Thom Neal

Emerging cinematographer of 2014
 Miguel Gonzalez

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.
Courtesy Thom Neal.

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.

Name a few cinematographers that you admire, and why.
There are so many brilliant cinematographers out there but there are definitely some that stick out for me personally. I’m attracted to the random work of greats like Harris Savides, Yeoman, Darius Khondji, Roger Deakins. Then there’s the Australians; a list far too large to write, but lensers such as John Seale, Adam Arkapaw, Andrew Lesnie and Andrew Commis are just a few whose work extends towards audiences.

Cinematographers like them have amazing attention to detail and an authentic manner as storytellers, something I would like to achieve as well. They service the story and the director to help create the world in which these narratives exist. That is something I try to remind myself of every time I read any project that comes my way.


What is your favourite thing about being a cinematographer?
There are so many aspects I enjoy about working as a cinematographer, from working in the very first stages of pre-production, to sitting down in the DI and really polishing off a project at the back end of a production. I was given some great advice when I first started working on sets, that great teams make great films, so the collaboration aspect of cinematographer is something that I really enjoy. Of course the possibilities of travel and lifestyle are also very attractive, but just to be behind the camera as much as I can is something I find rewarding.


What are your current/upcoming projects?
There are a lot of things in all stages of production. I have a handful of projects that are in post, from music videos through to short films. I am currently shooting a longer-form documentary for a young director and we’re in the process of photography this year. I also have a few projects in the pipeline that are about to start pre-production quite soon, so I’m looking forward to that.