Good afternoon, YouthMundees! At YouthMundus, we aim to not only be a platform for music, film and global change, but for the artists and global changemakers who create them. Our Artist Spotlight series aims to create a space for discovery of new, budding global talent, while simultaneously offering you an exclusive glimpse into their creative process.
Cinematographer Frances Kroon travels across the world capturing the diverse, and often imperfect, human experience through the lens of her camera. Her work has landed many awards and honors, including recognition at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and selection for Film Independent's 2020 Project Involve Fellowship.
I've read that you grew up in quite a few different countries and your work has taken you across the globe. Can you tell us about the different places you've traveled?
Yes I have! I was born in what was then known as the Republic of the Transkei (now part of South Africa) and I ended up spending four of my formative years in London because my father was avoiding military conscription under Apartheid South Africa. We returned in 1995 when South African became a democracy, and then I spent a year in Honduras as a teenager.
I have been very lucky to see a lot of the world. I have been all over Europe, India, South and Central America, Australia and parts of Asia. Traveling with work has been great because often I see parts of countries that I wouldn’t otherwise see. It has been predominantly in Africa: all over South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya, as well as a couple of other countries such as Taiwan and the U.S.
Do you have a favorite experience?
It’s hard to say which was my favorite experience because they are all so unique. Two instances that stand out were when we were shooting off the coast of Mauritius (a tropical island between Africa and India). We had to wait for production supplies out at sea and got to dive off this boat into this sapphire blue transparent water. It was pretty unreal. Another moment was riding on the back of a truck in Taiwan while shooting a documentary - The sun was setting, the moon was rising and the landscape transformed - there was an incredible feeling of freedom.
How has your fluency and first-hand experiences in various cultures lent themselves to your work?
I think when one grows up in different settings, it becomes very clear that there isn’t just one way of doing things. I think it’s influenced the work I do in the sense of having the ability to consider different perspectives while shooting, and also while breaking down a script. I also think that regardless of the language spoken, people can feel others' level of ease. This in turn effects how they respond to you when you point a camera in their direction- almost like we can sense who accepts us without judgements or self-consciousness. There is a beauty that comes from being just as comfortable in a setting with electricity and running water among people speaking the same language as in a setting with none of the above.
How about different shooting styles? Have you ever been surprised about different ways of working when traveling abroad?
Hmm, I haven’t yet shot in India and I hear that the working style is very different there. I think the biggest differences come down to communication style - how comfortable people feel saying yes or no.
Aspiring cinematographers might feel the the craft is difficult to enter due to an unavailability of quality camera equipment or lack of educational resources. Do you have any thoughts and advice?
I think before the internet and the advent of digital cameras cinematography was much less accessible. But now I think there is so much available! There are amazing podcasts (teamdeakins) and sites (nofilmschool.com), and books where you can learn so so much. Also there are many different cameras available - even cell phones (look at Sean Baker’s film Tangerine). Learning in a formal setting puts it all in one place, but don’t be afraid to reach out to people; ask to train under them and use Google. The “Set Lighting Technicians Handbook” pretty much summarizes a lot of basics on lighting, and Bruce Block's books are also great. And then there are films themselves.
I think in terms of learning there is so much available, it just requires some out-the-box thinking, investigation, and determination.
What drew you first to cinematography?
It was between cinematography, translating and trapeze. Cinematography seemed the most viable - lol.
What is your approach to crafting a shot? Are there certain elements that you prioritize?
My first priority is the psychology of the characters in the story. I make sure I understand fully the undercurrent of what’s happening in the script. Then, I start to formulate a visual language to communicate this and work with the director to find what is appropriate for their vision. I essentially look at camera movement, composition, lighting and camera placement.
For color theory and texture, I work alongside the production designer. There are also other aspects what may come up depending on the project itself. On set, the process is very intuitive - having already done the prep work to understand the intention of the story.
How has your experience been working as a woman in a male-dominated field?
It has definitely been an “experience,” and a sometimes challenging one. I have learned a lot- about communication and about myself – in the process.
Unfortunately, I think it's an innate human thing (for where we are at the moment) for people to unconsciously take others more or less seriously based on gender, race, sexual orientation, but also age, class and height. And it's hard to know, without a doubt, when this at play and when it isn’t. I’ve found it more helpful to make peace with situations, accept that I don’t know what other people's motivations are, and focus on the work. I think my work should speak for itself and for it to be experienced independently from me.
How can we, as those working in the business side of the entertainment industry and as consumers, support female Director of Photographies?
We can all make a difference by doing the internal work to change our own unconscious bias. It does seem that the narrative begins to change with increased diversity in leadership roles. So I think the biggest thing would be for the entertainment industry to take the same risks on, and afford the same opportunities to, those who don’t fit the stereotypical mold of “a cinematographer” as they would for those that do. And for these opportunities to exist across the budget spectrum. I’m sure there are so many other ways - and this article and this exposure is one of them - so thank you!
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I am shooting a really beautiful magical realism short film that explores female intergenerational trauma in a very metaphorical way. I also have a really lovely feature coming up on the East Coast of the United States that explores female friendship and the transition from child to adulthood.
Thank you all so much for your continued support. We look forward to bringing you the voice of more inspiring artists and changemakers in 2021.