So as a new segment to IEPR’s FOCUS blog, we are introducing an ARTIST SPOTLIGHT to give exposure to those that are doing BIG things in the very competitive world of photography and videography. To help gain insight on what independent photo/video guys are doing in the industry, we will be setting up a Q&A style like interview to help bring you guys all the inside scoop of these emerging artists.
We are so honored that our dear friend KAI STREETS, (artist, photographer, cinematographer, director) has taken the time out to answer some questions about how he got started, his triumphs/struggles and what he’s currently working on. Our photoshoot and interview took place across the street from IE Photo Rentals Studio at Chara Nicole’s THE LOFT, which was the perfect venue to shoot our portraits. We sat, we talked and then we handed Kai a Nikon D800 and 14-24mm… handing a Canon guy Nikon stuff is so much fun 😉
Behind the story: I (Andrew) met Kai one day when I used to rent on the “streets”. Mind you, I get a text at 3am (or some time close to that) that said something of the sort: “I am heading off to death valley and need a 16-35mm for some landscapes. Can you help me out”. Crazy enough, I accepted his requested and met Kai at 5am at the local Winco Shopping center. To my surprise, I asked him where he went to school because his face looked so familiar. When I found out that he went to Lorbeer Middle School in Diamond bar and graduated in 1993, I was besides myself because I did too! We went to the same school and even knew some of the same people. When I got back home, I digged up my year book and sure enough, there he was…! Later Kai introduced me to the downtown Pomona area where IEPR ended up settling. Kai since then has been an inspiration and a true artists in every regard. Hence why we decided to host him as our first artist. Thank you Kai.
IEPR In the sea of competition, what do you think makes you stand out from the rest? Do you compare your work to others?
Kai You would have to ask someone else what they think makes me stand out. I don’t measure myself to anyone in particular, I measure myself though the work that I put in and how much I’ve grown from the last shoot. There is no competition in art, but I do find inspiration and motivation in many different artist. We are all apart of the same movement. This is just my contribution.
I try not to compare myself to anyone’s work. I do study and follow some of the world most amazing cinematographers in both the indie and big budget world and i’m determined to be able to tell stories through my lens in a similar fashion these greats have.
IEPR Who are some artists that you look to for inspiration? What about them makes you captivated by their work?
Kai Roger Deakins; cinematographer on Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, Jarhead, Doubt to name a few. Janusz Kaminski; cinematographer on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Munich, Saving Private Ryan to name a few. Vittorio Storaro; cinematographer for Dick Tracy, The Last Emperor, Exorcist to name a few. What makes me captivated about their work is how passionate they are about it. How detailed they are, the knowledge, that creative talents and the willingness to learn and teach others. And most importantly how ego-less they are.
IEPR What advice would you give to young directors out there? What advice would you give to yourself 3 years ago?
Kai Study all elements of art. Not just film or video, but all elements of artistry. Painting, abstract art, architecture, photography, sculpture, ceramics, acting, the language of acting, theater art, design, dance, color psychology, etc. You should study communications and know human behavior so you know how to deal with people from all walks of life. You not only have to manage your crew but your principle talent as well, so communication is key in directing. Directing is not a job, it’s a passion. Only work on project that you are passionate about. Stay true to the art form cause it will always stay true to you. Last but not least, the world as I see it is a huge school. Study all elements of light, body language and movement. How light falls off someones face during a romantic dinner, how car lights cast their shadow, how people walk in and out of the light as they move closer or further away from street light. These are all true motivations that are used in film/video/photography. So… be an observer.
I would probably give myself this same advice years ago, and 3 years ago. The same stands for 2 years ago, 1 year ago, last week, yesterday, today, and everyday after that until I can’t shoot anymore.
IEPR Do you see yourself becoming niched in something? Music videos, film, commercial, advertising, etc?
Kai Good question. I get this a lot actually. Probably because I shoot various types of platforms, but I prefer film/cinematography. I feel I have a niche for visually telling a story through lighting, camera movement, and composition.
IEPR Outside of video, how do escape to clear your mind and bring a fresh perspective to the work?
Kai I would have to say going on a long walk or bike ride always gives me a new perspective. It’s meditative. Just being an observer and living moment by moment.
IEPR What are the essentials that you bring to every shoot?
Kai Canon 7d or rented Canon 5d or something equivalent, Lenses, Tripod, Slider Dolly, Lighting kit (depending on shoot), Filters, Shot list, Sun Bounce/Reflector, Batteries, Memory cards, granola (if I ever do decide to eat, I have a snack waiting for me), and my vision.
IEPR What kind of software and hardware are you using in post production? What would be your ideal setup?
