Oliver Bokelberg’s summer was unusually quiet, but now he’s back in the thick of things, shooting his third season on Scandal, the ABC political thriller series. Last season he directed the episode titled “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” Currently he is preparing to direct the first of two episodes he’ll helm this season. Camera operator Michael G. Wojciechowski will step up to direct the photography of Oliver’s episodes. Wojciechowski currently takes over on double-up days or when Oliver is on a tech scout.
“Knowing I was going to come back and direct made it a little easier to say no to any projects this summer,” he says. “But that is a rare luxury in this profession, knowing we’re going to come back to a job. We’ve done 31 episodes, and that’s more than I ever expected I would do of one project. I am very happy here. I have a six-year-old, I live very close to my work, and I get to do good work with people who I love.”
Oliver also cites the business climate – features have been falling apart left and right, he notes, and the distinction between television and feature film work is blurring. Directing is nice because it opens new horizons, he says. But there also more tangible aspects of directing that are appealing.
“I’m 48 years old right now, which seems pretty young in the big picture,” he says. “But we work 70-hour weeks. How long can you do that? It's shameful, but there are no residuals in the cinematographer’s contract. I look at it with a sad eye a little bit, because we spend our whole careers getting good at something. As a director of photography, I don’t think you ever stop learning. There’s always something you can get better at. I still can’t really completely define what I do, because so much is instinctual and from the gut. Yes, you can do it rationally; you can structure the scene and light theoretically. It can be a complete brain game. But in the end, I think you only do good work if you’re nimble enough to think on the spot, to turn the camera on and just capture it.”
Most cinematographers I’ve asked about directing mention that it requires a conscious shifting of mental gears. Oliver is no exception. “It’s interesting,” he says. “When I DP, I can look at three images at the same time. It’s very easy. My mind sort of works like that. I can have three monitors in front of me and see what three different operators are doing at the same time and feel like I know exactly what’s going on. When I direct, that becomes very difficult. Because you’re focusing so much on the performance, you look much more closely at a single monitor, a single image. You have to be aware of this change in capacity and plan for it.”
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Speaking of directing, principal photography is complete on Transcendence, Wally Pfister's feature directorial debut. Wally says he is thrilled with how the shoot went. Ten weeks in the blazing New Mexico sun was augmented with two weeks in the Los Angeles area. Wally is now settled into the editing room, where he plans to work for the next seven months. Significant visual effects elements courtesy of Double Negative will also coalesce during this period. “It's a big task,” he says. “But it's coming together very nicely so far.” The cast includes Johnny Depp, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, and Cillian Murphy. Unsurprisingly for those who know Wally’s proclivities, cinematographer Jess Hall, BSC shot in 35mm anamorphic film format, and the filmmakers watched dailies on film. Warner Bros. has set a release date of April 18, 2014.