The Mind of a Cinematographer: ‘Rich Hill’s’ Andrew Droz Palermo

 In Knowledge

As a documentary filmmaker I appreciate all the challenges presented during the production of cinéma vérité and other styles of documentary work.  The entire production workflow can be very complicated; storylines can change in an instant because your filming subjects in real life and you have no control over that, but that is what makes for amazingly unique stories with great depth and heart.

I thought it would be interesting to talk with other cinematographer who have worked on Documentary films and ask them simple questions I think about when I’m watching their films.  Below is one of those Q&A’s for those interested.

I emailed Andrew Droz Palermo who co-directed and also was the cinematographer behind the documentary feature ‘Rich Hill’ which won him the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

My main interest was in the technical workflow he chose for this project and how it benefited not only the massive amount of data involved but the emotional elements as well.


Rich Hill intimately chronicles the turbulent lives of three boys living in an impoverished Midwestern town and the fragile family bonds that sustain them.

Q&A with Andrew Droz Palermo


1. What camera was used for this project and why?

Red Scarlet.  It was the best camera we could afford at the time.  We made this decision primarily because we wanted the film to be beautiful.  We knew our stories might be bleak, but if we could bring an audience in with the surface of the film, maybe they wouldn’t keep the kids at arm’s length.  The Scarlet was small, lightweight, has great exposure latitude, and was versatile. I built it so that I could move from handheld to tripod with relative ease. The ability to punch in on an interview as appealing to us as well.

 2. Did you work with a varied set of lenses, and was it a mix of primes and telephotos?  Which brands?

Our workhorses were three zooms: Canon 16-35 f/2.8, Canon 24 – 70 f/2.8, Canon 70 – 200 f/2.8.  In very low-light situations I used a Canon 50mm f/1.2 and a Canon 85mm f/1.2.  I like that these lenses are a bit softer that some cinema lenses.  It helped take down the feeling of digital a bit.

3. What in-camera settings did you prefer for daytime/nighttime?  Did you shoot Flat?

We shot in RAW, so I didn’t worry about temperature, which was a big help.  I knew I could fix it all later.  I shot the whole film wide open, so during the day, I needed to add a variable ND on the lens.  But basically the setting stayed the same whether day or night.

4. Which locations/scenes did you find the most challenging?

Sometimes the simplest conversations were very difficult.  We very much wanted this film to feel intimate, so covering it one master wide shot was not an option.  I wanted to work in medium and close-up singles, so it required intense focus to find the right time to move from one person to the next without missing key dialogue.  Since we never asked them to repeat an action, I moved my feet a lot to be in the right place at the right time.

5. I read that there was over 400 hours of footage captured.  Did that create a challenge for storage and the overall post-production workflow?

We started thinking we’d house everything on RAIDs but quickly found we were shooting too much footage for that to be financially feasible.  From there, we decided to move the RAW data onto LTO tape, and render out low-res offline media for the edit.  This also allowed us to keep all of our editorial media, including sound, on a pair of 4TB drives.  I had a set, Tracy my co-director had a set, and our editor Jim Hession, of course, had a set.  So we were able to cut simultaneously and share sequences which linked to the same media and file structure.

Andrew Droz Palermo is a cinematographer and director, known for You’re Next (2011),V/H/S (2012) and Rich Hill (2014).


Caribbean Filmmaker and co-founder of Whirlybird Productions.
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