People: One Minute with cinematographer Stephen J Nelson

Creative Medium: Film/TV
Portfolio URL:
Twitter: @stephenjnelson

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work: I'm a London-based Cinematographer working on movies, commercials and music promos. I have been in the industry since the age of 15 when I worked as a trainee on the low budget Scottish feature film "Chasing the Deer". My parents bought a share in the film (at a time when they had limited money) with the proviso that I would be able to help on the camera crew. I had an amazing week away in Scotland helping out, carrying boxes by day and sleeping on the floor of a local church by night. My Dad sacrificed a lot to take me up there (his week away from work as well as being bored most of the time!). From there I worked on short films and TV dramas as an assistant Grip just learning the ropes of set etiquette and how things generally worked. I knew from about 13 or 14 years old that I wanted to be a cinematographer. 

A few years later I got a job down in London with rental house ARRI Media and I worked there for eight years, progressing through the ranks from camera floor/equipment prep to technical support - the department I ended up running. During my last year at ARRI I was sent away on Quantum of Solace (007) to maintain the film cameras while they were filming in Panama, Chile, Austria and Italy. An unforgettable experience! Since leaving ARRI I have been working closely with stills photographer Greg Williams and have shot a number of things for him including the short film "Tell Tale" for which I won two Best Cinematography awards (at the New York and Burbank short film festivals).

If your portfolio could speak what would it say?

He loves telling epic, cinematic stories.

What makes you different from other creatives? It's a tough question but I think what sets me apart is my level of experience for my age. I am lucky in that I have almost always known what I wanted to grow up to be. From my first cinema visit to see ET I've been obsessed with cinema and story telling. Like Spielberg and JJ Abrams I was shooting an aliens movie on Super8 film when I was in my early teens. From there I gained a huge amount of technical knowledge at ARRI that enabled me to work on Bond - the biggest film franchise of all time! I've also had the privilege of working in many different countries with some great actors and observing some truly great camera operators.

Who have been your greatest influences? Like I've said, Spielberg was always my favourite director. People call him sentimental but ET was the first movie I remember seeing and I religiously followed him for a lot of my teens. These days I like a wider range of directors including David Fincher and Tony Gilroy. My real influences lie with the cinematic/photographic geniuses though. I've loved the work of Janusz Kaminski for years as well as Roger Deakins and Darius Khondji. Paul Cameron, Remi Adefarasin and Mauro Fiore should get a mention in there too!

What does your workspace/studio look-like? That's what I love about making workspace changes every day! I can be working in sewers one day and then in Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory the next - that's the magic of the movies (and an awesome production design department - they're the true geniuses of the film world!).

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