In this exclusive interview, we talked with cinematographer Tyler Maddox about the Sundance Film Festival “You Go Girl!” He shared some of the most memorable (and challenging) aspects of shooting, as well as what it was like shooting on his personal Canon C500 II.
PH: How did you get involved with this project?
Tyler Maddox: This is my second film with Shariffa, the Director. She had been Directing a play near my home town in Southern Oregon and got stuck from returning to New York when the Pandemic started. The Shakespeare festival decided to try out a film project since they couldn’t do live shows. They found a local producer who gave them my name and we ended up shooting that film together and really hit it off. After that, they got a grant to shoot another project in Oregon and they wrote this script and we got the band back together again and created “You Go Girl”.
PH: What was the pre-production process like? What film techniques did you use to bring this project to life?
Tyler Maddox: We did not have a lot of time in Pre-Pro, but Shariffa and I shared a lot of reference images back and forth and discussed the various ways to visually tell the story. We chose color and camera movement as techniques to show the duality of the character. For instance, we shot a small comedy club scene that had a back stage and a front stage. The back stage is where she had fears and also got life changing news. We kept the camera hand held to play into those fears and also had a dark, moody, and very teal/green color against black walls. Once our character exits the back stage and comes onto the front stage, she is against a bright red curtain background with red light spilling onto her. Her countenance completely changes and the camera was then on a slider or locked off. The mix of opposite colors, and camera movement really helped separate the two dimensions in the story.
PH: What are the advantages to working as a DP and Director on this project? Disadvantages?
Tyler Maddox: I was not the Director on this film, just the DP, but it was this particular Director’s 2nd film project which is different from a lot of Director’s I’ve worked with. My favorite Directors are ones that haven’t shot their own work before. They know very little about cameras and give you a really long leash to help determine coverage and camera angles. That allows us, the Cinematographers, the most creative freedom which is also the most rewarding.
PH: How did you collaborate with the team?
Tyler Maddox: Because the Director and Producer came from the Theatre world, our crew was half film people and half theatre folks. What I found is that the theatre world is a very accepting, tight knit group of people and extremely collaborative. We also have some real gems in the film world here in Southern Oregon. This particular crew worked extremely well together and a lot of tight bonds were made in the process. Collaborating with a good team can be extremely rewarding.
PH: Do you have a favorite/memorable scene that you can discuss?
Tyler Maddox: We shot half of the film in a small comedy club setting that we had made in a small theatre. I love taking an ordinary looking location and transforming it into something totally different. The production designer and art department did an amazing job making this empty stage feel like a small and intimate club. We then filled the room up with haze and hard light and shot several takes of our lead actress doing great comedy.
PH: Did you face any challenges while working on this project? What were they and how did you approach them?
Tyler Maddox: In the story, our lead actress was climbing a mountain and the final shot called for being on a snowy mountain summit at sunset. The best location we had was on the backside of our local ski area, Mt. Ashland, which you can’t drive to and was covered in snow. The whole crew had to snowshoe in and we used utility sleds to get all of our gear in. We then had to get our actress up a series of steep rocks. She was definitely out of her comfort zone, but she pulled through her fears and gave an amazing performance.
PH: What did you shoot on? And why?
Tyler Maddox: We shot on my personal Canon C500 II. The camera had everything that we needed for this film. I wanted a full frame look, totally shoot in Raw, and have a little extra resolution for a 4k delivery, so 6k was perfect. I also needed a camera that was not too big and heavy for all the hiking we needed to do. We had a small crew so internal ND’s and dedicated buttons make operating so much quicker and easier. I also own a lot of EF glass, but for this project we rented Canon’s Sumire’s which were PL mount. Luckily, it’s really easy to switch out the EF mount for a PL which opens up so many lens options.
PH: How has your professional experience in the industry shaped your work on this project (and in general)?
Tyler Maddox: You learn something from every shoot that you do and you take that new knowledge onto the next project. I’ve been doing this professionally now for over 20 years. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned lessons the hard way sometimes, but that gives you a much more intimate knowledge than learning from a book. The great thing about projects like this one, which is more of a passion project than a big paycheck, is that you get to bring those experiences, successes, failures and lessons learned and use it to make something deeply impactful.