June 20th, 2018

Cinematography of “Ozark” – interview with Ben Kutchins

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Ben Kutchins. In this interview he talks about his early experiments with film and the influence of that phase on his work, the importance of learning from mistakes, hiding the technical complexity around the shots and making them look effortless, and the transition of the industry from film to digital. Around these topics and more, Ben dives deep into his work on the first season of the critically acclaimed “Ozark” on which he shot six of the ten episodes.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and your path so far.

Ben: When I was 12, I found my dad’s old 35mm camera buried in a drawer collecting dust. There was a drug store near my house that sold film and processing, so I started taking pictures of my friends. I became more and more interested in what the world looked like through a lens.

I took pictures all the way to the college, when I got a summer internship with Lucasfilm at Industrial Light & Magic, and that was the first time that I saw people making movies. Like for most people, it was a complete mystery what happened behind the curtain. When I saw the craftsmanship that goes behind making something, I was hooked.

I saw a cinematographer lighting a miniature set from Jumanji that was going to get blown up. He spent a whole day lighting a miniature that was going to be on screen for something like two seconds, and most of that time it would be exploding. But he was giving so much care to every flag placement and every detail of how it was lit. That fully captured my interest. It was at that moment, I thought to myself, “I want to do that.”

I worked at Lucasfilm for a few years. It started as the internship, and then they offered me a full time position in the still photography department. They had a full photo lab and I was given time and materials to experiment and learn about film. My background is in film and photochemical process, and Lucasfilm is where I started developing different looks, cross-processing, over-exposing, under-exposing, using different stocks to see how they reacted. It’s not something that I utilize today at the technical level, but it fully influences what I do creatively. Most of choices are made in a digital world, but the idea of strong color choices, strong grain and texture, creating a vibe or a mood comes from the photochemical process and that time of experimentation.

There came a point during my time at ILM that it became clear that if I stayed there, my job would end up being creating computer-generated graphic work. When Lucasfilm originally offered me the job, I had quit school. I knew that I didn’t want to spend my life at a computer, so I decided to go back to school and study filmmaking.

I transferred to NYU and it was an amazing experience. I shot around 60 films in two years. There were only about four or five students interested in cinematography, and the rest wanted to be directors. The four of us included Rachel Morrison who just shot “Black Panther” and Reed Morano who directed “The Handmaid’s Tale” and a handful of other productions. It was a great opportunity for us to be able to shoot all those films for all the people who wanted to be directors. It’s where I learned the basic language of filmmaking. The majority of those I did hand-holding the camera in one hand, sometimes a china ball lantern in the other, running around the streets of New York shooting.

I only learn by making mistakes, and it was a great opportunity to make lots of mistakes. Some of those “mistakes” I love and I use today, and some of those taught me lessons and I try to never repeat them [laughs].

Kirill: Was there ever any disappointment in those days to see those tricks that almost fool the viewers to believe into seeing something on the screen that is not there on the set?

Ben: I was fascinated by the extreme amount of hard work that it takes, and I was never obsessed with thinking that we were fooling the audience. I am fascinated today still, and I am always deeply engaged in the process. When you are right in the middle of a setup or a shot, and you are trying to figure out the brutal honesty of the story that you want to tell, everything else falls away.

That is the reason why I keep on coming back to filmmaking. It’s the reason why I will always love it. Everything else falls away and time doesn’t matter. There is no moment where I’m thinking about the external world or what I should have for breakfast tomorrow. So there is no moment where I feel that we are lying to people. The reality is that we are not lying. At that moment I am fully engaged in the story that I am trying to tell, and I am looking for the truth and honesty of that moment.

You can view it as a trick, or you can view it as my truth. What is my memory of when somebody really hurt my feelings? What is my memory of pure joy? What is my memory of someone being dishonest? What does that feel like, and how do I translate that onto the screen so that the viewer feels just a tiny bit of what I am feeling? If I can transmit just the tiniest bit of that feeling, then I’ve done my job. For me, it’s the search for the truth.

