Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s (“The Hunting Ground”) powerful documentary “On The Record” presents Drew Dixon’s story of sexual misconduct and harassment while working alongside hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.
Dixon isn’t alone in the documentary, there were other women, Sil Lai Abrams and Sheri Sher, but Dixon is the anchor. Director of photography Ava Berkofsky talked to Variety about conversations she had with the filmmakers and how she framed the story avoided the documentary having a clinical feel.
What conversations did you have with Drew Dixon and the directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering about how you were going to lens her?
I started the project and they wanted it to look different from what they had done before and for it to be beautiful. One of the things we talked about was they do interviews in so many places and it starts to have a disparate look that feels jumpy.
We wanted to come up with a formula that was beautiful. Drew was so easy, she was not concerned with how she looked. She was completely unconcerned with my work and presence and that was the main thing.
I talked to Amy about finding a way about finding a generous way of shooting her and the other women in a way that didn’t feel clinical. I didn’t use any gauze or diffusion on the lenses. I thought if I used the best tools (the Alexa camera) I wouldn’t have to use any diffusion or green screen. I wanted you to just look at the face and feel the story, that was the main goal when it came to shooting her.
How did you stop the gaze from being invasive when the topic is so invasive?
I think Amy chooses her collaborators carefully. We really talked a lot. I think the human being in the room is so much a part of that when it comes to making a documentary. I’m very sensitive and for me as a cinematographer, I want the space to feel safe and I want everyone to feel comfortable.
Did your work on “Insecure” and “Vida” help with lighting and giving it that warm aesthetic?
Amy, Kirby and I talked about that beforehand. I did documentary work over 15 years ago and switched to TV and film. One of the reasons I got “Insecure” was because lighting people of color comes naturally to me and I have my techniques.
With Drew, we chose the background and I knew what she was wearing, but still, I wanted it to feel safe because what she’s talking about is so gnarly and difficult that I didn’t want the image to be that.
It’s just so powerful to watch and so important.
It’s a special film. When I was shooting the interview with Drew, I thought “Everything makes sense. That moment in the film, your stomach really sinks.” I’m so proud to be associated with it. I didn’t do all the interviews, I just shot Drew mainly and set the look, but it really was a team and I worked with other DPs in establishing the look.