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Sebastian Benalcazar (MA Cinematography) on shooting his first feature

By Danny Kelly

09 May 2019

To conclude our series of postgraduate alumni blogs, we speak to MA Cinematography graduate Sebastian Benalcazar about working on his first feature, filmmaking in the UK vs his native country and his top tips for launching your career. 

On his first feature project

Through a Producer friend, I was connected with British Director Jamaal Hepher, who was setting up a project in my home country of Ecuador. We had a lot of things in common due to my time studying in the UK, and immediately clicked on how we wanted to shoot the film. It helped that he was really open to any suggestions.

2 Days in Quito is the story of Toño, a young taxi driver with creative ambitions who makes a drastic, life-changing decision after being denied a scholarship to a media production institute that would greatly improve his future. Most of the crew is Ecuadorian, although there are people from the UK, Spain and Colombia. We start principal photography of the film this weekend – using an Arri Alexa and Zeiss Lenses – and will be shooting until the middle of May.

On filmmaking in Ecuador vs the UK…

There are some similarities and there are some differences. As Ecuador is still an emerging film industry, there are only a few places to hire equipment for a shoot – this limits you, but can also be beneficial. There are also fewer people who have learnt their craft through an academic process at film school, which changes the ways you communicate in terms of using technical language.

From a production perspective, it can get a bit more difficult to raise funds here, as the film institute only grants awards once a year and the amount designated is not that high. On the other hand, there are fewer production challenges than in the UK, like getting permissions for locations or closing down roads etc. I guess its a balance.

On his preferred content to shoot… 

My favourite type of content is narrative as it gives me more opportunity to develop a visual language through the cinematography. You can play around with different tones and paces in the film, which is not always possible in other types of projects. For example, with commercials, you have such a small amount of screen time, so you have to be really quick and efficient with your shots. Narrative projects also have more prep time, which gives you the chance to develop more ideas around the concept of the film. 

On still photography…

I am actually now a visiting lecturer at the university where I did my BA, where I teach cinematography and still photography. At the moment, I am really interested in a mixture of nature and urban landscape photography, but I also do some portraits and other commissioned work. Recently, I’ve been uploading photos to my Instagram, which you can follow here @chanmachine.

One of Sebastian’s photos taken in Sucumbíos Province, North East Ecuador

On studying MA Cinematography @ MetFilm School…

I think the most useful learnings I’ve got from my MA Cinematography degree is knowing how to approach the story in terms of the lighting. To translate a script into images that can generate emotions, while also contributing to the storytelling, are the principal aspects. The experience of working with bigger, high-end equipment at MetFilm School has also given me enough experience to be comfortable working on bigger projects like films, commercials and web content. I feel versatile and ready for any type of project that comes along. 

On advice for aspiring Cinematographers…

1. Develop your teamwork skills. As a DP, you are in charge of your department and you need to be able to rely on the team around you. The more your group are prepared, the more you can focus on your creativity.

2. Embrace each stage of your on-set career. It’s very important to learn the craft of a Spark or a Clapper Loader, before progressing to being a Gaffer or a Focus Puller. Understanding these roles is essential to becoming a Head of Department; one that is ready to confront any type of situation and solve it. 

3. Go to film school. My Master’s degree gave me the knowledge that I needed to become a DP and, more importantly, allowed me to meet like-minded people to work on set with. 

4. Be dedicated and maintain your passion.

Find out more about our MA Cinematography course or book now for an upcoming open day.

Watch the 2 Days in Quito crowdfunding video here