Kirill: Is there anything that still surprises you when you join a new production and start working on it?

Ben: One of the things that I love is that each production is its own living breathing entity. It’s always a collaboration of a large group of people. We rely on everybody to make this dream come true. Everybody needs to get things done, no matter which level of the production hierarchy they are on.

It’s an ever-changing group of people. It’s a new group of people that work and think differently. The pace is different, the aesthetic is different, and there’s a difference about what is important. The environment is ever-changing and you have to adapt. I can’t come in and force my will on a production. I have to be malleable. I have to adapt myself to the situation that presents itself.

Kirill: When you meet somebody new at a party and you talk about what you do for a living, do you think they realize how much goes into what you do?

Ben: When I talk about what I do, I think that they imagine me with the camera on my shoulder running around and pointing the camera at things. They might also think that we can shoot the whole movie in a few days, and they might not even understand why that is impossible.

People that know me, people that I have real relationships with, know how much I work and how hard that work is, even though they are not in my field. But I don’t think that there’s any way, until you’re there, to really understand what we are doing and why it takes so much time. Sometimes it’s mind-numbing to think about all the details that go into making a particular shot work. You can spend multiple days doing just one complicated shot. It would be two days rehearsing it and then one more whole day shooting it. I think that is really hard to comprehend.

People would probably just think that we’re lazy or stupid from the outside [laughs].

Kirill: It does look deceptively easy when you look at a shot that was done well. I see the final cut and I feel that anybody can do it, but perhaps that’s the mark of the achievement.

Ben: That’s the point of it. Ultimately, everything that we do should be completely transparent. It should seem simple and easy to the viewer. All the complexity of the camera movement should seem flawless. It should seem like the camera just floated there magically, with no distractions. All that effort needs to be invisible.

You need to get rid of the sound of the dolly. You need to get the boom mike close enough to the actor. You need to get the light to remain naturalistic and invisible. This is what we spend most of the time on. Most of the time goes into making ourselves invisible to the viewer. This is where the magic comes from.

It is a crazy combination of physics, science and art, all to create an illusion of something that seems completely effortless. I think people would be stunned at the amount of effort that it takes to make something look effortless.

Kirill: Do you think that your generation may be the last one to know what film is?

Ben: I hope that my generation is not the last one to shoot on celluloid. Film is making a little bit of a comeback after almost being killed off. But film is still alive and well. The only thing about it is that for most productions it is prohibitively expensive. If the filmmaking team is supportive of the idea of film, I believe that it will stay alive and well.

Kirill: What about the structure around it, from the companies that manufacture film to labs that can process the dailies every night?

Ben: In the last few years, all the labs in New York that process film have shut down, but there has been a resurgence in the last year. There is a lab up and running in New York now, and there is a lab here in Atlanta. There are not as many as there used to be, but they are still around.

People are still interested in shooting film. People like Chris Nolan, Quentin Tarantino and some of the other filmmakers want film to be a viable option. They say, and I agree with them, that artists should be able to choose what format they shoot on. As long as people in power keep saying that and keeping beating that drum, it will be the reality. I don’t think it will ever be as big as it was. The majority of productions will continue to shoot digital, but I think film will still be around.

The main thing that young filmmakers (who never got to shoot on film) are going to miss out on is how important the time is when you roll the camera. That’s lost a bit of its significance. You can keep it rolling with digital, running around and shooting a bunch of different stuff. You don’t have to pay as much attention to what happens between roll and cut, because it doesn’t have such a high price tag. It’s not as precious, and therefore you’re not putting as much effort into making sure that everything is lined up to work perfectly for every take.

There’s something magical that happens when you turn on the camera and hear the film going through the magazine. The whole crew gets quiet, and everyone is focused on what they are doing. People that only have digital experience will not be able to fully grasp that, and that’s a shame.

