Thom Neal is the winner of the 2014 NFSA-ACS John Leake OAM ACS Award in Brisbane. We spoke with him a few days before he was named emerging cinematographer of the year.
How do you feel about winning the award?
As a young professional it is great encouragement to be recognised for the craft of cinematography, which is something I am very passionate about. It’s also very humbling to be given an award from both the NFSA and the ACS.
What are your career highlights so far?
I am very much at the beginning of my career, but I have been quite fortunate to have my work screened both nationally and internationally, I’ve been able to shoot a variety of productions and stories, continually working with great collaborators.
I have now received accolades from highly esteemed Australian filmmakers, so I find myself in a very lucky position, being able to try and do what I love each day.
Do you have any plans for the prize money?
The prize money will go towards the travel expenses to attend Camerimage in Poland in late 2014. The grant will allow me to cover all travel, accommodation and ticketing costs. The festival includes forums, master classes and screenings, and looks to be a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the art of cinematography. We’re in one of the most remote locations compared to the rest of the international film industry, so to attend a festival set in the heart of the European cinema landscape is something I am very grateful to be a part of.
What are the main challenges for an emerging cinematographer in 2014? Do you think the industry is becoming more difficult to make a name for yourself?
Like with many other creative areas at the moment, there is so much great work going on, but the industry as a whole is moving quite fast technologically speaking. Personally I find that sometimes the purpose or role of the cinematographer can be muddied by all the’ big cool toys’ and newest gear available, especially to up and coming cinematographers.
Story should always come first and our role is to carry it aesthetically, through our working relationships with directors, producers, gaffers, grips, production design, costume design and art department. Sometimes I feel like this can come as an afterthought to emerging DOPs.
No matter what industry you work in, getting noticed is increasingly harder, but patience and persistence will always be rewarded. At the end of the day I hope to be 70 years of age and still doing this, so I don’t feel like I should be cashing in all my coins at the very beginning.