An interview with Devin Toselli, D.O.P
As we count the days until the release of the two 2016 Jameson INDIE Channel Music Video Grant productions, we took some time to chat to Devin Toselli, the surprisingly level-headed cinematographer behind both the BETR Gang and Desmond and the Tutus videos. He discusses what cinematography entails, as well as his experience on these two music video shoots.
For the uninitiated, what exactly does a cinematographer do?
The cinematographer or DOP (Director of Photography) works with the director to compose and light each scenario. It is an awesome jumble between technical know-how and artistry.
Where did your journey with cinematography begin?
I grew up in My fathers photographic studio and through my passion of riding bicycles I met Jimmy Reynolds, who was documenting our BMX scene by making the first South African BMX video “Unleash the Fury”. From there I was hooked. I wanted to know everything about cameras and how to use them.
Is it a difficult field to make a solid career in?
The path I took to become a cinematographer was to study at a film school whilst apprenticing. The film industry and camera department rely on the tradition of apprenticeship. You start out eager and spritely assisting where you can and the harder you work the more you are rewarded. A lot of it comes down to being at the right place, with enough hard work behind you, at the right time. All of that got me my first job as a clapper loader – back when we actually loaded film – because someone did not arrive at work and I was there ready for it. So yes, it’s a very difficult career that requires many late nights, ridiculously early mornings and passion.
What does it take to be a great cinematographer?
A great cinematographer needs to be adaptable, technically savvy and artistic.
Would you say you’ve developed your own distinctive style yet? What’s your approach to cinematography?
I would like to think I do not have a perceivable style yet. Cinematography has many approaches and tools so to keep using one approach for the sake of creating a signature would be a disservice. However, many great cinematographers do have a style that can be followed but this has been cultivated and matured over years of work.
How did you end up shooting both the BETR Gang and Desmond and the Tutus videos?
I guess I was just lucky to be picked by two different directors to shoot two different videos for the same project, but I was really excited to do both.
What was your objective with each of these videos?
The Desmond and the Tutus video was really exciting to shoot because it was something completely different. Inspired by the style of Nollywood horror films, we played with darkness and shadows in a dirty colourful underworld.
The BETR Gang video was also awesome to work on. Shooting on wide screen anamorphic lenses we were able to really immerse the group into Soweto, the contextual background. The very filmic aspect ratio is one of my favourite ways of shooting South Africa; fitting so much into a frame whilst allowing us to still guide the viewer’s eye to what is happening in our story.
What was the biggest challenge on each of the videos?
Shooting music videos is always going to be difficult but that’s what makes it so much fun. The BETR Gang video was particularly tricky because it was the middle of winter so, besides it being very cold, we had less daylight hours to work with. It’s a constant battle of trying to work quickly whilst keeping it looking great.
The Desmond and the Tutus video was contained into one location so we had more time to shoot without worrying about sunlight. But we were in a very dirty, dusty basement with many years of Johannesburg’s grossness oozing down into it. While it looked great on camera, it’s not the best working conditions. The dust and mold meant we had to work while wearing dust filtering masks, which doesn’t make it easy to communicate with the crew.
In what sense did the shoots differ, from a creative perspective?
Creatively the videos were quite different. It was the first time I was working with the director Paul Yates (BETR Gang), so apart from trying to figure out what and how we would shoot the video I also had to get into Paul’s creative head-space and language.
With the Desmond and the Tutu’s video, I know Shane Durrant on a personal level, after years of visiting his old restaurant Wolves. I’ve also worked o a few commercials and a short film with his co-director, Greg Rom, so our shorthand language was already set and we could delve straight into the filmic world of “Boogieman.”