That being said, I’m a huge proponent of digital. Mostly because it’s been a great equalizer in filmmaking. Film is the most expensive art form, and the economics of it make it a rich person’s art form. I have always been troubled by that, and I love that digital leveled the playing field a little bit. You can go and make a movie today with your friends for only $20K. When film was the only option, that was simply not possible.

Kirill: On a more technical level, are you happy with the latest generation of digital cameras?

Ben: Film and digital are different tools, and we need to look at them as different mediums, rather than asking if they are the same. I am very impressed by the technological advancement of digital cinematography.

The only issue that I have with it is that the conversation somehow became to be about the number of pixels and how many Ks you have. People became sort of fooled into the idea that the more Ks you have, the better off you are. That should not be the conversation we are having.

In my opinion, once you go beyond 2K, the only thing that really matters is the quality of the sensor and how they translate the information they gather. Unfortunately, the conversation is being driven by commerce not art. They are trying to sell 4K TVs, so we are being forced to shoot 4K content. The newer cameras that come out are 8K, and unless you are shooting plates for visual effects, that is really unnecessary.

Going back to your question of whether I’m happy with the digital cameras, I think there’s been a great advancement in digital cinematography. I’ve learned to love shooting on digital and appreciate its differences from film. It’s a totally different experience… For starters, I equate shooting digital with shooting on slide film. Both in how I gauge exposure and mostly in regards to where I place highlights. Going back to my days of experimenting with film stocks and pushing film, I experimented on how much I could underexpose slide film and get something interesting happening in all those shadows. I’m using that early film experience to inform how i approach shooting on digital.

Kirill: Lingering for one more question in that area, what are your thoughts on the immediate feedback that anybody can give by looking at the attached monitors? Is it too much sometimes?

Ben: The instantaneous feedback and knowing exactly what you’re getting are a blessing and a curse. I’ve learned to love the immediacy of it. It allows me to work fast. On film, I had to use a meter to sort of guess where it would fall in the realm of exposure. On digital, I can see it immediately and I know how much I can manipulate it in digital intermediate in post. That has helped me and changed the way my brain works when I’m composing and lighting the shot.

I do feel that some of the mystery about what I do has been taken away by the immediate feedback of digital. But it’s only a big deal to my ego. It’s only a big deal if I’m insecure about what I’m doing. The truth is that I always have an opinion about what I’m shooting, how I want to manipulate it and what I want to change. But I’m not a closed creative person. I believe that film is an incredible collaborative medium. While I have my strong opinion, I’m not closed to the conversation. I enjoy the freedom that it the monitor gives.

Just like people can comment on it and give their creative opinion, I can choose to listen or I can choose to ignore. We always have a choice on how we want to behave on set. I think of myself as an open person and I truly believe that the person with the best idea might be the lowest-paid person on set, and their idea might make the shot really interesting.

That being said, there’s only so much that you can handle in the creative process in any given moment. I’m a little ADD in life, and shooting gives me the ability to hyper-focus. I’m able to tune out any noise that doesn’t seem interesting to what it is that is in front of me. I need to stay laser-focused on what is in front of me.

Kirill: How important is it to stay aware of the evolution of tools at your disposal?

Ben: The technology is changing so fast, and to me that’s not the most important part of what I do. It’s important to tell the story. It’s important to stay engaged with what’s happening on set. It’s important to be engaged with the actors and be sensitive to what is happening in front of the camera. The least interesting and the least important thing is what is happening with the technology inside the camera. That’s my personal feeling.

The truth is that digital is now at the point where it can emulate something that I’m happy with image-wise. I’m at the point where I learned the information, and then I forgot all of it and I shoot as a creative process. I don’t engage in the super-technical aspects unless the shot requires me to. I’m only as engaged with it as I need to be for any given shot. What interests me is what is happening in front of the camera, the actors’ movement, the camera movement and blocking, the way the shot is lit.

I engage with it in pre-production to make sure that things go smoothly once we’re shooting. But beyond that, I’m not interested.

