Recently I had the rare and exciting opportunity to sit down (remotely) with someone I have followed and admired for years—renowned industry expert Bill Holshevnikoff, Director of Photography and Lighting Designer brings such life to everything he works on. It could be a feature film, commercial or network show.
You can name almost any recent big production and Bill has either worked on it or had some kind of influence on it either directly or remotely. I can say that without hesitation because when am I lighting I look to Bill’s work for inspiration and to “borrow”. In our exclusive ProductionHUB interview, Bill talks about his career path, people that have influenced him and some of his more recent projects.
PH: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in the lighting/production business?
Bill Holshevnikoff: I started self-taught as a still photographer when I was 12. Have had a camera in my hands ever since. Transitioned into video and film production at San Diego State University.
PH: You are very well known for your lighting expertise. How did you learn your craft and did you have a mentor or a pro you learned from?
Bill Holshevnikoff: I had a mentor who changed the direction of my career and my life. His name was Dean Collins. Unfortunately, he passed on some years ago. He was a master lighting technician and brilliant photographer. We worked together on a series of BTS videos called Finelight Videos in the early 80s.
Dean taught me the science of light, and after working with him for a number of years I realized that I could transition that knowledge into my film and video work. His perspective on the business of image-making, along with the understanding of the physics of light, changed my career path dramatically. I will be forever grateful to him.
Additionally, over the past 30 years I’ve had a chance to meet with and work with some incredibly talented imagemakers around the world. Each time I work with a knowledgeable, skilled person I try to learn something new.
PH: You have worked on some pretty high-profile jobs. Were there any in recent memory that were particularly challenging? How did you overcome those challenges?
Bill Holshevnikoff: I was the cinematographer on three motion pictures over the past 8 years. Shooting a film on location is probably one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had. It takes every bit of knowledge and every skill set you have to finish a film (on time and on budget), along with a tremendous amount of time & people management.
Also, I started working remotely almost 20 years ago for studio lighting jobs, and I’ve been doing a great deal more of that over the past two years with the pandemic. A recent remote lighting job for a client of mine in Slovenia was very challenging, but it turned out fantastic. I really enjoy working with clients remotely these days. It saves great deal of time and money for the client. Not every job is appropriate for remote lighting supervision, but I can do a great deal of my studio lighting work this way now.
PH: Lighting can be so subjective. How do you strike a balance between being. technically sound and hitting that look you want to achieve?
Bill Holshevnikoff: When working with clients & directors, I see myself as an artistic technician. I’m there for the client’s vision, but I try to bring my artistic influence to every job. And once you have a thorough understanding of light and are confident with your skill set, it’s much easier to work toward the client’s vision and still put your own touch on each image through framing and light. It doesn’t happen on every job, but it’s what I always shoot for.
PH: When you take on a project, what are the questions you want to hear from the client or DP?
Bill Holshevnikoff: That’s a great question. Since I am a DP and lighting designer, I like to hear questions like, “How much time do you need to create this type of image?” and “What equipment & crew do you need to pull that off”.
I feel if I have the appropriate time, the gear that I want and a great crew, we can do just about anything the client hopes to see.
PH: You just did the Pat McAfee Show remotely from the Super Bowl. What was the challenge there? What is it like to do that lighting remotely?
Bill Holshevnikoff: That production was a little shoot-from-the-hip because there were many different shows each day on the same set, and there were lots of changes in the last week before it went live. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get any rehearsal time with any of the directors, so each day held its own surprises.
That set was in the LA Convention Center on Radio Row leading up to this recent Superbowl, so I used the crew that was available to me there at the convention center. My board operator, Scott Webb, was on set and was instrumental in helping me nail down the lighting remotely.
We anticipated lots of changes, so I planned for that in the lighting design. Once we were live – everything worked out really nicely. I think the client, FanDuel, and the set design company, Devlin Design Group, were very happy.
PH: Do you have any lighting setups that you really like to do? Do you have any lighting instruments that you or your clients are hot on right now?
Bill Holshevnikoff: Yes, I’m a big fan of everything ARRI (camera & lighting) and Kino Flo’s lighting instruments, and there’s also a lot of new players in the lighting industry – some really great new lighting hitting the market!
I’m all about light quality with soft sources, and a clean beam with great color from hard sources. I’m also still a fan of tungsten light and HMIs, but I am using those less and less these days since the LED lighting industry has really taken off.
Re: lighting setups, I have my simple setups for interviews, news desks, etc. But I really like to try different approaches as often as possible.
PH: What advice would you give to young(er) pros who want to get better at their craft?
Bill Holshevnikoff: I’ve taught a lot of workshops around the globe to students and young professionals. I like to tell them that they have so many resources that are available now for education in lighting and cinematography. They can look up BTS videos online for many independent and big films, study the setups, and learn from each film. Also, I encourage them to watch the scenes in their favorite movies with the sound OFF. When you are learning cinematography and lighting, watching a scene without audio can help you to concentrate on the camera moves, visual mood and lighting of any scene in a film.
Ideally, they can find a mentor who will take them on set, but that is often difficult for people who live outside of major film production areas.
I also like to remind students and young pros that there is also a great deal that can be learned by shooting stills. Not necessarily with your phone, although the newest cell phone cameras are amazing, but with a DSLR (or SLR). Making decisions about lenses, camera placement and exposure for hundreds, if not thousands, of still photos will absolutely help in moving toward a career of image making.
PH: It seems like a lot of shows and movies have an overall “dark” look. Do you have a take on that?
Bill Holshevnikoff: The trend of most dramas in film and series work today is definitely much darker (visually) than the films and television I was raised on.
The new digital cameras are really great at digging out the details in low light, so you can actually shoot a scene that looks much more lifelike in a living room or dining room or basement, for instance. This approach can make working on location much easier for a cinematographer and his crew. I don’t like to go too dark in my own work, but I do think it can be very effective for certain story lines.
PH: Do you have a fav show or movie that really got you attention lighting wise?
Bill Holshevnikoff: Honestly, I don’t watch a great deal of television. Probably two of my favorite series recently are Ozark and Queens Gambit. I thought both were visually intriguing and really well done.
If you are into shooting, lighting, or design, you owe it to yourself and your career to go and explore Bill’s incredible body of work in detail. I have put some links below. To echo Bill, take the time to learn and then relearn your craft. There is a ton of information on our very own ProductionHUB to explore and get insights into how professionals think and go about their business. Best of luck on your next production.