"Get on set and wear those hats, try those things" cinematographer Pietro Villani

Los Angeles based cinematographer Pietro Villani has been shooting movies, documentaries, shorts and commercials worldwide for 18 years. Peter Villani talks to Mandy News about his involvement with Rubber Tree Productions' feature film I'm Not Here, starring JK Simmons, his upcoming projects and advice for aspiring cinematographers.

2nd April 2019
/ By James Collins

Pietro Villani Pietro Villani

How did you get involved in the film industry?

My grandparents used to take me and my mom to the theatre, they lived through the depression and they would say movies were a way to escape.  When I got to college, where I think you find your way, I took some film history classes and of course I watched films too but when I decided to get into the industry I don’t think I wanted to be a cinematographer, I wanted to be a director.  But, as I started working I found I really liked the images, I had always enjoyed good looking films. I felt like after I had done some camera stuff, maybe I didn’t want to be a director, I felt the camera was one of the most important jobs and the one I enjoyed the most.The camera was what I gravitated to. 

How did you get involved with ‘I’m not Here’?

I had done Michelle Schumacher’s first film as a director.  I shot a short film and there was an actress in it who used to babysit for the director.  The director was cutting her show reel and she saw my work, and at the time she was looking for a DOP.  I got an interview and was hired. We got along and when this came up a few years later she asked me to do it. 

 The film is basically about a man who is reflecting on his life, he’s an alcoholic and he’s dying.  It’s a very deep film that raises questions about the choices we make.  It’s a thought provoking film.  

Says Pietro, "In I'm Not Here there were many times I was blown away by performances from all of the cast, especially JK. All of the talent in the film is stellar. When you see JK Simmons in action you really understand why he is one of the best actors of our time. It moved me even while I was filming the scenes."

I'm Not Here I'm Not Here
I'm Not Here

What was the approach to the look of the film? 

There are these periods in the film; when the character is a little boy, then in college and then his ending days of life, so the film has a different look for each period.  We did unofficial prep on the film for a year, I gave notes on an early script and then Michelle sent me her thoughts.  We would exchange calls and photos and came to an agreement on the approach and that we didn’t want jarring flashbacks.  The three looks are different but we have been told by people that it looks very subtle.  The early flashbacks were shot on different lenses, hand-picked at Panavision, for the second period we used a set of Primo’s and for the third, Primo’s but with lots of lighting changes.  

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m attached to some films, a feature in the fall and another with the producers from ‘I’m Not Here’.  Right now there is a lot of stuff going on, it’s the start of the year so some things have been pushed but we are currently waiting to hear about a project due to shoot in two months.  

 Also, when I don’t shoot I operate. I work for a couple of DP’s and it’s nice to go and help as I know what they need. I know the plight of the DP first hand because I live it. 

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

Get on set and wear those hats, try those things and you will find you passion and your place.  I worked as a lighting technician on some of the biggest films in Hollywood for some of the best DOP’s and directors like; Paul Cameron and John Lindley, some of the greatest cameramen of all time.  You can learn about other departments on set as you can observe, I went to two film schools and of course I learnt stuff I feel I learnt even more by shooting my own stuff and by just being on set.