directing and shooting these projects on my mom’s mini-vhs camcorder, I started to do it as a hobby. I spent most of highschool being the kid who made comedy shorts and (embarrassingly) trying to be a youtuber - roping all of my friends into these insane videos. It kinda just snowballed from there and I wound up in film school. I thankfully got over my dream of being a youtube personality in college and started to lean into my passion for cinematography instead of writing/directing.
MS: What made you want to be what you are now?
MC: I wouldn’t have called myself a “bad student” growing up, but I was never trying to go above and beyond with the coursework. I was always procrastinating and looking for loophole projects when any assignment left room for interpretation. In Middle School, there were a handful of bigger projects that had a video option instead of a paper or other physical poster/diorama and I always took it thinking it was the easy way out. I had so much fun writing,
MS: What was your pivotal moment in life that made you take this direction?
MC: I think it wasn’t until I was a junior in film school that I started to lean away from trying to wear all the hats and just funnel my attention toward cinematography and lighting. I don’t believe there was ever a light-switch moment - I just noticed that I was caring more about the way the camera movement, composition and lighting were telling the story than I was with the writing & acting. I watched my peers who really excelled on that side and it didn’t click for me in the same way.
MS: How did you get started/where did you begin?
MC: I suppose I already ranted about that a bit so I’ll answer how I started finally making some money off this silly stuff. I worked at Subway for... a long time. From when I was 16 until I graduated college, I was a true-blue “Sandwich ArtistTM”. I started to freelance on the side in my sophomore year of college (2012/13) for a company in CT that mostly designed websites. My friend Ben and I would make videos to launch with their sites and they were truly terrible. I vividly remember the moment we got off the phone with them in-between classes and found out we would be making $250 each per video (pre-pro, light, shoot, edit, deliver) and we thought we had hit the jackpot when we were spending money to make videos for what amounted to less than minimum wage for sure. We did this for a while and took whatever else we could get: live-event video, a handful of weddings, so so so many biopharmaceutical gigs, you name it. When I graduated from college in 2015 I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t make sandwiches anymore for The Man with a BFA to my name (a BFA which means absolutely nothing in a freelance-dominated field) so I sat on my tuchus for months - doing almost nothing. Eventually, I had a realization that nothing was going to happen until I made it happen so I gathered contacts for every agency, production company, etc I could track down in CT and shot out emails to over 80 entities ranging from people I would kill to work with down to websites that I swear couldn’t have been touched since ‘98, registered to potentially dead businesses. Of those 80+, I got responses from maybe 7. Of those 7, I met with 2. Of those 2, I started freelancing with 1 and from the people I met through that 1, I have been spider-webbing connections and self-sustaining (sandwich-less) since.
MS: What are your favorite parts about what you do?
MC: I constantly need to remind myself to acknowledge the IMMENSE privilege I have to be able to do what I do for a living. I love the creativity and problem-solving, the tech and analytics, the connections and collaboration, the travelling and constant variety I’m subjected to. In film, there is always some new challenge to work through and it gives me the right amount of anxiety. I am fortunate enough to be in a position now where I can say “no” when I want to, leaving me time to pick up and obsess about obscure hobbies far too frequently. Overall, I would take my worst day on set over a 9-5 at a desk.
MS: What are your short-term and/or long-term goals at the moment?
MC: Oh boy... I feel like I perform a lot of mental gymnastics to avoid this question both internally and externally. I think my goal that always sits beneath the surface is simple: “do more *good* work.” I want to be working on more projects that I am passionate about that I WANT to share. Most financially lucrative projects feel like I set myself on “autopilot” to execute a formula. I want to find a better balance between projects that hit the artistic fulfillment quota even if that means sacrificing monetary gain.
MS: Do you have advice for people interested in the same field?
MC: There has never been a more accessible present for aspiring filmmakers. Good gear, resources, and talent are so much more available today than ever before. Reach out to people! Make yourself available. Don’t be afraid to be “green.”
MS: What is something(s) you wish you knew in the beginning?
MC: It probably would have been nice to know that I was destined to be the creeper driving around a matte-black, windowless cargo van or that I’d own more sq-ft in pelican cases than furniture...
MS: Who/what are your biggest inspirations and why?
MC: I think I personally draw more inspiration and drive from my peers. The competitive side of me jumpstarts more motivation from the success of my friends and my own personal failures than from major motion pictures. This industry is ripe with envy and F.O.M.O. and instagram can either be a self-destructive monolith or fuel for positive personal gain depending on the person / day / mood. It can be a difficult inner battle to try and channel feelings of inadequacy into motivation. Success varies.
