Q: Where are you from?

A: I grew up in Southern California.

Q: Where in the country do you primarily work?

A: I work all over but primarily in Los Angeles.

Q: What job do you hold on set?

A: I’m a director of photography.

Q: How did you get into filmmaking?

A: Filmmaking was my passion from a very young age. I never really wanted to do anything else. I made films all through high school and then studied film in college. I worked in a movie theater then at a news channel as a teenager while making narrative films and documentaries before going on to formally study cinematography specifically.

Q: What was your first camera?

A: I had a Canon T2i. It was life changing.

Q: What have been some of your career highlights so far?

A: So many. The highlights to me are the people I get to work with. Being in the trenches with such talented directors and growing together has meant the world. Also being able to take my crews onto features and bigger commercials has marked some of the milestones. I think signing with my reps was a highlight. When Natasha told me LUCKY got into SXSW. Shooting in another country for the first time. Every feature film, every new director but also every single time I jump on with a director I already know and love to do another project.

Q: Can you tell us how you got involved in the new Shudder film “Lucky?”

A: Natasha (Director of the film: Natasha Kermani) was a friend of mine before LUCKY so she brought me on.

Q: What are some steps you take to get ready for shoot days?

A: I think prep is so important. Im not just talking about prepping the creative but also your prep mentally, physically. I try to stay inspired. I am all about being as ready as possible for a shoot beforehand alongside my director and producers. I communicate all the needs of the shoot to my crew. I send visual inspiration in a deck to my keys and other department heads and share our shot list with them. Im also just naturally very organized so have notes and references at my disposal per project.  

Q: Monitor or EVF? Why?

A: Depends on what I’m shooting but if I’m operating my own stuff you can find me using the EVF a lot. I do a lot of handheld so that’s an instance where I’ll be in the EVF. I love the intimacy of it -- the outside world goes away. It’s just you and what’s on screen.

Q: Zoom or Prime? Why?

A: Again, depends on what I’m shooting but ideally primes for speed, quality and for all the wonderful sets out there that I love to shoot with. I’m rarely on a zoom.

Q: SDI vs HDMI? Why?

A: SDI all the way.

Q: V Mount or Gold Mount? Why?

A: Gold mount all the way, forever. No contest.

Q: Whats an undervalued piece of gear that you wish more people knew about? 

A: Rickshaw? Butt dolly? Any support like this. Can be super important for your shoot.

Q: Why did you decide to buy the Inovativ Voyager?

A: I have been doing a lot of commercial work lately where I have my own monitor station for my keys and I. I’ll be operating on the wheels and away from VTR. It’s also nice to have for the narrative work where I can just throw it on and create that station for us.

Q: How has COVID effect your day to day on set?

A: It’s just something we’ve adapted to. Hasn’t slowed us down on set
like I anticipated it might. I shot a feature in the middle of COVID
and we were still able to move quickly and safely.

Q: Whats your favorite type of shoot?

A: I truly love the fact that I can shoot a commercial and then a feature film after and then a music video. I’m not sure I have a favorite type. Every shoot is different. Features are my jam but I love sprinkling in short form projects too that are just as exciting.

Q: What type of work do you like doing the most?

A: I have the best job in the world so every day on set is an absolute joy. My soul is in narrative storytelling. As long as the project has a narrative and characters I can get invested in, whether it be inside of a commercial or music video, then it’s my favorite.

Q: What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?

A: In the beginning it was just working on confidence. That has come with experience. Having patience with myself. Learning to lead crews who aren’t your go-tos. Dealing with rejection.

Q: Who is one person who has been a mentor while working in the industry?

A: So many great ones but perhaps the longest running mentor since film school has been Johnny Simmons, ASC. Such a generous friend and we like to share good food and photography.

Q: What kind of gear do you need to have on you at all times when you're on set?

A: As a DP I don’t bring much gear to set but essentials include my shoulder pad, light meter.

Q: What’s one piece of gear that you wish existed?

A: I think it’s coming but cameras should have transmitters inside them.

Q: Any advice for young filmmakers looking to break into the industry?

A: Try to take the work you really care about. Focus your portfolio in a way that will lead you to the projects you want to be doing in your career later on. The more you can get invested in a project the better your work will be.

Follow Julia Swain On Instagram and Check Out Her Website!


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