Kirill: Moving to talk about “Ozark”, how did it start for you?

Ben: I shot a movie with Jason Bateman around 4 years ago. He acted in it, and I was a cinematographer, and we got along. When “Ozark” came up, Jason picked myself and one other cinematographer Pepe Avila Del Pino to be on the show. Jason directed four of the episodes on the first season, and he’s also the executive producer, and he’s really the major creative force around the show. It’s been a great collaborative experience because I think we both really share an appreciation for the craft and have similar tastes aesthetically. When that happens, when you connect in that way, it elevates the material and the experience.

Kirill: What discussions did you have in pre-production around developing the look of it?

Ben: We talked a lot about camera movement, style and look. We had tons of references from American and European movies. I talked a lot about Gordon Willis, especially his work on “Klute”. We talked about Coppola’s “The Conversation”, Kubrick, Polanski, David Fincher and the Australian movie “Animal Kingdom”. The main conversation was about creating something that had an undeniable immediacy to it that would make it truly engaging. We didn’t want to rely on editing as much as most of TV shows do to tell the story, but to create it on set and capture it.

When Jason is directing, there’s a desire to shoot with the least amount of coverage as possible. It is about filming the scene instead of covering the scene. If you can accomplish the entire scene in one shot, then you should. The conversations were about how we could draw the audience into the frame, and to always think of the camera as the audience. What’s the most interesting way to engage the audience into the story? Often, I believe that is the least amount of edits possible in the scene. It’s something with an engaging camera movement and energy to it.

We also wanted to create something that had a cold and inhospitable feel to it. We wanted the environment to feel dangerous. So we went for a desaturated and cold color palette, something a little dirty and rough around the edges, something that had grain and grit to it, something that felt naturalistic. That was one of the most important continuing conversations that I had with Jason. We wanted it always to feel like we just walked into the room and started shooting. You should never feel a light just outside the frame lighting it. Every single light source should be coming from a natural source.

We were not there to shoot something glamorous. We were not there to make actors look good, to make them shine and pop. We were there to make them feel like they are disintegrating into their environment. I wanted to make it feel like they could disappear into the woods or the water at any point.

Kirill: This is what I noticed about the skin tones of the characters. Almost all the warm skin colors were gone from the frame.

Ben: The conversation was never about making people look good on the show. That’s a strange thing, because a lot of people think that’s what I’m there to do. But to me that’s the least interesting thing, unless I’m doing a soap commercial.

My job is to tell the story and create a vibe that permeates everything. That includes the actors’ faces, and the rooms we go into, and the spaces that they inhabit. That’s what I’m there to do. If that ends up making people look great or not, I let it all fall into something that feels natural. However people end up looking in that space, it should feel appropriate to the tone of the scene and the environment that the actors are in.

Kirill: While Jason directed most of the episodes, it was still multiple directors and cinematographers. How do you maintain a consistent look throughout the season for me as a viewer? How much of your individuality do you bring in, and how much do you blend into the story?

Ben: It’s not always easy to have multiple cinematographers on a series, because everyone brings their own unique eye to the project. I shot the majority of the episodes on the first season, and I would say that even my style on how I thought the show should look developed over the season.

To be completely honest, the look of “Ozark” really started to gel when it gets to episodes 9 and 10. The first couple episodes look incredible, but much of those take place in Chicago… and when they actually arrive in the Ozarks it developed into a new vibe. It was a developing style and we really hit our stride in those last two episodes. There were hints of it and the ideas that were being formed earlier on in the season, but I think that both Jason’s work and my work really came to its highest level at the end of the season.

The most important thing is that it feels seamless to the audience. Jason and I color-corrected all the episodes for the first season and that’s where the continuity came from – Jason and I having our eyes on all of the episodes in the post process.

I would say that in shooting for TV and in shooting in general, a lot of my process comes in in post. If you saw the raw image versus what ends up on the screen, you’d be surprised at how drastically different it is, and how much has been manipulated later in terms of darkening and brightening different areas, changing the color, desaturating or saturating parts of the frame. Most people would be extremely surprised by the amount of detail that goes into a single frame.

