I started shooting film when I was a kid, using my dad's still cameras. He taught me a little, but I learned more just messing around and mostly screwing up. By the time I was in high school, I knew that making images would be a lifetime pursuit.
I discovered the Film Industry while I was in college. Somehow, growing up in San Francisco, I had never realized there was an INDUSTRY devoted to filmmaking,,,. But anyway, once I had a glimmer of an idea that I might be a part of that industry, I moved my butt to LA and started a series of adventures.
Using my still photo portfolio, I got into enough production companies to find out that there was a whole other world awaiting me - that of motion camera, or cinematography. Now, those fancy cameras cost a bunch, as it also does to make a movie, so I had to learn all about them from the ground up before I would be allowed to actually operate one, or direct the photography on anything other than a cheap-ass used car commercial.
So I undertook the path, climbing the ladder rung by painful rung - I became a 1st Assistant Camera Operator. This was a technically complicated job that also required political finesse and great stamina. Pulling focus and doing zooms, loading filters and telling the Operator jokes were the easy parts - the tough part was negotiating the set politics. I did this job for eight years, for talented Cinematographers and others who shall remain nameless. But I survived to tell the tales, and along the way I learned about cameras and filmstock and filters and lighting and camera moves and maybe even managed to retain a sense of humor.
In 1983 I shot my first feature, a low budget very mild horror picture called The Devil's Gift. Written and directed by two SF State film students, it was a good intro for me into fast shooting with a small crew and not much equipment - but we ended up with such a good look on film that the lab that was processing our film called, without our knowledge, the trade magazine American Cinematographer, to tell them what great footage we had. The magazine sent a writer to spend a few days with us and they later published a feature article about the film and our work.
I continued to work as an AC on shows such as 60 Minutes, commercials and MOW's (movies of the week), but worked hard at finding and contributing to interesting and challenging Operator and DP jobs.
In 1986 I got a phone call from Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas' visual effects company, to come interview for a staff camera position. I showed up for the interview and had a great time answering questions from the panel of Visual Effects Supervisors - Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, Mike McAllister, and others - and also found out I was one of over 200 people they were considering. Two weeks later, while on set on another small feature, I got the call - they hired me. (They also hired one other guy, who has gone onto big fame at ILM, John Knowles.)
I worked at ILM for a year, on several pictures I am very proud to have been a part of. I learned a lot about visual effects. I also learned that I wasn't particularly suited to working on a sound stage for weeks at a time with only one or two other people, filming things like smoke and sparks. I needed the great craziness of being on a First Unit team, and so back to the live action world I went.
My first job, two weeks after leaving ILM, was a picture that took me to locations all thru the Southwest, from ghost towns to sad little graves of pioneer settlers far out in the desert to the Mojave to the Grand Canyon and all points in-between. It was heaven after months in the dark.
In 1989, I married a Texan and moved to the Great State of Texas. Now a full time Director of Photography, I immediately began shooting projects for a variety of clients. My favorite client was The Boy Scouts of America (headquartered near Dallas); films there ranged from High Adventure Scouting to in-school programs for handicappped children. The BSA also did turnkey films for outside clients in the realm of child abuse prevention - I was very pleased to be a part of such important work.
One thing led to another, and in 1994 I was invited interview for the crew of WISHBONE - the PBS series about "The Little Dog with the Big Imagination".
Hired as the Visual Effects Supervisor, I was responsible for creating all the effects and fantasy views of the classic literature stories such as Treasure Island and The Odyssey - all while shooting on a back lot in north central Texas. My work involved shooting the various elements on film on set or location, and then compositing them in the computer systems. This was where I got most of my grey hairs - all my work at ILM was in the 'optical' world..... WISHBONE was going to be digitally composited. You wanna talk about learning curve? After learning about Discreet Logic and other new VFX tools, off we went. I also directed and shot most of the 2nd Unit footage for the show.
One day the Executive Producer called me into his office and told me I would be responsible for creating the main title sequence for the second season - put to the task, I brought an extremely talented designer/compositor on board (Jeff Hays of AMS Productions, whom I also used for visual effects compositing) and between the two of us we managed to win a Daytime Emmy for best main title sequence. Wishbone remains the feather in my cap that I am proudest of; the quality of the concept and the stories spoke so strongly about things I think are paramount in the lexicon of filmwork - dignity and intelligence and humor and imagination.
Overall my heart has always been with interpreting conceptual visions and storytelling with images. I like the thought process that goes into stories, and I love being able to enhance the ideas and ideals of any script. The process of filmmaking is exciting, difficult, challenging, amusing, exasperating, and offers a depth of emotional and intellectual reward that no other job parallels.
I am an independent thinker and a team player.
I am a teacher.
I like to watch.
I bring the best of all I've learned in this life to any project I shoot.
Yes, I have been working in wine for many years now. I also work with images every day. Do you need a DP or shooter for your project? Are you a DP that needs a day player camera operator on your Texas location project? Call me. I bring a great eye and pretty good wine.
Home/Office: 817-237-0137 - Email me - LightCatcher Home Sobrante Film Accessories © all rights reserved Caris Palm Turpen