your creative juices. It doesn't matter too much to me what the budget of a project is, or what format the director wants to shoot on. Of course, we all aim for the big-budget studio features and having experienced my first one just recently I have to admit, yes, it is absolutely amazing. You feel like a kid in a candy store and the illusions that are created can send you back in time. It's wonderful. What is almost most important to me though is always the story, the reason why something is done. I can pour my heart into everything if I believe in the project and the people who are behind it.

QUESTION: This is a philosophical question. Whether it is seen on a television or movie screen, what role do you think film plays in society? Is it more than entertainment?
BRIESEWITZ: That is a very good question. I think you have to choose your projects wisely and try to pick the ones that for whatever reason, you can put yourself behind. I have had moments on sets when I thought that getting this shot right was the most important thing in my life, and then someone would say, take it easy - it's just a movie. I still think every shot has to be the best it can be. If I stop caring about what I shoot, even if it is just from shot to shot - that is the way we work - where do I stop caring next? An entire scene? The entire movie?

I had a conversation with my brother. He is a scientist who has dedicated his life to doing research on cancer. He very often works seven days a week. I told him, look at what you are doing. You are literally savings lives. What am I doing? I'm entertaining people. My brother replied that after he spends a long day in the lab, sometimes he goes to a movie theater to watch a great film for a couple of hours, or he watches a TV film to forget about the pressures of his job. He told me, that being able to do that means so much to people like him. It was important for me to hear that.

QUESTION: Are there movies that also teach us important lessons?
BRIESEWITZ: When I was growing up, I watched a lot of television, including great documentaries from around the world. I felt like I was seeing the world. I loved the stimulation that came from learning about other cultures. Movies can be incredibly powerful, educational, inspiring, and they are also a universal language that speaks to people around the world.

QUESTION: Shooting a movie is a big commitment of time, energy and emotions. What is it that motivates you to dedicate yourself to want to commit to a movie?
BRIESEWITZ: I like to challenge myself. It is always inspiring for me to do new things, to go to new locations, explore new environments and push myself to find the most powerful images.

QUESTION: Now that your career is gaining traction in narrative movies, would you take the time to shoot a documentary if something about it appealed to you?
BRIESEWITZ: I think you should always consider yourself as a documentarian.

QUESTION: What do you tell young filmmakers when they ask for the secret of success?
BRIESEWITZ: There is no secret. You have to pick projects that you believe in, so you aren't asking yourself why am I doing this especially when it gets tough. You also have to be ready and willing to work hard. It is also important to work on films where you and the director share a common vision. The truth is that you can do great work on a bad film and no one will see it. If you don't like the script, don't do it. I don't believe in shooting anything, just for the sake of shooting. Most likely, if you don't like the script, you won't enjoy your collaboration with the director very much, especially if he wrote it.

I remember telling my gaffer on a television program that I was upset that we didn't do something on a particular shot. He was trying to be kind, and said just remember it was just one shot in a TV series. I didn't agree with him. I fight for every shot every day no matter how tired I am. If I stop caring, I might as well retire. If you catch yourself not caring anymore, you got to change something. I tell young filmmakers that luck plays a role. I was lucky that Brad Anderson had enough faith in me to give me an opportunity to shoot Next Stop Wonderland. I was also incredibly lucky that Robert Colesberry gave me a chance to shoot The Wire. Nobody can tell you what lies ahead of you. I couldn't have predicted that working with Jake Kasdan on The TV Set would lead to an opportunity to shoot Walk Hard with him. I was very, very lucky.