Megan is an emerging cinematographer with a background in music video, commercials and feature films. She believes that beautiful and stylistically appropriate images can be achieved with limited resources and equipment and specializes in micro-budget films. Soon after graduating from Loyola Marymount Universityís School of Film and Television in Los Angeles, she completed a number of low budget features and series as a cinematographer and 2nd unit cinematographer. In 2014 she was awarded the Ian Connor Cinematography Award, which is presented to an individual who exemplifies passion for the power and beauty of the cinematic image. Amongst many other projects, Megan has worked on features such as World's a Stage and a forthcoming video for Lolita Leon called Don't Go Home Without One. Since January 2014, Bill Bennett, ASC has been Megan's mentor and they continue to work closely on a number of projects.
Your passion for filmmaking began when you made films with your friends. Did you know from an early age that you wanted to pursue a career behind the camera?
I think the first thing that made me believe filmmaking was something I could do as a career was watching music videos. MTV, Fuse and VH1 were still somewhat about music videos in the 90ís and early 2000s and I grew up watching them. They also had a ton of ďbehind the scenesĒ and ďthe making ofÖĒ content. That was super inspiring for 13 year old me. After being exposed to that, I thought I could grow up to direct music videos. That lead to being involved in a media and technology program at my high school. In our video production class, my friends and I would make all kinds of little films. Some were surreal, some were all stop motion. It was great because we just got to be creative and try different things. Even in high school I was competitive with my peers. Thatís a quality that has persisted to this day!
How important is it to have a passion for the work?
For most creative positions I think that passion is extremely important. I say that because this job can be really hard at times. When youíre shooting on skid row on an overnight and itís pouring rain, the production is behind schedule, and you donít have time to set up the way youíd really like to, itís not going to feel good. Inspired by a true story! Things go wrong sometimes. At the end of a hard shoot, you need to be able to remind yourself why you love what you do and why itís important to keep going. Learning from hard times is the key! It makes the many successes that follow that much sweeter! Also, let me just add that I absolutely love my job. I think I have the best job in the world and I count myself lucky for every day I get to pick up a camera. Itís just amazing.
Did a specific filmmaking degree help your career?
I donít think itís absolutely necessary to go to film school. At least, not for the reasons most people think it is. Itís not so much about a classroom education as it is about meeting people and getting your hands dirty in a safe space. I graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a B.A. in Film Production. Looking back on my experience there, Iíd say I did a tremendous amount of learning and growing. In my opinion, the single most beneficial thing about film school is getting to spend 4 years with a group of people in your age group who want to work in the film industry. I learned exponentially more from my peers then I did from most classes I took. I learned a lot by gaffing and gripping for a handful of awesome DPs who were a few years ahead of me. Not only that but, once you graduate, youíre still in a community of alumni who are producers and directors who will hire you. LMU people tend to stick together!
What do you think got you your first jobs behind the camera after graduating?
Like I said, it was really helpful having such a strong network from school. I had also built up a pretty strong reel of student films, so that helped as well!
Why do you think you are asked to fill the role of cinematographer rather than someone else?
I think the directors Iíve worked for know that they can put a lot of trust in me. They know Iíll always make decisions that are for the good of the film rather than for my own reel.
Having Bill Bennett mentor you must be an amazing opportunity to learn the business in great depth. How does the mentoring process work?
Having Bill in my life has been amazing. I met Bill when I was a senior in college. It was required that we pursue a mentorship with someone in our field. I happened to meet him at an ASC Q&A panel and the rest is history. Weíve grown extremely close over the past couple years. Heís basically family to me. The amazing thing about Bill is that, although heís one of the most technically inclined people Iíve ever met, he always brings the conversation back to creativity and artistry. Even though we love our gadgets, he always tries to remind me that the tools only exist to serve the artistic vision.
I like your philosophy that itís possible to produce great work using limited resources. Why did you come to this conclusion?
Oddly enough, I attribute that philosophy to my love of the band The White Stripes. Iím a huge fan! The whole idea of that band is minimalism. Jack Whiteís creative philosophy is all about how giving yourself all of the resources and time in the world is a creativity killer. I sort of took that idea from music and applied it to cinematography. When youíre coming up with a look for an upcoming project, I think part of the process is condensing your palette. For example, deciding to only use a couple focal lengths, or that every shot is locked off, or that the entire movie will be one fluid shot. Sometimes the ideas are dictated by budget and sometimes not. Either way, I think itís important to make strong choices to really achieve a unique look!
How do you develop a cinematographerís vision?
Iím sure everyone is different but what I try to do is just observe the world around me closely. I feel like you can learn a lot about light by paying attention to what itís doing in the real world. Once I started shooting a lot I became very conscious of those kinds of things. Now I canít really look at the world the same way!
Do you study the work of other cinematographers?
Absolutely. Thatís so important to me. For me, itís not only important to know about the current and past heros of cinematography, but also about what my peers are doing. Tons of my friends are also cinematographers so the conversation tends to stray towards movies. We all try and stay well read so we can talk about new techniques, style, etc.
What makes a great cinematographer?
The people I admire all seem to have the ability to put their ego aside for the good of the film. Being a strong collaborator is one of the most important qualities for a cinematographer to have, in my opinion.
Do you have a preference for shooting music videos, commercials or features?
Features is the path Iím ultimately set on. Movies have changed peopleís lives! I think thatís so beautiful! Although I do love a good music video because you donít even need to tell a story. Most of my favorite videos are all based around concepts as opposed to plot.
Whatís the best piece of career advice you have been given?
I would say ďNever pass up the opportunity to keep your mouth shut,Ē but Bill already took that one! It is so important to be diplomatic and calm on set! My second favorite piece of advice comes from my good friend and former boss at the LMU Camera Department, Peter Soto. When I was still in school and freaking out about my looming graduation, he told me that, as a general rule of thumb, you canít expect to be doing the kind of work you really want to do for about 6 years. Obviously that isnít true for everyone but it helped me calm my anxiety about the need to become successful right out of the gate. Learning doesnít stop after graduation. It also encouraged me to have a loose timeline of goals for what kind of things I want to be shooting, and when. Also, if you do other jobs on set to make extra cash, never be shy about telling people what you really want to do. Iíve seen too many people get sucked into grip, electric, camera assisting, post, etc., when they actually wanted to be cinematographers. Although doing those jobs can help you learn a great deal, you can easily get pigeonholed and find yourself spending all your time doing them.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into cinematography?
My advice would be to simply start shooting! Get behind a camera as much as you can and make mistakes. Shoot student films, shoot low budget films, shoot for free. You also have to understand that not everything you do is going to be fabulous and perfect, especially when youíre first starting. Thereís a lot of learning to be done. And it never stops! Thatís the awesome part.
Youíve already achieved a great deal and youíre career has only just begun, In what direction do you want your career to go?
At the moment Iím shooting short form content, but Iím about to start preproduction on a few features this year. Iím very excited for those because I feel like features can be such an adventure. Hopefully as time goes on, the budgets will keep going up!
Megan's website is here: www.meganstacey.com
Megan on Instagram: www.instagram.com/kmegstacey
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