Having worked on a number of noticeable projects, including Ingrid Goes West, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, and House of Cards, Bryce Fortner has created an impressive portfolio of work for himself.
Lift-Off spoke to him about starting out in the industry, his advice for any aspiring cinematographers, and how he achieved the dark and mysterious tone of Sundance 2017’s best screenplay winner, Ingrid Goes West.
Interview by Lauren Macaree
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in cinematography and how did you go about making it a reality?
In college. I originally thought I wanted to be a writer/director, so my degree is actually in screenwriting. But I came to realize that I had a strong pull to the visual side of storytelling. I opted into a Cinematography class and was hooked. My degree, however, certainly gave me a deeper appreciation for story then I feel I would have had otherwise.
Is there a specific film that sparked your interest in cinematography?
‘Fargo’ sparked my interest in filmmaking. The subtlety, simplicity, and humour in that film still guides me to put story, character, and tone first.
What is your favourite genre of film to shoot, is this different from your favourite genre to watch?
I’m a sucker for drama. After ‘Portlandia’, though, I was in a bit of a comedy loop. I adore working in comedy and being in that environment, but I appreciate getting to pursue things a bit more dramatically. I find it more satisfying on a personal level.
You have an extensive list of notable credits for cinematography, such as Parallels, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, and Ingrid Goes West. Was there something in particular that drew you to any of these projects?
I responded to the scripts more than anything else.
Ingrid Goes West is a very current and relevant themed film, visually and through the message of the story. How did you approach shooting a comedy that is so dark?
The ultimate goal was to keep everything feeling real. And approachable. Because as scary and reproachful as Ingrid’s actions are, they aren’t too far off from what most of us experience with social media. Keeping the look grounded and tangible was intended to add to the discomfort of the comedy.
I also noticed that the look of the film to begin with is quite dark and gets increasingly lighter and more vibrant after Ingrid arrives in Los Angeles. Was this intentional?
It was indeed. We wanted LA and Taylor’s life to feel like Instagram in a way. It was fun, though, to then explore a return to darkness as Ingrid becomes increasingly unhinged.
You’ve also worked on many tv series such as Portlandia and Flaked. How does working on television differ from film?
Less prep time. Tighter shooting schedules. Otherwise, they’re both full of equally passionate people trying to create a world and tell a story.
From your personal experience, does it take you any time to adjust to projects that are quite different from each other, or do you simply complete one film, figure out your next approach, and go on from there?
It always takes time, and I’m often still mentally adjusting right up until the camera starts rolling. That’s part of what’s exciting and scary about each new project. Letting it seep in during prep and (hopefully) get to a place where you can actually see the film before you ever roll the camera. Often times, though, it takes me the first day to really adjust to and know what the world is.
Can you think of a shot throughout your career that was particularly challenging but afterwards very satisfying when you completed it?
Not especially. Though, it is always satisfying to sit and watch a completed project with an audience in a theater. Like wow, we made this thing and people are connecting to it.
What do you think the biggest surprise about the role of a cinematographer would be to an outsider?
The emotional impact of what we can do with light, camera movement, and framing.
If there is one thing you personally think would make the film industry better today, what would it be?
If someone wants to pursue a career as a cinematographer, how would you recommend they go about it?
There are a million ways to go about it. Though, somebody once told me that if you want to shoot then shoot. Don’t spend time working your way up, so to speak, spend time shooting. So, I committed myself to only shoot as much as I can.
What would your top three tips for aspiring cinematographers be?
Study light every day; sit back and quietly take it in and see how it changes and how it affects the mood of a space.
Shoot as much as you can so you can put the things you see and read about into practice.
Trust your gut and find a perspective on photography and humanity.
What are the biggest mistakes you notice cinematographers make at the start of their career if any?
Lighting when you don’t need to. Feeling like you have to always have a light on something. Putting camera/lighting ahead of story.
(Any other advice you would like to voice in order to help the next generation of cinematographers? or what is next for you?)
Story and character. Never forget those should come first… not the look. What’s the point of making something look good that isn’t actually good itself. Also, don’t get swept up in technology… In my opinion, emotion and gut connection should always come first.
Thank you for your time!