Cine-Books: Interview with Grand Prize Winner Stephan Partipilo

First of all how did you decide to become a photographer? What did you start with? What are you doing right now? 

My parents bought me a Canon PowerShot S5 IS so I could take a photography class back in high school and be with my friends. There was no intention of being serious or going “pro”.

I took my friends senior photos, band photos, got a job working at a retail photo studio in a mall, assisted other photographers at weddings & events. I loved getting to meet people often and that every photoshoot was different from the last. I liked the project-to-project aspect of the work & being able to hang out with people so I decided to try to make this a career. Today, I use a Canon 5D Mark IV and am focusing on building my business brand & networking.

How did the idea of shooting the project in a format of Photo Story – photo serie with a plot – come up to your mind? What new experience did you get? Why is this format interesting for you? Do you plan to get back to this genre? 

I grew up interested in making movies and films. I learned about Photo Roman storytelling while enrolled in the Recording Radio Film Connection writer/producer/director education program for film making. I had never made a photo story before but it seemed like a fairly easy thing to do. The experience would help me prepare for making actual videos later on. I saw this as a great experience opportunity. I might make another one someday. It was a lot of fun.

“The Night Before” – tell us how did the idea for this story appear? What inspired you: a film plot, a tale or a story from a real life? How would you define the main message that you want to convey?

I played a video game called Life is Strange. It’s about a friendship between two girls, their peers, & how actions affect one another like a butterfly effect, mixed in with a serial-killer plot that starts out in the background but later surfaces as the main focus in the end. I really enjoyed the visuals, atmosphere, & just everything about that game experience. I wanted to create an experience that provided a similar feel by turning something completely normal into something dark. The Night Before seemed like a very “doable” idea. 

It also seemed like a realistic & relevant concept. At the time (and today still) violence against women is a highlighted topic. Every once in a while you might see a guy approach a girl in public and nobody knows what his intentions are. Historically & statistically the number one threat to a woman is a man. That could be any man; someone close to her or a stranger. I chose to focus on the stranger but also I wanted her to fight him. I didn’t know how to show images of a fight without them looking comical or silly -I still laugh at the shot of her slamming his head with her purse. So that was a challenge. But the message was basically “fight back”. I knew I needed to have a message like that in there because I think the most appealing entertainment empowers us in someway. The most classic example of this is fighting a bad guy & winning or surviving. I added the quote at the beginning to show that part of fighting back means continuing to move forward and not giving up. Don’t let someone else, a bad day, or a bad night ruin everything for you. Wake up the next day and keep moving forward.

Tell us, how were the images of the characters created and a few words about the actors who were staring as the main characters in your story.  

I wanted to keep this story as simple as possible. The characters don’t know each other and neither does the audience. I also thought that explaining the characters wasn’t necessary to tell a good short story. We don’t need to know who they are, we just need to see them do things.

I had worked with Jennelle (the female character) in the past and she recommended not only the outfits/costumes/wardrobes, but also her husband for the role of the “bad guy”. Working with a husband/wife team was the best. It definitely helped that they are both experienced both in front of and behind a camera. It was a perfect collaboration.

Tell us how did you prepare for the shooting – what did you start with and what was considered at the last moment? Did you follow the storyboard or were you improvising? What was the most difficult about the preparation? 

The first thing I did was create a Look Book pdf file. I used screenshots of scenes from Netflix & Life is Strange to convey my vision board. After I had the concept, I location scouted, created a shot list, story boarded with paper and pen, refined the shot list, and then scheduled dates with the team. One last minute consideration was when we shot the chase & attack scene. It was daylight. We waited maybe three hours for it to become much darker. Then we shot the chase & attack scenes all over again in low light. Jennelle & her husband were good sports about it.

The shooting of “The Night Before” took place in different locations including public places. How did you choose the location? Were there “surprises” on locations? 

Those are all places I grew up with in my hometown, Salem, Oregon. I’ve always liked those places and new I wanted to work with those locations. There weren’t really any surprises.  Maybe it was a slight surprise they were okay with us taking photos at their locations but I knew some of the people working there at the time.

Tell us about the crew - who were working on the project and how were the tasks spread? What was your shooting day like? What scene was the most difficult?

The crew consisted of myself (writer-director-camera operator), Jennelle (female character), & Ryan (male attacker). I didn’t think the project needed any more people. During the concept and development I had some help from a mentor and the student advisor I often spoke with during my time at Recording Radio Film Connection: Erin Galey & Elliot Campos. Shooting day was all day. We got together at maybe 10am and shot till maybe 9pm. In between we picked up Jennelle’s husband from his work & ate food. The most difficult scene to shoot was probably the chase scene. There were lots of people walking around and we did some waiting here and there especially to get the shots of them walking through or opening doors.

The Photo Story “The Night Before” looks very cinematographic. Tell us what equipment did you use? How did you set the lightning: according to the schemes or were you deciding right on the locations? 

I used a Canon 5D Mark IV and 50mm lens. The scenes shot in public were lit using the lighting already on location plus natural lighting from the sun. The scenes shot inside the home were lit by strategically opening and closing windows to highlight the subject and darken the backgrounds. The scheme was to use high contrast and harsh shadows to visually convey a filter of drama. The location scouting helped discover the angles to take the pictures from prior to shooting with Jennelle & Ryan there.

What did you like most about the shooting? 

Hanging out and collaborating with Jennelle & Ryan.

What would you advise photographers who will want to try shooting a Photo Story? 

Have fun and tell a short simple story. Run your ideas by friends, mentors, or advisors if you can. Credit everyone appropriately. Spend time planning & preparing before doing any actual shooting. All of those things worked for me.