Kai I would love to eventually have dual 40″ HD LCD monitors, 2x Mac Pro 23″, monitor speakers, and who knows what else I need for a real 4k editing studio, but I’m not an editor. I’m currently using a 21.5” iMac with Final Cut Pro 7. It’s a pretty mediocre set up but I don’t plan on editing for the rest of my life, so this works. I’ll still want to edit my own personal projects, but I’ll stay in my lane and let the editor edit.
IEPR Tell us about a recent shoot. What were some challenges that you came across?
Kai My crew and I had a music video shoot a few weeks ago for an artist named Casandra at Venice Beach. This particular track included the very talented musician Ziggy Marley. This particular shoot was Guerilla style and we were on a strict time schedule only allowing us 2 hours with Ziggy. We hired security and had every bit of this shoot planned out strategically. Our Make-Up Artist and Hair Stylist did a wonderful job with Cassandra while the production crew went over some of the details of the shoot. We all meet up at the first location as we wait for Ziggy to arrive. Before he arrived there was already a buzz created. It’s venice, so we expected it. As soon as Ziggy arrived we started shooting. Here comes our first challenge. Ziggy didn’t know his lyrics. So we gave him some time to familiarize himself with the track again. We finally start and not even half way into the song a security guard walked on out set and demanded that we shot down the shoot. His publicist was already nervous about us not having permits, and at that point wanted to get Ziggy out of there and cancel the shoot. One of the producers yells at me from across the set and tells me to shut it down. From my experience as a indie filmmaker I learned to never stop rolling until someone enters the frame and disrupts the shoot entirely. So I kept recording. Eventually one of the producers takes the guard aside and talks him into letting us shoot for another 5 minutes. Fortunately that’s all we really needed from that location, so we moved to the 2nd location and continued our shoot. We successfully finished the shoot without any other interruptions.
IEPR You shot the video for Pro’s “Bigger than you know”. Tell us about the process that came to be and were you happy with the end result.
Kai Well a good friend of mines Pro invited me over to his studio a.k.a. IE Lens Rentals and had me listen to some of his new and old tracks. We discussed some of the visuals that he saw per track and eventually we decided to create a video for “Bigger than you know”. Pro was open enough to give me some creative freedom on the visuals so I put together a treatment for it and moved to the next stage. I called up a friend of a friend and asked if we could use his parents house for the location. I didn’t share anything else with Pro until we got there. It’s was built on nothing but trust and our connection. As soon as we got there he was in awe. We walked around the various locations in the house as we went over the shot list and direction we wanted to go. Once everything was set up and in place, we proceeded to filming. This shoot was all about his energy and I wanted that energy to build up throughout the shoot and build up even more until the time was right. Knowing this, I shoot all the B-roll slow motion backstory scenes first. As time went by you can sense Pro’s anticipation and energy build up. He even starting rapping in camera for a second and I stopped recording because I didn’t feel the time was right. As time went on and we continued to shoot more b-roll, his anticipation built up even more and you can feel it. Once we concluded the b-roll scenes we move to the location for his performance shots. The build up couldn’t have been perfect. As soon as the music started his energy resinated throughout the camera, lens and home. That was exactly what I wanted. And it showed during playback. The look in his eyes said it all. We were both ecstatic about what had just happened. I was definitely happy with what we captured. Another successful shoot.
©2012 Andrew Manley | Canon 5d Mark II | Canon 24mm TSE | f/3.5 | 1/160th | ISO 1600
IEPR Do you believe in art schools? If there is a young adult out there and is on the fence about going to a technical school with huge loans, what would you say to that person?
Kai I believe everyone has their own paths. Weather it’s art school or life school, everyone should explore that freedom and decide which path is better for themselves. My decision to teach myself was based on a drive and determination to learn, develop and grow. But not everyone has that same drive. Some people have to be pushed or told what to learn and do. It takes a strong person either way you like at it, but you have to be strong dedicated to learning everyday. No just until you feel comfortable with your skill set or style, but this is an everyday thing. Anything that’s not growing is dead. Now take that to your grave.
IEPR On a scale of 100, how much do you think success has to do with business vs talent? (for example, 50% business, 50% talent)
Kai I think it depends on how one measures success. For me it’s 100% talent. I can shoot a short film once a month, store it on my computer for only me to see and if I were happy with the results and fully put my entire being into the project every single month then I would consider that successful. We all have different perspectives in life and for me, being able to do my passion everyday is a success. Everything else that comes with it is exactly what it is…everything else.
So we hoped you guys learned a little bit about someone making moves in the industry. With some patience, hard work and a little bit of luck… things may just come together for one of you and when that time comes, we will be looking for you. Thank you Kai for taking time out of your very busy schedule to sit down with us. We are honored by your work, your humility and your path to greatness. We will be on the look out for all of your future work.