Artist Spotlight
Sasha K. Gordon Q&A. From Odessa to New York City

 (Music Video) for Major Lazer's 'Light it up' shot by Paul Özgür

You've worked with non-actors on 3 straight feature films. That has to be a record, or at least a remarkable coincidence. Anything more challenging or interesting about working with non-pros? Do you just not like actors? (kidding)

Haha! Working with actors is great but it's a completely different experience.  I think it's a coincidence to be honest, although I did turn down a project based on the lead actors. I know that's probably not very nice, but I do always ask the director who they have in mind. It's also a good way to see if you share the same vision and taste.

Non-actors have pros and cons. I've learned that they can either be your biggest friend or your biggest enemy. Yes, they play themselves. But they might get distracted more easily, or they might not understand why I ask them to sit up or walk in a certain way. They are not trained to repeat the same actions for multiple takes... which is harder for me and my crew.  

A lot of times they don't really understand the role of the DP and why he/she talks so much on set! And often, because they have a special relationship with the director, they might have met months or even years before, it's hard for them to trust me right off the bat. 

I've learned that, because you are so close to the lens and the (non)-actors, they tend to look at you first after each take. So your first impression is very important. A lot of times the director might be sitting somewhere far away behind a big monitor and it might take a bit before they give their first impression. Acting is such a fragile profession so it's key you are aware of that.

What's the worst thing a director could say to you on a film set? 

I recently shot a project and the director and I really got on, but he was extremely impatient. I would still be setting up a shot and he would walk up to me and be like; 'I don't think I'm gonna use this shot'. It annoyed me because I constantly had to say; please be patient, I'm still working on it. He was under a lot of pressure but it's hard to keep it cool if you hear that 20 times a day. 

Everything about you seems authentically rebelious--and this is certainly a quality I admire in almost all of my favorite artists. From how you light, to how you frame and move, to the fact that you care more about a director's passion and vision than the quality of script, to your project choices themselves. Is this just you as an artist, or does it extend to every day life?  

Thanks for the kind words and for interviewing me. I believe that as an artist, it's fundamental that your personality reflects in your work. It doesn't matter if you're a director, DP, designer or any other type of creative job. You should trust and stay true to your personal vision. There is nothing less interesting seeing someone trying to copy someone else's work (and doing a bad job at it). 

Yes, you get inspired, and thus, subconsciously copy to some degree. But it will always look or feel different because you don't have the same pair of eyes. You have a different cultural background or you were brought up in a different environment. You underwent different traumas and experiences in life which all shape you. You should accept who you are and use that to your advantage as a means of becoming a truly unique artist. 

It took me a while to understand and accept this process because it's hard to not constantly compare yourself to others. You just see their successes and think; why didn't I shoot this? But that's not going to bring you any closer to yourself. I feel like we're currently in an extreme visual world where people have the attention span of about 3 clicks. That doesn't help in developing as an artist. It's a struggle that might take a lifetime... and it should. 

That being said, being a DP is still a supportive profession. A DP should always be serving a directors vision and supporting him/her in accomplishing their goals. So don't go off and do your own thing. That would be selfish. If you want to do that, then you should make your own art. 

Let's pretend this is a boring interview for a regular 9-5. Where does Paul Ozgur see himself in 10 years?

My focus has always been on shooting narrative films and I think I will try to keep going that way. I'm starting to get more feature film offers, but only try to choose the ones that fit me because I think in the long term it will be most satisfactory. 

The last thing you want is be stuck in something you don't really want to be in. I've learned to trust my instincts when it comes down to choosing projects. It's important that your agent(s) are on the same page too. Turn down a money job for a passion project if you know that's gonna bring you to your end goal. 

​It's hard at first and sometimes that does mean being stuck in your apartment for 2 or 3 weeks thinking "why am I not working?!" I've accepted that this is just part of the game. DP's are relatively lucky that we get to be on set a lot. It's still the best job in the world. Just don't become a DP-diva and do it for the money!

You can resurect from the dead exactly one director to shoot a feature with. Who are you bringing back to life? Why?

That's probably going to be Francois Truffaut or Kubrick (I know I know). I am a huge fan of Truffaut's work and especially his attitude. He did something completely different and new back in his time. Now you can literally grab any camera and make a feature. The same process used to take longer, and usually required more financing. Maybe it's because I am also constantly challenging myself to never do the same thing twice and find new ways to use the camera. And Kubrick because he's just a genie on so many levels! 

Perhaps one of the greatest things about technology and our increasingly shrinking world is that great talents don't toil in obscurity for very long. The world is slowly coming to discover the insane talents of Dutch cinematographer Paul Özgür. His films have screened at Sundance, Berlinale, and his latest feature by director Ben Brand is scheduled to premiere at the prestigious Warsaw Film Festival later this year. 

