Joaquin Sedillo, ASC, recently finished a five-year run that included shooting more than 50 episodes of Glee. When the show was on hiatus, he would wrap Glee on a Friday, head to the airport, and start shooting the following Monday in Atlanta on Single Ladies or another production. How does he maintain the energy? In part, he says, he gets inspiration from mentoring young filmmakers. Among the many aspiring cinematographers he has helped are interns in a program run by the Television Academy Foundation.
“The program begins with an eight-week session in the summer,” Joaquin explains. “The Academy has very specific expectations of the host. They really want those students to feel a part of the process and to learn the important stuff, as opposed to making sure I always have coffee. They want the students to be in on production meetings and going on scouts. I try to make sure the intern is experiencing everything I wish I’d been able to experience when I was starting in the business 25 years ago."
“I spent eight years as a focus puller and eight years as an operator,” Joaquin continues. “In my high-school yearbook, I said I was going to become a cinematographer, but it took me 16 years to get there. And I was totally okay with that because of what I gained by listening and watching on the set. I saw how, especially in television, the cinematographer has to keep the producers happy, the studios happy and the director happy — including, sometimes, a director who has never worked on the show. If I’d been given this job without that experience, and had to deal with all the logistics, economics and politics, I would have failed.
“I try to encourage the kids to hit every rung on the ladder and be thankful for those opportunities, because when they get to the top, they won’t be pushed off that ladder by someone with more experience.
“I love finding the light and telling the story with the camera, but seeing the excitement on those kids’ faces really helps me appreciate the stuff I may have grown a little tired of,” he says. “Out of the 18 or 20 kids I’ve mentored, I’m still in touch with most, and they let me know that they’re moving up and succeeding. That growth inspires me.”
Joaquin started out crewing on nonunion projects for future ASC cinematographers Wally Pfister and Glenn Kershaw, and he recently had the chance to revisit the world of low-budget features. The project is Billy Boy, and it’s directed by Bradley Buecker, who’d worked with Joaquin on Glee. Blake Jenner, an actor on Glee, wrote the screenplay and costars in the movie. The schedule was 21 days, and the budget was less than $250,000. “We had to resort to those old low-budget tricks,” says Joaquin, “like making very clever use of locations, going with a minimal number of lighting units, and bringing on a very small crew that perhaps wasn’t as experienced but had a lot of heart and drive. One benefit of being on a big network show like Glee, where you are paid well and work for 10 months out of the year, is that on your down time, you can afford to go off and do something simply because you really want to do it. Everyone pitches in, calls in favors and contributes in a way that makes it feel less like a job and more like a labor of love.”
When Joaquin finally gets some real down time, he relaxes by restoring and refinishing old wooden chairs, a skill he learned from his grandfather. “My grandfather was 98 when he passed away a few years ago,” says Joaquin. “He had a workshop in his backyard, and I remember being 4 years old, sitting in a certain chair, and watching him work. I love bringing these chairs back to life. It’s sort of monotonous — sanding stuff down, removing old paint, repairing or replacing a dowel — but I absolutely love it. It clears my mind.”