We had the good fortune of connecting with Alexander D. Paul and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alexander D., putting aside the decision to work for yourself, what other decisions were critical to your success?
To be honest I think the decision that had the most impact on both my career and my life happened when I was 17. At that time I was a freshman at the University of Rhode Island. I was a history major but I realized that what I really wanted to do was make movies! I didn’t really know what that meant but some how I got it into my head that what I really needed to do was transfer to Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts for film studies. I don’t remember how I even learned about Emerson but I remember my first few days like they just happened. Boston seemed like such a beautiful and old city and the student body resembled a The Strokes cover band. It all felt new and familiar. I remember thinking I had found my place and my people. That was true for the entire time I studied there. It was through Emerson that I discovered my love of cinematography and it was through Emerson that I was able to find an internship in Los Angeles where my career began. Since graduating and moving to Los Angeles I have worked all over the globe from the amazon to the arctic circle while also growing strong roots in Los Angeles. Life always has its ups and downs, but on the whole I am a happy person who is satisfied in both professional in a personal life…most of the time 🙂 I think much of this satisfaction began when I made the decision to transfer to Emerson College.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I don’t actually know if I think of myself as an artist. My job is director of photography, otherwise known as cinematographer. It’s funny because many people don’t really know what that job is. In a quick nutshell I’m the person on a film set who photographs the film! My role is to work with directors and writers to execute technically the project they are making. So just as a photographer takes one photo for a magazine cover, I take many many many photos a second for movies and tv shows(hence motion picture).
I think to date I’ve been really fortunate to have been a part of so many different projects that I’m really proud of. Most recently I did a project on Netflix called, “Street Food Latin America”. It was a really great job where I was able to go Columbia, Brazil, and Mexico to explore the local street food for the same producers of “Chef’s Table”. It is the second season of the “Street Food” series, the first season being in Asia. I’m also very proud of that project as well.
The arc of my career basically goes like this. I moved to Los Angeles from Boston for my final semester of college with an internship at Partizan Entertainment. There I began PAing on music video sets where I met current collaborators like directors Clay Jeter and David Gelb who were only a year or two older than I was. I also met fellow cinematographer Will Basanta at this time and became one of his camera assistants. I finished my semester and internship and stayed in LA, where I freelanced as a non-union film loader and 2nd assistant camera person for about a year. In this time, I met a woman named Emily Goodwin who was a union loader on the TV series “My Name is Earl”. She introduced me to the camera department there and I was hired as a camera PA. This is really where my training as a camera person began. From there, I joined the union and became a loader until working on the 2nd season of “American Horror Story”. It was on that show I was promoted by Michael Goi, then president of the American Society of Cinematographers, to 2nd AC. After that, I was hired by Will Basanta to be the 1st AC on “Chef’s Table”. After several seasons of that, the producers of “Chef’s Table” gave me the opportunity to move up to Director of Photography for a new series called “Street Food”. Since then, I have worked on numerous projects in this new role of Director of Photography (or cinematographer). That’s it in a very dry nutshell.
I think that compared to many others, I have had a smooth road. That’s not to say that I haven’t had to work hard. I think the hardest thing for me in the beginning was finding a sense of belonging in a new place that seemed so far from home. There were at times long stretches of unemployment where I worried I was never going to work again and before I joined the union, I certainly was taken advantage of. Sometimes I would do a job and never get paid! So, I have certainly struggled, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge that others have struggled more than I have. I’ve had a lot of privilege as a cis white man in an industry dominated by cis white men.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to not compare my career to others. My life’s journey will move at its own pace and my successes and failures will fall in line in their own time. I’ve learned to be happy with what I have(mostly) and to know how to have the patience to work for what I want(again mostly). I’ve learned that things don’t just happen over night. But by keeping my head down, working hard, and knowing what my goals are I’ve been able to build a stable life with lots of adventure! And a 14 year old cat named Zorro!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There is a story I love to tell over a beer. It’s about Tony Hart. I met Tony when he was filling in for someone on the TruTV series “Adam Ruins Everything.” At that time we were both what is called a “2nd AC”. It’s a tough job but most known in broader culture as the person on a film set who claps that little clap board and says, “Scene 21 take 1” CLAP! To be clear, the job is more than clapping that slate. It requires a great deal of technical knowledge because you are responsible for the maintenance and management of a great deal of equipment. I worked with Tony for one day. Some time later I was given my first big opportunity to film a documentary in Egypt but the catch was that for work visas I needed to get a camera assistant booked within 12 hours. I called everyone in my phone but no one was available at such short notice. Then, I called Tony. He immediately was on board. So, I was going to Egypt for my first big opportunity as a director of photography and my assistant was someone I met once on a fairly easy job just a few days prior.
We arrived in Egypt and spent our first day organizing equipment in a hotel room in the shadow of the great pyramids and the Sphinx. We went out for our first day of filming and I BROKE THE CAMERA! We had seven days of filming left and in the first few hours I basically steered the ship into an iceberg! I looked up at Tony and he said, “I can try and fix it.” Cut to: a wild goose chase through Cairo looking for a hardware store that was open at 10:00 PM trying to find the tools Tony thought he would need.
I sat in a chair by the desk in Tony’s hotel room quietly panicking. He spent the next few hours hunched over smoking soldering equipment backlit by a rusty desk lamp. Needless to say, he performed a miracle.
Since then I’ve always told people he saved my career. So, BIG SHOUTOUT TO TONY HART!
Tamara Rosenfeld Unknown Unknown Rachael Doughty Unknown Last photo of Tony Hart