Kirill: Maybe I as a viewer don’t want to watch the original footage because the emotions would be different.

Ben: Oh yeah, you don’t want to [laughs]. For many reasons.

The post process really changed how I shoot. I used to shoot to capture the exact way I wanted it to be projected later. That changed drastically once I realized what I could manipulate later. When I’m working on set, I’m mostly concerned about the camera movement, the general lighting and creating the space for the actors to perform.

Kirill: Looking at the recurring sets, such as the house that they rent or the strip club, do you want to have different takes on those throughout the season to keep it more interesting for the viewers?

Ben: For the sets that we keep coming back to, it’s a combination of constantly refining something that I’ve done before and simultaneously trying something brand new, so that it doesn’t get stale.

In the house, for example, I’ll try the version of the lighting that I’ve done before, but then I’ll add something new. Sometimes it’s something that I fall in love with, and I’ll continue playing with. Sometimes it’s something that I look at later and decide that it’s not the direction that I want to go.

The priority for me is always lighting for story. What’s happening in this moment, and what’s the arc of the scene? Where is the audience’s emotionally right now in this moment in time in this environment? That’s what I always try to keep in mind as I light the space. I don’t fall into the same routine. I always want to stay engaged, looking at it with a child’s eyes and looking at it as brand new every time. Maybe I’ll use some elements I did the last time I shot it, but maybe I’ll challenge myself and make my own life harder. It can be the placement of the camera or the lighting. I like to challenge myself to come up with something new. You risk making a mistake and messing it up a little bit.

Kirill: There’s a lot of things happening near or on the water in “Ozark”. What kind of challenges does water throw your way, so to speak?

Ben: I love shooting on the water because it makes my life so much harder [laughs]. Nature is a great equalizer. It makes everything that you want to do a hundred times harder than usual. If I want to put some light on an actor and we’re out on the water, that can be a huge challenge.

I simultaneously love it and hate it… truth is I really enjoy it even when it’s painful. The natural elements always give you something much greater than what you could imagine. The light dappling through trees is not something that I could exactly replicate artificially in the same way that it happens naturally. The way the light reflects off of the water is something that I can emulate, but whatever I do is never going to look as interesting and be as unpredictable as what happens naturally.

That can be frustrating at times when you’re trying to accomplish a very specific thing. But as long as I stay open to what the natural elements are providing, the rewards are great. There are some shots in season 1 and season 2 that are absolutely magical, and they are not magical because of me or anything that the camera department did. They are magical because the natural environment gave us something special – the way the light reflected at that moment, or something nature did that I could never have created artificially.

It’s tough from the technical standpoint. I think people’s minds would be blown by how hard it is to get a simple shot of a guy sitting on a boat in the middle of the lake. Just the simple act of stabilizing the camera so that the image isn’t swimming around and making the audience violently ill takes way more effort and gear than anybody imagines.

Kirill: That goes back to what you were talking about as far as choosing the look of the show, and then something as everyday as a body of water is yet another set of riddles to solve.

Ben: It’s never one thing. I believe in using all the tools that are available to us to tell the story. Sometimes that’s hand-held, sometimes that’s Steadicam, sometimes the camera’s on a crane or on a dolly, and sometimes it’s on a tripod and doesn’t move at all. Every scene, every shot, every episode has its own unique language.

Sometimes we’ll come with a fixed idea of a scene being hand-held, and after watching the first take the director and I would decide that it doesn’t feel right and that we should try something more static. You stay creatively open and trust your gut instinct about what’s happening in front of you.

It’s also about being able to react to technical difficulties of doing something. For example, at times we were shooting on the water and the thing that we were planning wasn’t working. So you have to adapt quickly and find a way to make it work. Sometimes that’s just throwing the camera on your shoulder. There’s some work that I did on the first season where the plan was more complicated, but in the end we just put the camera on the shoulder.