That being said, if I’m looking at the big dogs (and to be the most unoriginal DP ever): Roger Deakins. Watch any film he has shot and you’ll understand. He has a uniquely flaunt-free style which is the purest form of story-supporting cinematography and lighting. I do hold a very special place in the heart for Edgar Wright who I think is a master of directing a *perfect movie* in a technical sense.
MS: What is your favorite food/drink-related memory?
MC: Oh man... the best I can do is put one down that immediately came to mind. I come from a very... we’ll say “casual” family. Growing up, we would have Thanksgiving dinners (at 1:30pm - thanks Grammy and Poppy) in my grandparent’s living room on this big, rickety, white plastic table. Every year, my grandma would burn the shit out of the rolls to a black crisp because there were other things in the oven set to a higher temp. All of us kids would lose our minds for these rolls. It became tradition to see who could eat the most rolls/stuff the most rolls in their mouth at once (which is not easy when the bottom of the roll is basically a hard disk). My plate would legitimately be 80% rolls.
MS: What is your favorite quote(s) and why?
MC: I would love to pretend that I’m more cultured in this section and put something smart or prolific but, being a simple man and feeling put on the spot, I’ll simply put this line from a Cake song titled “Sheep Go To Heaven” which says “As soon as you're born you start dying. So you might as well have a good time.” As simple as it is, I believe it’s a great mantra to live life by. I try to look at things day-to-day and find new ways to maximize the cards that I’ve been dealt while I still can. Also, I once (unironically and with full MLA citation) used this quote in an academic college paper and my professor wasn’t happy with me.
MS: What is your favorite meal and/or drink to share?
MC: I am a big sushi guy. Get a table of people together with tons of rolls, sashimi and nigiri together and I’ll be a happy man. Bonus if you make it yourself with friends - just don’t get parasites!
MS: What is your ideal day in the work life?
MC: A late call-time and a short drive would be a good start... The best day of work for me is when I’m shooting something original with a bunch of my friends. Something where everyone is wearing only the hat they want to wear and are most passionate about and where the budget is high enough that everyone walks away with something but also low enough that we have to get scrappy and be out-side-box. Some of my fondest memories in film are in my college days when we built some dangerous, nonsensical rigs, worked literally over 24-hour days and ate Papa John’s on the floor.
MS: What is your ideal non-work day?
MC: The best non-work days for me are when I decide to do something super last minute with friends. Maybe taking a day trip to another state to hike some mountain I’ve never done or play mini-golf at a rundown relic of a place. Surround that with some good food and an email-free evening...
MS: What are some things that keep you going?
MC: A blessing and a curse of my personality is a constant need to do and try new things. I have a bad tendency of picking up some obscure hobby and going “too much mustard” on it until I burn out and cycle to another. I’ve done this my whole life. Some highlights from my youth include extreme pogo-sticking and a brief stint of wanting to learn how to play the spoons. Most recently they’ve been building live-edge tables, mountain biking and disc golf. The problem is, as I get older, I have more disposable income with which to dangerously exacerbate this lifestyle.
MS: How do you approach a work life balance?
MC: Part of the balance is forced on me by literally not being able to fill my schedule beyond a certain threshold with paid work. Sometimes I work many long days/weeks in a row and feel totally exhausted and other times a gig won’t pop up for a week or two. I occasionally look two week out on my calendar to see nothing scheduled and think “after these two weeks, is this where I never work again?” But then more stuff always pops up. It’s equally fun and stressful being on that edge all the time. The best thing I can do for myself is to try and not take work home with me, which is mostly impossible. Needing to be around for calls, emails, offers at any time can be draining at times, but I am also so lucky to have as much time off of actually working as I do and I try to find something fun to do most days I have off.
MS: What is something you wish people learned or knew more about in your industry?
MC: How we fake or cheat everything. Certainly there are green and blue screening but I mean the lengths we go to make lighting, locations, spacial awareness feel real. A great example from my own work is when we wanted a driving scene at night for a commercial, instead of simply rigging the camera to a moving car or putting the car on a process trailer to tow the car around, we did something called “poor man’s process” to film the scene. We put the car in a 7000 sqft studio, used lighting gags (to fake street lights, moonlight, and passing cars), projectors, and even a 12ft in diameter terrifying spinning cylinder of steel pipe and wire rigged with real leaves and branches to fake the look of passing trees. That kind of stuff is some of the most fun problem solving I get to do all just to make something that looks like we just drove a car.
MS: What does supporting local mean to you?
MC: To me, supporting local means going to the Mom and Pops when possible - the smaller restaurants, outdoor markets, tradesmen/tradeswomen. Face it, they’re way more fun! The connections you’ll make and the stories you’ll get going to a small antique shop or local artisan are worth the extra money alone. I admit, I am a slave to convenience more often than I’d like to admit and the efficiency of the Amazon machine gives me many mixed feelings.
