JJoe Saade is a Lebanese cinematographer whose work includes fiction, documentary, and commercials. His interest in architecture and faces informs his work as a DoP and filmmaker. Joe enjoys fluctuating between working on big sets and with minimal crews. His latest work includes Submarine (Official Selection at the 69th Cannes Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival), Gran Libano (Directors Fortnight at the 70th Cannes Film Festival), Workers Cup (Official Selection at the Sundance Film Festival). Submarine was the recipient of a KODAK award for excellence in cinematography.
Joe Saade is currently based in Beirut, from which he has traveled for work to New York, Brazilian Amazon, Egypt, Turkey, Kenya, Oman, UK, Germany and more for shoots that have ranged from architecture to workers’ rights, from fiction to fashion, and genres from comedy to drama.
Q: Did You Study Cinematography?
Joe Saade: I studied Cinematography at USEK in Lebanon and graduated in 2010. But that doesn’t mean that I stopped learning. On every set, since, I’ve learned something new, I’ve discovered something I didn’t know – about cinematography and about myself. Every project presents new challenges, there’s always room for growth and for your mind to expand. Our vision of the world is in constant mutation and that leads to an evolving point of view through the lens. It’s a never ending process.
Q: Tell Us About Your Most Recent Project?
Joe Saade: My latest project was a film that played with the notion of surrealism and the power of the subconscious. The challenge was to be playful, find the right images that translated the deconstruction that happens in dreams, while keeping an emotional truth despite the absurdity of certain images. Many of the effects were also done on set, and that was a fun challenge.
Q: How Do You Prepare For Work When You Get A New Project?
Joe Saade: It depends on the type of project. I would approach a documentary differently than a fiction film, or a commercial. The nature of the energy put in is different in each. Each has its own approach.
I would say that what links all these different approaches is getting to know
the director well, having a drink together, getting to know what their point of
view on the world is, to then be able to complete it. We
get into conversations on the script, the story we are trying to tell, what he
would like to shed light on the most and it’s only after I have understood that
that I share my own thoughts. We usually exchange references from photography
books, paintings sometimes other films.
Q: Who Is You Favourite Cinematographer?
Joe Saade: Well, I wouldn’t say I have a favorite cinematographer. When you watch a film you’re usually captivated by the story, the actors and how a group of people were able to create a world that you related to.
A Cinematographer is part of this big
What I can tell you is how I ended up
wanting to become one. I was in school in “Lighting for film” class
and the teacher was playing “In Cold Blood” Directed by Richard Brooks shot by
Conrad Hall. When we got to the rain scene, I was completely pulled in: Perry
stands by the window and recounts his childhood before he gets executed. It is
raining outside and the shadow of the rain falls on his face giving the
illusion of tears falling down his cheeks.
scene made me understand the power of light. In this scene, light has allowed
to tell a story, and translate emotion, and a moment of truth. It’s still stuck
in my head.
Q: What Is The Difference Between A Cinematographer And A D.O.P?
Joe Saade: I don’t think there’s a difference. I guess it is just labelling and that it depends where you are in the world. In Lebanon, they both mean the same thing.
Q: What Brand Of Camera Is Your Favourite?
Joe Saade: It depends on the type of job you’re in. Sometimes your phone is your favourite camera.
Q: What Do You Look For In A Camera?
Joe Saade: PRACTICALITY. Ease of use. We are supposed to be focusing on the story, the actors, the blocking, the framing. All of these can be done while having any camera. The more complicated/needy the camera the less I could focus on the above.
Every camera has its limitations. Once you’ve understood those, you’re good to go. To come back to your previous question, when it comes to digital cameras, Arri does this very well since you can basically operate it as if you’re shooting on film. Light, measure, frame then shoot.
Q: How Do You Like To Work With Your Camera Crew?
Joe Saade: I try as much as I can to work with a crew that I am close with. The closer the relationship with your crew is, the better flow you have on set. Also, preparation is crucial for me. It is hard to be able to be present and embrace accidents, if there’s not a proper preparation that has been done beforehand. The more you prepare beforehand, the less talk you need to have on set.
Q: Is There A Science Behind What You Do?
Joe Saade: Not really. I like to inform myself as much as I can concerning the technicalities of my field, so that I can create with more freedom. Once we understand technically and scientifically what lighting and framing can create, then we can start creating emotions. The visual language of the film is here to externalize through images the internal state of the character, and without deep knowledge of the “Science” of light, the creative options are limited.
Q: Give Us An Idea Of You Gear On An Indie Production?
Joe Saade: I ended up buying a Canon 8-64mm Super 16 lens that I use with my GH5 and I bought 2 Quasars battery lamps and 2 Quasars Rainbow. These turned out to be life saviours, they can be placed anywhere, offer various options, and don’t take any of our time. I actually even use them on bigger shoots now.
Q: Give Us An Idea Of Your Gear On A Big Budget Production?
Joe Saade: For that I would need to send you a separate interview. Haha!
Q: What Do You Want Most From A Director?
Joe Saade: It excites me to work with directors who are not afraid to take risks, and be open to new ways of telling certain things. I also believe that it is important to be very prepared. Enough rehearsals in pre-production allow for the set to run smoother and for improvisation to bring something fresh.
Q: What Do You Want Most From an Actor?
Joe Saade: To Cherish the story and put it above anything else. Mostly, forget that I exist.
Q: What Advice Would You Give DoPs Around The World?
Joe Saade: Put yourself out there. Meet new people, grow with them. Our work is a team effort. Love your job so people around you feel the same. Then when you get a job, test, test and test. You only get to do the film once and the process is what you will remember.
Q: Briefly Describe Your Career?
Joe Saade: My career always took unexpected turns, each of which defined who I am. My work in the documentary world allowed me to develop a fascination for the face, the human, and to be as present minded as I could while filming. I projected that onto my work in fiction, where I tried to always find something personal to relate to, in order to be as in touch as I could with the story I was telling. Commercials are my playground, they allow me to play with big tools which expends my technical knowledge so that I am more prepared for other projects.
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