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Monday October 30, 2006
Louie Schwartzberg - Filmmaker in Focus (07-Oct-03)

During his 30 years as a filmmaker, Louie Schwartzberg has won many awards. He is also recognised as a pioneer in high-end time-lapse cinematography. His work has appeared in movies ranging from 'Koyaanisqatsi' to 'American Beauty' and 'Matrix Reloaded'.

Filmmaker name:
Louie Schwartzberg, Blacklight Films

Los Angeles

"Brooklyn, but I grew up mostly in San Diego."

Awards won:
Emmy, Clio and Telly awards

Which Getty Images' collections are you signed to?
The Image Bank Film

What's your educational background?
"I graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in the early seventies. On leaving, I moved to northern California because I'd managed to sell my thesis film, 'Eternal Sunrise', to United Artists, which fuelled romantic notions of living alone in the woods making experimental, independent movies. However, after a couple of years it became apparent that filmmaking is more of a team effort, it was hard to do things alone, so I came back to LA and Hollywood because that's plainly where the center of filmmaking is."

What made you want to be a filmmaker?
"It goes back to my days at college and the passion I developed for photographically documenting all the anti-Vietnam war student demonstrations. I originally started college majoring in History, so I transferred over to a Theater Arts major, and instead of pursuing just the documentary and experimental film side, I began to explore the world of fine art photography. Through that I was able to work with some of the great teachers and photographers such as Robert Fichter, Bob Flick, and Robert Heinecken. Ultimately though, I found the fine art world too insulated, snobby and aloof; it was hard to get your work seen and the audience could be limited.

"So, I was drawn to the more open world of film, where there are more opportunities to get your work seen and critiqued by as wide an audience as possible, which I think is the goal of any photographer or filmmaker."

What do you consider are the major landmarks in your career, thus far?
"As soon as I left UCLA, I started shooting a lot of time-lapse cinematography, which became a signature look for me. That was largely motivated by the fact I was using costly 35mm motion picture film from day one on limited funds.

"Initially, I was shooting film for back-plates [used in compositing or layering images] for my own creative work and I quickly built up an extensive library of time-lapse footage of clouds, flowers, traffic and cities etc. Before I knew it, there was a big demand from people, especially in advertising, who wanted to license the imagery because it was so uniquely different and so pristine - any other time-lapse footage available at that time was only on 16 mm. The footage started to be used in high-end special effects movies, and on television. Early examples include Ken Russell's 'Altered States', Robert Greenwald's 'Xanadu' and 'Star Trek - The Motion Picture'. Then followed Spielberg's movie 'Always', and his TV series 'Amazing Stories' as well the movies 'Koyaanisqatsi', 'Legally Blond' and, most recently, 'Men in Black' 'American Beauty', and 'Matrix Reloaded'.

"Going back, it really was the first time that that time-lapse material was being used in a commercial way, the first time its unique, eye-catching qualities - which might be described as a cross between live action and animation - were being exploited. As such, I formalized this by creating Energy Film Library, which slowly grew and started to represent other cinematographers as well, each with an expertise in one area of filmmaking. The library became the premier quality resource for high-end footage and, of course, was ultimately purchased by Getty Images.

"Early on, I also started to work as a Visual Effects supervisor on a number of movies, and that content proved a very valuable resource in that role."

What is the most demanding shoot you have ever done?
"That's really hard to answer, there all demanding, it's like picking your favorite child! The most mundane shoot can be the most difficult shoot: if someone says 'Get me a beautiful shot of someone working at a PC', that's very difficult, extremely demanding.

"I've certainly done some shoots that are extremely 'exciting'. I recently filmed a national and international aerobatics champion called Patty Wagstaff (see image right), not only from a helicopter but also by mounting a camera in the cockpit of her plane. Afterwards, she offered to take me up, but during her maneuvers she's pulling anything up to 8Gs and you have to get acclimated to that, unless you want to burst a blood vessel in your head, so I declined!

"Then there's Eric Weihenmayer, a blind climber who climbed Mount Everest a couple of years ago. I recently shot him ice climbing in Colorado. Eric was ascending a vertical ice face, and I had to be suspended above him pointing straight down to get the shot. I had to tilt forward with a 45lb film camera on my shoulder while trying to keep my feet out of the frame. And of course, I was praying I didn't drop the camera because Eric would never have seen it coming!"

Who or what are the major influences upon your work?
"Light and life! Everywhere I look, when simply observing life in general: whether its kids running on the beach and playing in the sand, or surfers catching a great wave, I'm always aware of the way light strikes surfaces and enhances the emotion and beauty of things. You log those images in your head so that when you try to recreate them, you have reference for what the magic was when you saw it for real.

"And, if something inspires you and you have a passion to shoot it, I think that becomes an intrinsic part of the image and ultimately is recognized by the viewer or image buyer. If you don't feel that passion when shooting, it wont translate onto the emulsion."

To view the footage that the stills in this article were taken from, please click on the relevant link below:

The Swimmer
The Terrace of buildings
The Cyclist
The Cityscape
Patty Wagstaff
The Boxer


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