MS: Do you have advice or encouragement for ways to support local?
MC: For me personally, I think growing up less financially fortunate instilled a certain habitual nature toward the ease, frugality and convenience of major corporations. Now that I’m lucky/privileged enough to be more comfortable, it feels like an internal battle to break away from the cheapest, easiest path to commodities than I’m used to. I think my advice (and what I find I try and remind myself) is that these people/businesses are what make life interesting! The dream of being able to work for something that feels personal is so important to keep alive. Being able to go downtown and walk right into a shop/restaurant and find something you never knew existed is one of the simple joys in life.
MS: Is there anything you wish to add?
MC: Monique, I am truly spent. Thanks for considering me among the people you feel inspired by. I am deeply humbled by it. Your work is far better than I think you give yourself credit for and your openness and perspective that you put out into the world has already sparked complicated introspection for me, so thank you for that!
MS: What is your favorite book and why?
MC: I am only just now trying to put my phone down and read a little more. Not my *favorite* because admittedly, they are not very good, but I hold a special place in my heart for these books I read as a kid called “Deltora Quest”. It’s a teen fantasy series I’m sure I bought at the Scholastic Book Fair because they had shiny covers. After all these years, I just recently learned there were like 7 more books in the
series I didn’t know about back then so I picked them up on eBay and have been reading them now for the feels.
MS: What is your favorite song and why?
MC: I could never pick a single song. Despite being a mostly emotionally-dampened bleep-bloop, I have tons of space in my brain reserved for nostalgia for some reason and I could list so many songs connected to specific moments in time. To avoid that, I’ll say “Artificial Light” by Typhoon. It’s long at five and a half minutes and takes so many twists and turns that it feels like 3-4 different tracks in one. It’s driving, emotional, organic and imperfect.
MS: What is your favorite location and why?
MC: I am not a terribly well-traveled man. All things considered, I haven’t seen much of the US let alone abroad. But I am fortunate enough to have become friends with folks far more interesting and worldly than me which lead to two unofficial European bike tours in the past few years. I couldn’t possibly pick a single spot but let me tell you, dunking your head in a glacial runoff livestock watering trough in the Austrian Alps after biking up a mountain really was a top-tier moment for me.
MS: If you could solve one problem in the world, what would it be?
MC: When you told me you had follow up questions, I frankly was not expecting #1 to be: How would I choose to SOLVE THE WORLD. Now I feel like a Miss America contestant. I think that ignorance is one of the biggest avoidable plagues humanity faces. Misinformation, lack of empathy and perspective, and intolerance all feel rooted in ignorance in many ways. Let’s start there!
MS: What is the next skill you plan on learning?
MC: Here’s the problem with this question: If I had any ability to predict this stuff, I’d be in a much healthier place. My obscure hobby obsessions manifest suddenly and my horrible lack of patience results in me just launching into it the moment I learn it’s a thing. Recently, I decided I would enjoy mountain biking - little did I know, 2021 is literally the worst time in recorded bike history to buy a bike. Global metal shortage, COVID, understaffed docks, ships of raw goods stuck at sea, a massive warehouse fire at a major components manufacturer... you name it. After calling every bike shop I could find in CT, I learned it would be 6 months - 1.5 years before I’d be able to buy a bike. The day after I decided I wanted to try mountain biking, I drove 12 hours to PA to buy a used bike.
MS: How do you align your business decisions with your values each day?
MC: From a monetary perspective: I am, in many ways, a comically cheap person. I believe that no matter how much money I could theoretically have to my name, poor-brain kicks in and I try to save wherever I can. Luckily, this does not apply to business related purchases, which leads to an insane juxtaposition of shaving small increments off of meaningless purchases while not batting an eye for massive ones.
From a moral perspective: I have had to turn down *good* gigs because they crossed some intangible line in my moral code. I have also taken jobs that have really come close to pushing that line. Finding out where that line is and at what point I’m willing to “take the blood money” is really tricky. It’s very situational so I don’t have a hard-set rule for it. I think it’s always a good sign to listen to your gut when something is making you uncomfortable.
MS: What is the most valuable advice you’ve received?
MC: One mantra I try to keep at the forefront of my decision-making is “you won’t regret doing ____, but you may regret not doing it.” I use this to justify everything from going back into my apartment to check if I locked the door / left the stove on when I’m mostly sure that I did, all the way up to big life decisions about activity vs laziness, travelling, taking gigs I’m afraid of, etc.