You need to make it work and make it truthful… often that just means staying on the path of least resistance to whatever serves the story.

Kirill: As I was rewatching the first season, it was interesting to see how different the environments were. You go from urban to the lakeside, from day time to night time, from a boat repair shop to a strip club. If we’re talking about the strip club, that’s an example of a setting that has been explored in so many other productions. When you discuss a set like that, how much is there to explore that hasn’t been explored before?

Ben: There’s always something new to be found. You look at each scene that we’re shooting, and make it feel like its own thing. You’re making it an individual and truthful version of what that scene is.

Often, I will walk around the set and turn the lights off. That’s something that I do a lot. Take the strip club, for example. I’ll watch the blocking of the scene and think about what is happening there emotionally. Where are we right now? Where are we coming from? What is the scene that happened before? What is going to create the most even flow that leads into this scene? What should the scene feel like creatively? What should the vibe be that translates to the audience something that is just beneath the surface? It can be an element of fear or intrigue or chaos. What are we trying to create, and how do we find that?

There’s a lot of lights in strip clubs, So I’ll go around and start turning off lights on our set. Usually I would end up with maybe half the lights off in the space, and then I would add some small pieces. It’s about things that already exist in the environment, and not big movie lights that make something pop. I find that the most interesting lights are those that you turn off.

Kirill: A set like the strip club has a lot of lights of various colors and intensities. Is such an environment more interesting to you as a cinematographer than shooting outside in day light?

Ben: There’s more opportunity to play in an environment like that with so many different light sources. But I feel that my job is always to tell the story, be it with day light or all these lighting fixtures with different color-temperatures. I don’t think that there’s one that is more interesting than the other.

It’s simply different styles. If you’re a painter, it’s the difference between doing a pointillism piece with million little dashes of color or using a big brush and making big bold choices about which side of the room is dark and which is not. These are different animals, and I don’t think that one is more or less interesting. It’s all fascinating to me.

Kirill: My last question on “Ozark” and its first season is if you have a particular scene in mind that was the most challenging or the most satisfying for you.

Ben: The first one that comes to mind is the scene where Del gets killed towards the end of the season in the Snell house.

Kirill: I loved that scene. The setup was tense but more or less peaceful as I expected them to come to a mutually beneficial agreement, and then boom!

Ben: That was the idea – tense yet calm. And then right at the end when you think that everything is resolved, completely out of the blue it’s blown way off course. As the audience you sit there and wonder what you just saw. Did that just happen?

We are trying to create the most human experience. If you’re in that situation, and his head just got blown off, you would almost wonder if that just happened. The level of adrenaline and shock would be amazing.

For me that was a challenging sequence. We were on location, and we hadn’t intended to do that with those big sweeping camera moves in one shot. But after blocking the scene and looking at it, Jason pushed me to do it as one shot. It was difficult, being on a practical location with low ceilings. It’s a hard thing to accomplish, as these things are usually easier to do on set where you have more space to control the light. There was almost nowhere to hide lights. We literally had LED tubes taped up into the rafters, hidden everywhere on dimmers, with some lighting cues to maintain darkness and contrast as the camera pans around.

It was a real mess of tape and diffusion, but as long as it accomplishes the task, none of that mess matters. I only care what the audience feels when they watch, that is what keeps me struggling to do my best work, not matter how messy the rigging looks.

It was a challenging sequence, being on a practical location with so much camera movement. We wanted to keep a consistent tone, and it was challenging. That’s when my job is the most fun. This is when I stay the most engaged. It is doing something that I have no idea how to accomplish.

A director once told me “Just never say no.” I truly believe that the best answer is “Let me show you something.” You’re given a challenge and you’re basically saying that you can do this, and you get back to work. It’s fun to have something in the back of my mind and to have no idea how to accomplish it. You get to work and just start doing it.

