'I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing'
We’re only two weeks away from the 2014 Australian Cinematographers Society National Awards, where the recipient of the NFSA-ACS John Leake OAM ACS Award for an Emerging Cinematographer will be announced. We spoke with the 2012 winner, Jimmy Ennett about his career so far.
On set as a camera attachment for the Australian leg of the shoot for The Railway Man, Jimmy recalls a day spent at an old war museum in Brisbane which was standing in for a Japanese labor camp in Second World War-era Singapore. The museum was surrounded by tanks, extras – and mud.
‘I was helping out the steadicam – so he had to run – he was actually moving around, basically having to hardwire his camera with almost a hundred metres of cable for the monitor through the mud and connecting that and also having to run back and clapper – because if you don’t clap correctly then the editors get screwed up.’
‘But you come out the other end and think, “I still want to do it tomorrow” – so that’s a pretty good sign.’
In March 2011 Ennett, then a Canberra film student, entered his short film Invasion in the local film festival – Lights! Camera! Action! Invasion earned him three awards and the 2012 NFSA-ACS John Leake OAM ACS Award for young cinematographers in Sydney. It was the ACS award which eventually opened the door to working alongside esteemed cinematographer Garry Phillips and his team on the set of The Railway Man.
The opportunity to work with Phillips offered a masterclass of sorts and Ennnett experienced a renewed faith in his pathway.
‘Garry is very gracious and generous with his time and explaining of shots – he would explain exactly what he was doing. I think what I learned from Garry was the way he composes [using] the ARRI Alexa – a world class digital camera… He was showing me the process of recording to a RAW – the uncompressed imagery and also recording in cinemascope format. I was only really used to recording in 16×9 but showing all the new kind of framing options with that extra sort of width really kind of changed the way I think he was telling the story – it was quite surreal. He gained a lot of his experience coming up as a camera assistant to a cinematographer himself which seems to be a sort of lost art.’
‘There are a lot of professional assistant cameras that are keeping that alive and sort of going that hard route and really learning the craft by osmosis and learning with different directors and different directors of photography but I know many more who get a Canon 5D and think they’re a cinematographer.’
Lights! Canberra! Action!
Working as a cinematographer in Canberra ‘the pros are that you’re in a smaller pool of talent. Going into Sydney and Melbourne – you’d be lost amongst the throngs of really talented people, you know, numerous people who are also able to make a living from it. The cons are that you can’t really make a living from doing it full time, unless you’re doing a lot of corporate work or freelance work – you know, job for hire which is what I’ve been doing. ‘
‘A big pro is Screen ACT in Canberra where there are funding pools and workshops so it feels a lot more approachable to the average punter [to] be part of the local industry. I mean it only took one short film festival here [Lights! Canberra! Action!] for me to make more films and become a bit more aware of the filmmaking culture. Now I have a pool of people who I can get to help me out and vice-versa, just from digging in and doing that kind of thing. Everyone knows everyone here so it’s pretty small!’
While Canberra may not offer much in the way of glamorous big city advertising work, Ennett sees the positives to developing his craft in a smaller city:
‘With corporate work there’s that aspect of your own creative space taken out of it and [the work] has to be very functional and serve a very – not always dry – but a purpose that is very specific… I think you can get wrapped up in your own ego [with the creative work.]’
‘It pays very well and there a lot of government departments, especially around the end of the financial year [in a] rush to promote a product or develop a better online presence. So a lot of the video work is now being geared to more online than broadcast which is great for smaller freelance because you can use your HD Canon DSLR and not have to worry about broadcast. You can really kind of edit and make short films the way that I’ve sort of taught myself to do. But it’s just having to please a different sort of audience, if you will.’
‘I still try and apply a cinematic discipline with the way that I shoot. I think about composition and things like that because I grew up with cinema and it’s really hard to just completely change that because of a different medium.’
‘It’s [more] about making digestible content. If I know that this short film isn’t going to be for a film festival –maybe people will share it on their Facebook or tweet it. I know that, as a consumer of that content. But it hasn’t really changed the way that I shoot … it’s never informed by, “Oh, they’re going to watch it on a mobile, I won’t worry about the resolution, I won’t worry about getting the correct exposure for lighting”.’
A leaf out of David Michôd’s book
Ennett and his producing partner have received funding from Screen ACT for a short film proof of concept of a feature film called Like Behaviour. ‘The guy that was the video split operator of The Railway Man is going to be my DoP (Director of Photography) – so talk about networks and meeting people!’
He admires the work of David Michôd Animal Kingdom and would like his career to follow a similar trajectory. ‘It wasn’t until [Michôd] made the short film Crossbow – and he made it very tonally similar to Animal Kingdom – he showed he could direct what he’d written down on a page, and the rest is history.’