Özgür's work is among other things; daring, bold, innovative, controversial, bizarre, calculated, and perhaps even perfect. Most cinematographers are usually either capable artists, or capable technicians, but almost never both at the same time. One gets the sense from watching his work that Özgür not only understands the rules of his craft, but also has the artist's intuition of just when and how to break them. His work is the perfect blend of grit and polish, of raw and filtered. 

As I showed him some of my work and went on a rant about our fancy new DJI Ronin and lenses, he was quick to caution that "it's only gear". The best cinematographers never do seem to obsess over the capabilities or limitations of their gear. Because they know that an image is not a result of the camera, but rather the eye behind it. 

Pensare Films caught up with Paul for an interview. And if you've been living under a rock and haven't seen Paul's work, we took the liberty of linking some trailers and images. You're welcome. 

(Trailer) for "The Wound" which screened at the Sundance Film Festival as an Official Selection. 

I don't know why, but I can't see Paul Ozgur being a cinematographer on a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. On the other hand, so many of these films are bad because they're visually shallow, uninteresting and poorly thought out-3 things I could not say about anything I've seen from you. So what do you say? Would you agree to be the DOP on a major American studio tentpole? Ben did say he often jokes about you being the next Hoyte Van Hoytema. Haha!

Well, Hoyte is next level! Although that world is still unreachable to me, I do feel there has been a shift going on. The fact that you can shoot blockbusters raw and handheld like Dunkirk is a very positive development. Or that Roger Deakins is shooting films like Skyfall and Blade Runner.

That said, I still feel that shooting a blockbuster is probably like shooting a commercial. You need to satisfy the client, which in this case would be the studios. I think the goal is to find blockbuster projects and still be able to shoot them like low budget movies. Get creative freedom and get the trust from the producers/financiers to do that.

The most interesting blockbusters are often made by directors and shot by DP's that have a more creative background. Take Denis Villeneuve as an example. His early work was already so strong and it's just great to see these directors doing big budget films and keep a very strong artistic level.

Robert is a screenwriter and writer for Pensare Films Media. He loves cinema in all its glory. Follow Robert Misovic on Facebook  for more Film Reviews and Film Festival-related goodies

In 2010, a video surfaced online of a girl throwing puppies into a river in Bosnia. It sparked rage online with people protesting that the girl should face legal consequences, jail time, or even death for her actions. This went as far as  director Michael Bay offering $50,000 in exchange for her capture. The girl in the video was 12 years old. The story is the subject of Ben’s first feature film Find this Dumb Bitch and Throw her in the River.

Continue Reading

(Trailer) for Prince "Prins" which premiered at Berlinale in 2015. 

(Trailer) for Ben Brand & Paul's latest feature which premieres at Warsaw Film Festival in 2017. 

Meet Sasha K. Gordon, the star of David Bezmozgis' film Natasha, and one of the more talked about actresses of 2017 due to her stellar work in the film. As Natasha heads for a theatrical release in New York on April 28th, we caught up with Sasha and talked about her character, the film, her upcoming off-broadway play Terezin, and her interesting journey from Odessa, Ukraine to New York City. 

Continue Reading

Speaking of project choices, you've done several features now- I've seen 2 and seen parts of the third you did with Ben Brand. As it pertains to the two most recent films, one word (aside from being visually stunning) which ties them together for me is daring. Another, perhaps, is controversial. What drew you to "Wound", and your latest film, "Find this Dumb Bitch and throw Her in the River"? Was it simply John Trengove and Ben Brand making passionate cases for their respective projects, or something else?

What drew me to John's film was his (political) statement. His passion to convey this message was extremely strong and during our first conversations I felt it immediately. It's quite a bold move (telling a story which takes place in a different and secret society as a white (homosexual) man living in South-Africa). It's very controversial and I guess that got me hooked. 

I always ask directors; why does your film needs to see the daylight? Just to sell the film? Is it only to get into film festivals? Or do you actually have a real message you want to bring into this world? I've met a lot of passionate film makers who are great but it's those who have a desperate need to tell the story that interest me most. I am not interested in making a 'visually beautiful film' per se. I am interested in making an 'emotionally beautiful film' that reaches people on a deeper level if that makes sense. 

Trust is a very important factor in this process. Both John and Ben trusted my taste and my vision for their films. So when you want to create something different (and more controversial) they need to back you up. Sure, they might pull you back if you go too far. But I believe that's the most important part of film making. Trust and taste.

Film making is such a fragile and vulnerable process because, as mentioned above, it comes from within you. If you work with someone who would slash your fragile idea, then it doesn't work. An idea might not work at first and you might need to develop it. It's a creative journey you take together.

Director Interviews
Ben Brand Talks Latest film, Controversy, and Paul Ozgur