Monday, April 11, 2016

Filmmaking 101: Q&A with Cinematographer Ralph Linhardt

Ralph Linhardt

One of the best things you can do when you are trying to do break into the filmmaking world is to find a mentor. Well, I found one in Ralph Linhardt after he came to our school one time. I sat down with him the other day and got some great thoughts from him on what it takes to be the best filmmaker possible. 

What made you decide you wanted to be a cinematographer?

I’m not sure I would say I love working in the film industry.  The hours are very long. The best and worst of you will come out and not always at the right times. You are always fighting to get the near impossible, that is to say, something watchable. But when it does happen, it is magic and it hits you like a freight train. You love the possibility of making something good, so you put up with all the rest. I started as a still photographer when my Dad gave me an old Praktina 35mm camera when I was 11. After High schools I wanted to tell stories. I realized that many of my most emotional experiences had been watching movies so I wanted to join in making those events. I don’t think there is a more effective medium to express thoughts and ideas than movies. I also like being with people. Still photography is a lonely business. I’m still up at dawn to catch the sunrise but with film making they are more people around!

Why do you love working in the film industry?

One of my favorite quotes is from the director Joseph Mankiewicz. “A touch of clairvoyance would have come in handy… But you are never clairvoyant… you have no way of knowing, actually, that the film won’t wind up on it’s ass. So you go right on, functioning as you always have. You’ve done your best on the hits; you’ve done your best on the flops, too. In the end, the outcome seems to depend upon a magical intangible that no one has ever been able to define-much less control. I wouldn’t  have it any other way. That intangible is what the theater is all about.”

Many people want to join the film industry but they don’t know what the path looks like. Obviously it is different for everyone. What was your journey like to “making it” in the industry?

When I’ve "made it” I’ll let you know…. More important I think is defining early in your career what “making it” looks like for yourself. For me, I have traveled the world and made more money than I ever thought I would.  My dear wife of 33 years figured we would be starving our whole lives while I chased making films. We are still very happily married and I think our kids mostly like us. But I have not made enough of the kind of films I hoped I would and I don’t feel done yet. So have I made it?… Well I’ve made it this far and I’m very thankful. So far I did not loose the important things like family and self so often lost in the film business. I’ve had a hell of a ride!

What was the best thing you learned in film school?

To get out. And, thank God no one will ever see my student films. With that said, AFI was a very good experience. it was a film business Mini Me! All the same crazy stuff happens out in the professional world.  People at the highest levels of the industry, with every advantage, still make movies that go way over budget and still suck! It’s very hard to make a film.

What do you wish someone else told you before you started working in the film industry?

You can’t control it! You can do your best but there are so many factors that can ruin your film or your career. You do your best work when you are along for the ride. Work on your personal stuff!  See a therapist often!  What ever demons you have, making films will feed them and it won't be pretty! I try to read some of my favorite 14th century Monk before every shoot. Thomas a’ Kempis“The imitation of Christ” it really helps.  Here’s one of my favorites.


UNTIL God ordains otherwise, a man ought to bear patiently whatever he cannot correct in himself and in others. Consider it better thus -- perhaps to try your patience and to test you, for without such patience and trial your merits are of little account. Nevertheless, under such difficulties you should pray that God will consent to help you bear them calmly.

If, after being admonished once or twice, a person does not amend, do not argue with him but commit the whole matter to God that His will and honor may be furthered in all His servants, for God knows well how to turn evil to good. Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure.

If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves. Their great liberty displeases us, yet we would not be denied what we ask. We would have them bound by laws, yet we will allow ourselves to be restrained in nothing. Hence, it is clear how seldom we think of others as we do of ourselves.

If all were perfect, what should we have to suffer from others for God's sake? But God has so ordained, that we may learn to bear with one another's burdens, for there is no man without fault, no man without burden, no man sufficient to himself nor wise enough. Hence we must support one another, console one another, mutually help, counsel, and advise, for the measure of every man's virtue is best revealed in time of adversity -- adversity that does not weaken a man but rather shows what he is.

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