“As a DP, I do everything to support the director the best way possible. And as a director, I have to focus on other things, far more than just my image.”
A glance at Uta Briesewitz’s IMDB page shows that she has been very busy shooting. In addition to her on-set duties, Uta and her husband have been raising two young children — a five-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son.
I caught up with Uta as she was between two pilots. The first was Far East Orlando, a pilot for ABC directed by Lynn Shelton. And the second, which she is prepping, is called Weird Loners, with director Jake Kasdan, with whom she often works. Both projects are Los Angeles-based, but Weird Loners is set in Queens, New York. Complications, a pilot Uta did with Matt Nix, the creator of Burn Notice, was picked up. And Kitchen Sink, a studio feature she shot for Sony and Robbie Pickering, offered a chance to work for the big screen on a project with extensive visual effects.
Other recent work includes episodes of True Blood and Hung, the latter of which Uta worked on for most of three seasons. Uta says that on Hung, she benefitted from a great working relationship with the creators, including executive producer Alexander Payne, and eventually the opportunity to direct. Since then, she has directed episodes of House of Lies, Weeds, and Orange is the New Black.
“I am slowly moving in that direction,” she says. “I still love to shoot, and I will continue to shoot. But I also hope that I can build my directing resume.”
Asked if she will ever completely make the shift to the director’s chair, she says, “I think it depends on which offers I get, both as a director and as a DP. I was always interested in directing, and I like the new challenge. On the other hand, I’m being considered for bigger studio features now, features that I am interested in shooting. Obviously, it takes a while to get there. But it depends on which career will offer me the more interesting choices.”
In addition to directing, Uta has shot for a fellow DP — Romeo Tirone, ASC — when he directed an episode of True Blood, a show on which he was alternating with David Klein, ASC.
“When I walk on the set as a director, I always worry that the DP will think I’m going to micromanage,” she says. “That’s not going to happen. I know how to switch hats. As a DP, I do everything to support the director the best way possible. And as a director, I have to focus on other things, far more than just my image. My attention really goes to the actors, and to getting great performances, and then telling the story the right way.
“The great thing, though, about moving from DP to director is that the whole technical aspect is easy for you,” she says. “It’s easy for me to block a scene with actors and know what my camera angles are and what my shots are going to be. That frees me up, and it allows me to let the actors fill out the set and tell me what they want to do, instead of me always telling them precisely what I want them to do. I believe an actor needs to feel comfortable within a scene. I don’t like to be controlling. When it comes to blocking actors, I work around what they want to do. I enjoy that very much.”
When I asked if there were other important differences between shooting and directing, Uta gave a response that will no doubt resonate with cinematographers.
“Actually, I’ve noticed that as a director, I get a break more often,” she says with a laugh. “As a DP, you never really get a break. And because I’m an operating DP, I’m blocking, then lighting, then shooting. As a director, you get a chance to go away and grab a coffee, and maybe chat with the producers or the actors while the DP is lighting.”
Knowing that Uta’s interest in the visual arts began with painting, I asked her if she ever had time in her busy schedule to pick up a brush.
“It’s really interesting that you would bring that up, because lately, it’s been on my mind very, very vividly,” she replies. “I feel like I want to start painting again. And I have this ongoing dream — if I can say it out loud — that if I ever should make enough money, I’d build a little studio on our property here in Glendale. In the meantime, what happens is that whenever I have time off, I clean out the garage, which is already a pretty good space, with fantastic light. But before I know it, it’s filled with kids’ toys and boxes again. But I’m very committed to making it happen, because I would really love to have a studio and to start painting again.”