From using skewed or “Dutch” angles in Hal Hartley’s “Fay Grim,” to the cinema verite of her documentary and reality TV work, to the rigors of a network sitcom, Sarah Cawley seems to know how to make any medium work visually.
But beyond doing the director’s bidding, Cawley’s cinematography is influenced most of all by character.
“If it is a hard, sentimental or a decisionmaking moment for the character, even though I have been doing this for years, I get really emotional during rehearsals,” she says, “and that definitely shows up in the way (the director and I) design the coverage.”
Cawley started her collaboration with Hartley when the two were students in the State U. of New York at Purchase film department in the late ’80s. Since then, they have teamed up on numerous projects including “Grim,” sci-fier “The Girl From Monday” and short “Kimono.”
“Sarah understands how I am trying to keep the frame active at all times,” Hartley explains. “She was the first assistant cameraperson on all my early films, and I think it was through watching her grapple — in terms of focus — with the shots I designed that led me to a better understanding of what I was trying to do with motion pictures.”
Shot in hi-def, “Grim” follows star Parker Posey as she tries to locate notebooks that belonged to her fugitive ex-husband. Cawley’s slanted angles could easily throw off viewers, but her ability to take quirky characters and contrast them with either warm lighting or a welcoming environment imbue the shots with a striking tension.
Currently working with Panavision 35mm as a second unit d.p. and camera operator on ABC’s “Ugly Betty,” Cawley is trying to incorporate her unique style into her first stint in episodic TV.
“You have to get as much in the foreground and background to get the story told, because otherwise you are just going to end up with people in the middle of the screen just saying words, and that is not engaging,” she says. “So you have to really get the shots to tell the story on as may levels as possible.”
Favorite tool: “Linestras. They are linear tungsten lights I found when I was doing architectural lighting. They make a beautiful warm light that falls off very nicely and makes skin tones look beautiful.”
Film or digital: “Depends on the project. I have shot both extensively and felt at home working in either medium.”
Inspiration: “I am most inspired by Conrad Hall because of his stunning style of lighting and the beauty of his images, as well as the way his work adapted to serve whatever story he was helping to tell.”
What’s next: “I have been offered a few projects, including a feature, but I am still waiting for the right project to come along. I plan to stay with (“Ugly Betty”) for now. It’s my first experience with network episodic, and I’m learning a lot and enjoying it a great deal.”
Rep: Jay Gilber, Paradigm
Web site: cawleydp.com