An interview with cinematographer Nancy Schreiber

Award winning cinematographer, Nancy Schreiber talks to Mandy News about getting started in the film industry, working her way up from a gaffer to a cinematographer, her experience working on Mapplethorpe, which was shot on filmupcoming projects and advice for budding cinematographers.

25th March 2019
/ By James Collins

Matt Smith photographed by Nancy Schreiber Matt Smith in Mapplethorpe

How did you get in to the film industry?

I actually have a psychology degree and a minor in History of Art.  My mum was an art dealer while I was growing up so there was always a lot of art and art appreciation around.  I picked up still photography in college, even with the psychology degree. I’m an active person so I decided to follow my passion of the arts.  I moved to New York after an ad in the Village Voice and got on a movie. I started as a production assistant and by the time the production got started, I was in the electrical department, and the lighting was so much about where my sensibilities was.I worked my way up the ranks from electrician to gaffer and then I started shooting. I’m glad I came up in the electric world as so much photography is about the lighting.

How did you get involved with ‘Mapplethorpe’?

The director is a documentarian, and I shoot docs between my narrative work. I knew she had been developing the project for a long time and at one point she reached out, I had already reached out a few years before that when they were still looking for finance.  It was terrific as I had lived in NY for a very long time, and I was living downtown when Mapplethorpe was active and the whole scene was active in a really underground way.  

Tell us about the production

We really fought to shoot in celluloid and not digital.  If the film had been made at the time it would have been in super 16. We had 19 days and for a period movie in New York that’s crazy fast. Shooting on film meant the set was focused, it was almost reverential to be able to work on it.  Everybody paid a lot of attention and the monitors were barely ever looked at.

We had mostly one camera but we are able, in the bigger scenes, to bring in a steadycam operator and on occasions, a B camera operator just to get the work done and it was necessary to get the coverage in such a short schedule.

What was it like working with Matt Smith? 

For me he was a great gift for the production. I felt privileged to be looking through the viewfinder and watching his performance.  Matt was so dedicated to the point where his character was supposed to be very sick with AIDS and he wanted to be very uncomfortable and asked to lie on different metal object to give him pain, make him feel uncomfortable and help with his performance. He’s generous and serious and I really have to hand it to him as we had to work backwards, and he had to lose 20 pounds to shoot the older Mapplethorpe.  

What are you working on next? 

I’m in Atlanta working on a TV series called ‘P-Valley’ for the same network as ‘The Crown’. I’m out here until July so it’s quite a long run. There are a lot of women producers and directors involved which is really nice.  

What advice do you have for up-and-coming Cinematographers?  

I’ve been a member of for a long time and I think it is a wonderful site to help find people. If you have a passion for creation and solving problems this might be the industry for you.  I find what we do really exciting, it’s not brain surgery and we are not curing cancer but to work with a different family on each project. Networking is very important as you will get recommended and then things can go on and expand from there.  If you meet decent people doing something worthwhile find a way to work with them.   


Victoria Malinjod


Thanks for this article! Really interesting one!