ASC cinematographer Christopher Chomyn’s recent work exhibits an enviable variety in terms of visual style and subject matter. It includes the documentaries The Making of Nebraska, Levitated Mass and And the Oscar Goes To …. Nancy Schreiber, ASC, brought Christopher on to help shoot the latter project, and his contributions included about a dozen interviews with subjects such as Kathleen Kennedy, Jon Voight, Liza Minnelli and Jason Reitman. Levitated Mass tells the story of Michael Heizer’s monolithic sculpture, now resting at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Making of Nebraska took Christopher to Alexander Payne’s set on the windswept Great Plains.
Christopher’s recent work also includes the award-winning feature Hidden Moon, one of several projects he has shot for director Pepe Bojórquez. Released theatrically in Mexico and Latin America, Hidden Moon also received a limited theatrical release in the States some time ago. A recent screening in Los Angeles, supported by the Mexican Consulate, was timed to coincide with the North American all-media release.
“Hidden Moon shows a Mexico that’s different from what we normally see in movies,” says Christopher. “So often the country is depicted as a violent haven for drugs and gangs. That Mexico exists, but the Mexico we show also exists. It’s a culturally rich place with beautiful people and loving families. In Hidden Moon, one character is a candle maker. Because of the way Mexico is portrayed in mass media, it’s easy to forget that there is this other, lovely Mexico.”
Christopher first met Bojórquez 16 years ago, when the director was a student of his at USC. “I have good working relationships with several of my former students,” says Christopher. “If they want to work with me, I’m thrilled. If they want advice or even a recommendation for another cinematographer to work with, I’m happy to do that also. It’s really about whatever helps them make the best film.”
Christopher’s work with Bojórquez also includes commercials, music videos and the feature film Sea of Dreams. They are in the midst of making Legends, a collection of shorts that depict Mexican folk tales and fables. “We’re romanticizing these tales from the oral tradition,” says Christopher. “We make them into stories of love, magic and mystery, and they can be a little spooky or scary. Each legend has a period element, going back anywhere from 60 to 100 years, as well as a contemporary twist. They’re a lot of fun to shoot.”
Prior to his collaborations with Bojórquez, Christopher had filmed in Mexico only once, 25 years ago, in the Yucatán Peninsula. The project was a single, surreal sequence shot in underground hot springs in which shafts of sunlight and water combined with plaster casts of the talent to create a frightening near-death experience for one character.
“For whatever reason, this is where my journey has led me, and it’s really because Pepe invited me along for the ride,” says Christopher. “He likes what I’m doing, so I keep getting invited back. And as I work down there, I get to know more crew and more people. I’ve put together a pretty great crew. Many of them speak English, and even if they don’t, we kind of understand each other. My keys all speak English, and they tolerate my attempts at Spanish.”
Bojórquez and Christopher are also in the process of pulling together the feature Count Me the Stars, which will be shot partly in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and partly in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. The script features parallel love stories and a measure of adventure. The protagonist is a 9-year-old boy. “San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful tourist town that has amazing Colonial architecture,” says Christopher. “We were shooting part of Legends there, so we took a day and did some scouting for Count Me the Stars just to see how it was going to work. I suspect there will be considerable prep, which is nice. It’s fun to enter that world and get a peek.”
Prior to that, however, Christopher is off to Europe to shoot a documentary, which he hopes will give him a chance to dust off his high-school French.