Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Ross Hillier is constantly pushing to grow and develop as a filmmaker and as a person. Just by browsing his Artgrid page, you can see that the man is a storyteller, aiming to capture the essence of people from all walks of life.
We wanted to get to know him better, so we asked him some questions about what inspires him, his creative process and plans for the future.
Artgrid: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Ross Hillier: I had been doing photography for about 8 years before I started playing with film, so I had a good understanding and love for lighting and composition. The moment it all changed was when I went to Mozambique to shoot a short film for a friend about architecture.
It was an amateur film, but we ended up winning an award, and I fell in love with the process. The collaboration between the director (who had the story in his mind) and myself as the DOP was great. In the film, I moved the camera along homemade tracks. When I saw how camera movement can convey certain feelings and emotions, it was so much more exciting than still images, and it intrigued me.
Working with actors and the musicians who scored the film were also elements I loved. It made the project multifaceted, something I had never experienced in photography.
AG: What film(s) inspired you to become a filmmaker?
RH: Roger Deakins' cinematography on No Country for Old Men is a huge inspiration for me in many ways. All of his work inspires me, from his naturalistic lighting to how he moves the camera but only when he needs to. He doesn't do anything to show off; he focuses on the storyline and keeps true to it throughout his work.
AG: Do you have a secret ritual before starting a shooting day? Can you describe it?
RH: I do, but it's a secret :)
AG: What is your creative process when preparing for a stock footage shooting day?
RH: I like to research the subject I'm shooting by watching other references, films, or stories similar to what I'm doing. Then, in the days leading up to the shoot, I imagine different ways to shoot the project and go through them in my mind. I try to find the best way to do it, whether on a gimbal or handheld, whether I put the lights through the window or keep the subjects top-lit and from one source, which lenses will be the best for the style or story….There are so many different ways to do a stock shoot that I like to go through all the options and figure out which will be the best.
AG: Which of your Artgrid stories are you most proud of?
RH: There are so many great stories that we have created together with Artgrid, but I think my favorite story has got to be the Desert Wanderer.
It's a very iconic story that represents freedom, discovery, adventure and dedication (to religion in this case).
We also shot it from a tracking vehicle which is always fun :)
AG: Which usage of your footage is your favorite?
RH: I've seen many awesome edits and inserts, but I think Ivan.colorist graded some of my footage the best. I was very impressed.
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AG: What was the craziest experience you had on a shooting day?
RH: We had a request to shoot a series of para-athletes, and one of our actors was a cyclist. We decided to shoot the series on E-Series Cooke Anamorphics, which, if you know lenses, is one of the heaviest sets of lenses around. I also need to mention that I love handheld so much I did most of this story handheld to feel connected to him when he was training and preparing.
When it came time to shoot the tracking shots from a vehicle, we rigged up on a Freefly Movi-Pro Gimbal and went out to find the locations we had recced and shot him cycling on the road.
Everything went to plan, and we got some insane shots, but we hadn't finished yet. We had one last location, but the sun was getting very low, and we still needed to drive 30 minutes to the final location.
Now, if any of you know the pressure you feel when the sun is setting, and you still need more shots, this was worse because we had a guy who couldn't walk. So each time we did a take, we would need to get to him, pick him up with 2 guys, put him in a car, put his bike in the car and reset the take. It wasn't a fast reset, is all I can say.
So now the sun was about to go down, but we needed one last scene with wind turbines behind him to finish the story.
We arrived at the location with the sun on the horizon, the heaviest lens I've ever used on the Movi and a highway full of trucks. When I recce'd the place, there were a few cars here and there, but on this day, there was truck after truck flying past us.
I asked Alwyn, our talent, if he was OK to do the run, and he didn't even consider saying no. Such an incredibly brave spirit. Fearless.
He started cycling, and I told my Gaffer to drive behind him to light him and protect him from other cars.
We started getting some incredible takes, and at one point, he was probably 1 meter away from the lens flying down the highway, and he didn't even bat an eyelid. It was an epic moment and shoot to have completed.
It's projects like this and many others that make me realize we have the best job in the world.
AG: What gear do you have on your wish list?
RH: I think right now, if I could pick a piece of gear that I don't have, it would be The Black Arm by Flowcine.
Image via https://www.flowcine.com/
AG: If you could choose a DOP or Director (dead or alive) to work with, who would it be and why?
He also shot The New World, which is such an amazing film.
Emmanuel Lubezki with his Academy Award for The Revenant (2015).
AG: What would be your dream project?
RH: Wow, this is a tough one. There are so many things I would love to film and be a part of.
I think the dream for me right now would be to DOP or Direct a short film that inspires people.
I think that's it for me, not making big blockbusters or getting into Hollywood. I want to inspire people to be better, consume less and realize that we can manifest anything and everything we want.
AG: What would be your next filmmaking adventure?
RH: I have always wanted to find a motorcycle brand that would send us across or through Africa. The beauty and magnitude of this continent are breathtaking, and it would be a mind-blowing trip, I'm sure. But to be honest, any adventure would do:)