When Jonathan Sela says he’s spent “most of my life on sets, starting when I was 14,” he’s not exaggerating. Born in Paris, he grew up in Israel “working as an electrician, then as a gaffer, and then shooting a bunch of shorts for the Israeli Film School,” before feeling he needed to expand his horizons. At 19 he moved to L.A., where he studied cinematography for two years at AFI before landing his first job — “a small, $10,000 musicvideo for a band — coincidentally called AFI, with director Mark Webb.”
Now 31, Sela, who recently reteamed with Webb to shoot Green Day’s “21 Guns” clip, has since shot and lit “well over 200” musicvideos for such artists as Prince, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Kanye West, Black Eyed Peas and Metallica as well as many commercials.
“I love telling stories, and videos were a great way of getting into the industry,” he says. “It was a great training ground for me, as you get a chance to experiment each time and create these mini-movies in a few days, each with a very specific tone and look.”
With his eye on the big prize — “my goal was always movies” — Sela also began shooting some small indie films before getting his first big break, “The Omen 666,” directed by John Moore. “I got lucky, as John didn’t necessarily want an established film d.p., and he took a chance on me,” recalls Sela, who then reteamed with Moore for “Max Payne.” The d.p. most recently shot the hit thriller “Law Abiding Citizen” for director F. Gary Gray, “who wanted this very atmospheric ‘Silence of the Lambs’ meets ‘Seven’ look and feeling,” he says.
“My dream is to collaborate with just two or three directors all the time.”
Movie that changed my life: “The Double Life of Veronique”
D.p. hero: Vittorio Storaro
Film or digital: Film
Favorite tool: Lighting