Exclusive Wholly Cinema interview with Director of Photography Carmen Cabana.

Blog post by Ross Munro for Wholly Cinema.

We here at Wholly Cinema had the good fortune to be in Hollywood recently doing the usual stuff- you know, checking out a movie at Tarantino’s New Bev Cinema, getting trapped inside multiple Ubers while braving the unceasing Angelino freeways, scouting locations for our future Hollywood Walk Of Fame stars…


Anyways, one of the highlights was meeting up/interviewing the amazingly talented Carmen Cabana whom American Cinematography- the bible of industry camera people everywhere- recently anointed her as one of the “Rising Stars of Cinematography”.

With numerous and growing credits such as the Netflix series “Narcos” as well as the critically acclaimed short drama “Missed Call” by filmmaker Susana Hornil (starring Caity Lotz) to name but a few, the Venezuelan/Colombian Carmen Cabana graciously took the time to chat a little about her career.

Wholly Cinema: Where did you study cinematography?

Carmen Cabana: I studied at the Art Institute of California/Los Angeles in Santa Monica- I did the Associate’s Program in one year. I was so lucky and blessed that I booked my first feature during my first year there so by the time I graduated I was already committed to two features. So I thought I didn’t need to be in film school anymore because I might as well take the momentum of the features I was working on and roll with it.

In between films, I would work on sets as a grip or a gaffer- mostly on the lighting side.


WC: Who inspires you as a cinematographer?

CC: My favorite is Vittorio Storaro. I’ve always collected his work- I have photographs of his work printed all over my house. I love his use of colour and the psychology behind everything. And I really like Seamus McGarvey- I have a movie I want to direct in my production company and my dream is to have Seamus film it.

WC: What’s your biggest challenge as a cinematographer?

CC: The challenge is always on the human level. Very quickly I learned that it’s a team effort but you have to be a boss, a psychologist, a cheerleader as well as a creative and technical person.


WC: What’s your philosophy?

CC: It’s always been the same- the film/project is king. And you do whatever you need to do to serve the best interest of the film and put your ego aside. I try not to indulge myself and really try to interpret what my director really needs.

WC: What genres would you like to work in?

CC: I’ve done a lot of action and thrillers but I’ve always wanted to do an erotic film- one that I really like a lot is Gaspar Noe’s “Love”. I like that he really focused on the characters and as a woman I’d really like to make a contribution by making a film that really reflects our desires and how we perceive sex. I also like Almodovar’s films- I feel they’re very honest and it would be cool to make something like that.

I’d also like to work in live action VR (virtual reality).


WC: What’s your process when beginning a project?

CC: I always start by looking at the emotional bits in the script. I interpret the script from an emotional perspective then I start thinking of colors, movement- based on that I develop my own concepts and pitch them. Sometimes when I have my first meeting with the director, I like to let them talk first because sometimes they have a very clear idea of what they want and we go from there.

WC: Do you have any “go to” films that you use for inspiration?

CC: I usually watch a lot of Korean films like “Oldboy”. Also, I’ve seen “Apocalypse Now” and “The Conformist” several times. I also like to watch “Amalie” for its strong sense of color. I also like to look at fashion editorials and go to museums- Rembrandt is my favorite painter because I really love deep, rich shadows. As a cinematographer you have to be a chameleon and mix things up.

When I first started, I used to watch a movie many times and try my best to replicate the look for a director but I don’t really do that anymore- lately I want to try and challenge myself more and find my own voice now and not mimic other people’s work.

Carmen C filming Letters to Elena

WC: Where do you see yourself moving forward?

CC: I’d like to see myself as a version of Netflix- I want to find the screenplays that I not only want to film as a DP but to create a platform for production and distribution to develop these projects.

WC: Which directors would you really love to work with?

CC: It’s always been my dream to work with Clint Eastwood- I love the whole trajectory of his career. Although, I’ve never thrown myself at someone and said I’m dying to work with you- it’s just not my nature. I also don’t just think of myself as a DP- I also want to be a writer, a director, a producer. I feel like producing is part of my soul. But if the universe puts me and Clint Eastwood together in the same film I’ll be a very happy girl…


Viva La Cinema!