May 8, 2019

Andrés Gallegos on his short film “Shoe Shiner”

Chilean cinematographer and ASC Heritage Award nominee, Andrés Gallegos, shares his experience at the helm of the short film “Shoe Shiner,” shot with ARRI ALEXA Studio camera.

May 8, 2019

“Shoe Shiner” is a personal account of family history that inevitably surfaced after many years. The film recounts a story from a turbulent past. “Images of Chile during the 1980’s are images of a dark period in my country. It is something that we will never forget, and often, it is too painful to be remembered,” says André Gallegos. Shooting in the middle of winter in Talca, Chile, provided the stark backdrop. Andrés comments that, “the winter in Talca has a very particular aesthetic; it has a mist that gives a very unique characteristic to the city.” Utilizing mostly natural and practical lighting, Andrés captured a variety of gritty scenes with the young actor who played his grandfather. He chose the ALEXA Studio camera because he felt that it most closely matches celluloid and allowed him to “convey a look of an ambiguous and diffuse memory.” Here he tells us how “Shoe Shiner” came about and how he approached the production.

In 2018, you were nominated by San Francisco State University for the ASC Heritage Award. That is quite an honor.
Definitely. It was a great honor. To be nominated by the ASC was amazing. I had the opportunity to see films by other directors of photography from all over, with a high level of production and very good cinematography. The audience reception to “Shoe Shiner” was remarkable. Having the opportunity to receive feedback, from both up-and-coming cinematographers and ASC members alike, was for me the best part of the experience.

You wrote the script for “Shoe Shiner.” It is a distinctly Chilean story. What is the background?
This film is very personal. It was conceived from one of my most precious memories of my grandfather. It depicts one of his adventures as a shoe shiner in Talca, my hometown. This story has always resonated with me. As a filmmaker, I recognized its narrative qualities and cinematic potential. Wanting to bring it to life as a short film was a very natural decision for me.

You also directed the film and functioned as director of photography and operator. How did you juggle the different roles?

The decision to direct while also being the DP and operator was one of the biggest creative decisions I made. It was primarily due to my connection with the narrative. The idea of documenting one of my grandfather's childhood adventures, in which I would also be the camera operator, was something that captivated me. 

As DP, I was eager to make a narrative project with more of a documentary feel, close to cinema verité. On the other hand, as a director, I made sure that I had enough rehearsal time with the actors—especially with Patricio Jara—the child actor. When filming started, we felt comfortable and the whole production was more fluid.

What was your approach to lighting the film?
The aesthetic of the film is very specific. I was interested in using the cold tones of the season, in addition to the unique mist we have in Talca. Most of it was filmed under natural light, especially the exterior scenes. For interiors, the approach to lighting was to support what already existed. We were looking for a very realistic and raw aesthetic as you can see during the prison scene for example. One of the things that surprised me most about the ALEXA was how clean the shadows were in moments when we really did not have much light.

What else made you choose the ALEXA and were you satisfied with the images?

The decision to go with ALEXA Studio happened mainly due to its hybrid character. The fact that it has a mechanical shutter and the ability to use "vintage" lenses, in this case Canon K35, would help us achieve a very close aesthetic to film footage of the period. When choosing a camera, I look for specifics in the color science and dynamic range, the interpretation of the movement and the cadence of the image. In that regard, I felt very comfortable with the ALEXA.

You acquired the camera and other equipment from Congo Films in Santiago. How did they help support the project?
Working with the people from Congo Films was great! They were supportive from the moment we started the conversation. Together with Carlos Díaz, focus puller, and Felipe Rojas, DIT, we did extensive camera tests at Congo. We also had the opportunity to test camera movements. We used ALEXA Studio supported by an Easyrig at a low height because the protagonist was an 11-year-old boy. 

Can you tell us what else you are working on?

Now I am participating in festivals with “Shoe Shiner” and with another short called “I Am My Own Mother,” directed by Andrew Zox and shot on ALEXA Mini. I am in post with two projects. One is a feature-length documentary that was filmed in Israel. In addition, I will start filming the narrative short film “Grandpa’s Hands” with director Darren Colston in a few days. I am working on pre-production for a series of five documentaries, a feature film and several shorts. Finally, I am also actively collaborating with filmmakers on projects in the development stage, both in Chile and in the United States.

Photos: Andrés Gallegos