Kirill: It’s when the scene flows effortlessly for me as a viewer, and it feels that all it took was one take. And only you and people on the set know how much work went into it.

Ben: It’s intense. There are so many different departments – special effects, lighting, camera, visual effects. It’s everyone working in synchronicity, moving props, chairs and tables out of the way of the camera so that we can do something as one shot, so that we can have the movement and the energy that we’re looking for.

Kirill: Do you wish viewers would know more about how much work goes into this?

Ben: I think they should enjoy watching it. They should be engaged with the story and have fun. That’s the beauty of it. Everything that we do is invisible so that people can be engaged.

I read a lot, and when I read a book, I don’t want to read all the different versions before they got to the version that I’m reading. I want to read the words that they ultimately chose to tell the story, and I want to be engaged as an audience. I want to be sitting on the edge of my chair, wondering what is going to happen in the next sentence.

Kirill: That’s an interesting take. People do watch behind-the-scenes or director’s commentary on movies, but there is no back story to how, say, George Martin wrote a particular chapter in one of his “Game of Thrones” books.

Ben: Exactly. Myself as a technician, I’m always curious to see other people’s behind-the-scenes. For example, I’m fascinated in seeing how David Fincher uses computer-generated imagery to change his frames. He’ll add trees. He’ll change a sign. He’ll move the sidewalk. These things don’t make any sense to most viewers. It’s not something that is a 100% necessary, but it’s his art. It’s what he chose to do to make it feel whole for himself.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You can out all these little things together, and they seem meaningless, but when you see the end result, it completely makes sense in a way that you could not have predicted.

I like watching other people’s work. I like watching the way other cinematographers light. I’m fascinated by it. I did not come up as an assistant to somebody. I didn’t work under another cinematographer. I never saw anyone else light a set. When I started out, it was just me, a couple of lights, and whatever I could create out of it. I just started lighting sets by myself, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with great gaffers and grips along the way who have taught me a lot.

Kirill: If you look at productions that you did a few years ago, what memories stay with you?

Ben: I can’t watch the movies that I’ve made without thinking about the process. I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to watch a movie that I made as an audience member, because it’s mixed so much with the joy, the pain and the sorrow of making it.

My memories are always tainted, in a good way and in a bad way, by those experiences. Mostly it’s good. I remember the fun that I had. I remember the joke that a crew member had told. I remember that it rained that day and we had to wait in the rain with the crew for the sun to come out.

Kirill: You touched on this a couple of times already, but I wanted to make it a bit more official, so to speak. What makes you stay in your field despite the long weeks and months away from your family and friends, and all the crazy hours on set?

Ben: There’s nothing else that I can do in this world that would make me feel as fulfilled and as whole as this. I don’t think there’s a version of my life where I’m not shooting. I don’t know what I would do that felt as right.

I feel very comfortable on set, more comfortable than I do in any other environment. It’s a strange way to think about your life. I try to make sure that I’m working with friends. I value people’s integrity, warmth and kindness just as much as I value their technical ability. I bring crew members than I consider friends.

There are people that I’ve worked with over the years, and I’m always trying to convince them to come work with me, and to convince the production to hire them, so that we can be together and create together. I’m nothing without these collaborators. They are incredible technicians, and also amazing human beings. They bring so much to the table, both personally on set and emotionally on screen in terms of what they offer. So I do try to bring those people with me.

The hours are long, and the productions take time. I live in New York, and I haven’t been home since last August. It will be a full year of not being home by the time I’ll be able to go back there. That is a big sacrifice, but the challenges and the rewards are beautiful, and make it all worth it in the end.

And here I’d like to thank Ben Kutchins for finding time in his busy schedule and agreeing to answer a few questions I had on the art and craft of cinematography and on what went into creating the worlds of “Ozark”. You can also find Ben on Instagram. The first season of the show is available for streaming on Netflix.

Finally, if you want to know more about how films and TV shows are made, click here for additional in-depth interviews in this series. Stay tuned for more interviews in the near future!