×

DP Nancy Schreiber Captures Life of Artist Robert Mapplethorpe in Grimy Gotham

Don’t tell cinematographer Nancy Schreiber that she’s having a renaissance. That would imply there’ve been slumps in her long career, and she won’t have any of that, even if for a time she was taking smaller jobs as the gaps widened between larger gigs.

“It’s never been about the money, for me,” says Schreiber over the phone as she preps to leave for five months to shoot a TV series in Atlanta. “It’s about the passion, the project, the director, the script and the actors attached. I would have been a banker if I were focused on money.”

Robert Mapplethorpe wasn’t focused on money either — at least not at first. The famed New York City artist, known for his sexually provocative photographs, is the subject of Schreiber’s latest film, “Mapplethorpe,” directed by Ondi Timoner, a two-time Sundance Grand Prize winner. The movie, which debuted in the Tribeca Film Festival, was released March 1 by Samuel Goldwyn Films. The film follows Mapplethorpe as he discovers himself sexually and artistically, advancing from the city’s underbelly to a world of bohemian chic. He photographs artists, musicians, film stars and members of the S&M underground, struggling for recognition even as he succumbs to self-destructive impulses.

Although they didn’t know each other, Mapplethorpe and Schreiber both lived in New York City in the 1970s, when they were in their 30s. The artist (who died of AIDS in 1989) was born on suburban Long Island, and the DP moved to New York after graduating from the University of Michigan with degrees in psychology and art history. 

Wanting to branch out from her academic background, she answered an ad in The Village Voice for a job on a movie as a production assistant. Over the next few years, she worked her way up from PA to gaffer, learning cinematography on the job. 

Having grown up shooting stills as a kid in a family with a long history of art appreciation, she realized early on that lighting is key to successful photography. As she advanced, she mixed the genres on which her work appeared. “It’s never been about one type of project,” she says. “I did television, docs, shorts, commercials. And independent film, which is wonderful because the directors have such passion.”

In February 2017, Schreiber became the first woman to receive the President’s Award from the American Society of Cinematographers. But to her, far more rewarding than the trophy is the good fortune she feels to be working in a craft that’s full of camaraderie while still providing a steady stream of challenges.

“Challenging” is a term that appropriately describes “Mapplethorpe.” It took Timoner a decade to get the film off the ground; shooting began with one week to go before the story rights expired. The 19-day shoot, covering a period spanning 25 years, taxed the film’s crafts departments. Only one camera was available most of the time, although for scenes that required more coverage, the production was able to secure two cameras.

In a somewhat rare decision, Schreiber forsook the popular digital route and shot on Kodak 16mm with an Arri 416 film camera. “It was so freeing,” she says. Film was processed at Kodak’s new lab on Long Island City. She adds with a smile, “It was like seeing an old friend, walking into that lab.” 

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Mark Damon, CEO & Chairman, Foresight

    Mark Damon's DCR Finance Receives $150 Million for Financing Georgia Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mark Damon’s DCR Finance Corp., co-headed with financer Adi Cohen, has received a $150 million investment from Go Media Productions for Georgia projects, Variety has learned exclusively. Damon, whose credits include “2 Guns” and “Lone Survivor,” made the announcement Monday with Cohen. The deal calls for Atlanta-based Go Media Productions to join a private placement as [...]

  • The Handmaid's Tale -- "Household" -

    ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Crew on Why the Lincoln Memorial Shoot Was Worth the Effort

    Shooting on location at a national monument may seem glamorous, but it often involves extensive prep to comply with strict regulations, restrictions and crowds — all for a short on-screen moment. For the cast and crew of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the seven months of planning and negotiations required for a one-day shoot at the [...]

  • Producer and crew on set. Twelve

    'Driven' Kept Shoot in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria to Help Locals

    Behind-the-scenes featurettes have long enumerated the many obstacles any movie or TV show has had to overcome to reach the theater or TV screen. But few films faced hardships as severe as those overcome by “Driven,” the real-life hero-to-zero story of automaker John DeLorean (played by Lee Pace) and his misadventures with ex-con pilot-turned-FBI informant [...]

  • The Righteous GemstonesAdam Devine, Danny McBride,

    How Televangelists, Elvis Inspired Costumes for HBO's 'The Righteous Gemstones'

    HBO’s new comedy series “The Righteous Gemstones,” about a famous family of televangelists whose dysfunction runs far deeper than its Christianity, seems to exist in its own time and place. Set in present-day Texas, the inspiration for the Gemstone family — played by John Goodman, series creator Danny McBride, Edi Patterson and Adam Devine — [...]

  • A Wrikle in Time

    New Zealand Offers Breathtaking Locations, Trained Crews, 20% Cash Grant

    With its heart-quickening vistas and magnificent views, New Zealand is a prime location for savvy investors seeking to maximize the incentive on their next project. Consider the production value of filming amid the daunting heights of the Southern Alps, or along the stunning shores of Lake Gunn. There’s also Auckland, with its magnificent Sky Tower [...]

  • DESCENDANTS 3 - DESCENDANTS 3 -

    'Descendants 3' Choreographer Mixed Dancing, Acting and Sword Fighting

    For a generation of dancers, Jamal Sims is one of a handful of choreographers who’ve pushed the boundaries of dance in film, TV and onstage. With a career that’s included stints working alongside Madonna and Miley Cyrus, he brings his edgy pop style to the dance numbers in “Descendants 3,” which premiered Aug. 2 and [...]

  • Avatar

    Manhattan Beach Studios, Home to 'Avatar' Sequels, Sold for $650 Million

    Hackman Capital Partners has acquired the Manhattan Beach Studios, home to James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequels, as part of a $650 million deal. Hackman announced Wednesday that it had bought the MBS Group from global investment firm the Carlyle Group. The MBS Group operates the MBS Media Campus — a 22-acre, 587,000 square foot production facility [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content