Bonus: “Never buy a piece of clothing if you don’t look better in it than what you walked into the dressing room in” - I made this one up so it’s a bit egotistical to toss it in, but hey, I’m proud of it. Also, I haven’t bought a piece of clothing in like 2 years now and I don’t know what that says about me.
MS: In your experience, how do you organize and prioritize your workload?
MC: Live and Die by the Google Calendar. I am also a big fan of physical “to-do” lists. I find it immensely helpful to have something tangible that I can look at and cross off. I will also load those suckers with the smallest tasks or break up large tasks into bite-sized chunks so I can start with a long, seemingly overwhelming list that starts to get crossed off quickly.
MS: What is your definition of success?
MC: I define success through comfort instead of money, status or numbers. I’ve never been someone who feels like I need to be wealthy to be successful/happy. I 100% could be utilizing the money I have saved now in smarter ways and make it work for me and yada yada, but I honestly just have enough to do the things I want to do and doing more beyond that feels like stress and time that wouldn’t make me happier in life. I feel my biggest moments of success come from getting out and doing something with my time when every part of me doesn’t want to.
MS: Are you an early bird or a night owl?
MC: I used to be a full night creature who stayed up till 4am consistently but as I get older, my body just tells me it’s time to cut that out. I still stay up late-ish because I can easily justify lazing around after dark without the same guilt, but not like I used to. My asshole cat also gets bored of looking at my lifeless form at 7am and will single-claw poke my lips like clockwork. I’d like to think it’s because she is concerned I’m legitimately deceased every morning, but we all know it’s just because she wants to meow at me while I shower.
MS: What is one thing on your bucket list?
MC: TRAVEL. MORE. A few years ago I was given one of those scratch-off maps of the world where you remove the areas you’ve traveled to. What an unintentional sick joke that was. I did a grand total of 0 traveling growing up. To paint a picture for you, my family once took a vacation to a hotel 15 minutes from our home. Driving over 30 minutes felt like a JOURNEY to me until I went to college out of state. When I scratched that map off, I came to the crushing realization that my life experience has been so localized. Luckily, I have been able to make it to at least a few places around the world since then and now I need to keep that ball rolling!
MS: What was a challenge you did not expect to overcome that you did?
MC: Whenever I bring up the two bike tours I’ve done, I can’t help but feel like I sound like the most pompous person ever, and in-person, I’ll add a thick, posh accent when addressing them.
When I was biking across France... When I was cresting that Italian Alp... In all seriousness, I never expected that I would bike over 700mi from Paris to Barcelona. I had never been abroad before or cycled seriously and all-of-a-sudden I found myself in a spandex bib, looking like a backyard WWE wrestler, traveling across Europe on a bike with 3 friends. Life-changing. I’m lucky to have ambitious friends.
MS: Looking back on life, how have you or your values shifted or refined?
MC: Well I no longer listen to Good Charlotte, so I have that going for me.
This one is actually giving me the most trouble. I sometimes wonder how teen Mike would judge 28 y/o Mike. Mixed feelings for sure. He’d definitely be pissed that I started wearing jeans… As I get older, I’m starting to put more stock in the connections I’ve reluctantly let grow weak. I’ve spent so much of the last few years looking internally that I’ve let some of my closest friends get further away. That’s part of the goal for 2021 - look externally again and rebuild some of my friendships and make some new ones too!
MS: What does being a part of a community mean to you? / What does community mean to you?
MC: Being a part of a community is about trust, cooperation, communication and engagement. On both the macro and micro scales, community means taking the effort to be involved and raise others up around you. Supporting organizations, local businesses, friends and family are all reflections of "being a part of a community." Lately I've been trying to engage more with people and build stronger bonds in my life with people that are a joy to be around - putting in effort when I may have avoided the extra step in the past. So currently, when I think of "community" I think most strongly about both my close and long-disconnected friends as well as the friendships I have yet to build.
MS: How do you draw inspiration?
MC: I draw a lot of inspiration from the work I see my peers doing. Looking at great work from other DPs and photographers often opens a channel for new ideas / new aesthetics to try and create / recreate. If I’m not comparing myself to anyone or letting myself feel a little envy, I’ll stagnate. It’s all about finding the right amount of negative emotion to drive you forward. I know that I have so much to learn from the people around me.
MS: What are you most proud of and why?
MC: In relation to my career, I am humbled and frequently shocked that I have managed to not wind up without work for this long. I have managed to make *mostly* intelligent investments in myself and my kit to keep the ball rolling forward year after year. I literally get to film stuff for a good living.... It’s bizarre.
MS: What is your perception of a recipe for success?
MC: Human beings are prone to complain, to compare, and to be dissatisfied. If you can find a way to separate your ego from your idea of success, you’ll be a much more fulfilled person. Also, drink more water.