We had the good fortune of connecting with Piotr Niemczewski and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Piotr, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I think that risk taking is essential for personal growth. For me, it’s an inherent element of catching opportunities in life. If you live without risking anything, opportunities will just fly over your head. Especially when you’re young and don’t have much to lose yet, I think that taking a risk in your career is a win-win situation. If you’re successful – great, if you fail, you learn from it and gain valuable experience.
Throughout my middle school and high school I was certain that my future career wouldn’t go any further than working in my little hometown in Poland. Then, an opportunity appeared. A one-year exchange program in the US. I remember putting it off for a good year because I was afraid to take the risk. I was afraid that my English was bad, that I would feel lost, lonely and homesick. I finally convinced myself to do it. And guess what, all the things that I was afraid of have happened. And it wasn’t the end of the world. A few weeks into the program, I understood that those minor inconveniences had been preventing me from seeing the real benefits of this opportunity. The exchange turned out to be my gate to pursuing a career in the US.
Since then, I’ve been pushing myself to take risks all the time. From starting a YouTube channel despite being an introvert, to leaving everything and everyone I knew and moving to LA to go to film school.
If I take a risk and fail, I regret that I couldn’t make it work, but I never regret that I tried.
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 work as a freelance cinematographer, shooting everything from commercials, music videos to documentaries and narrative. I’m still in this early stage of my career where I allow opportunities to take me wherever, so I don’t specialize in any type of content in particular. Recently it’s been mostly music videos and short narratives, but I wouldn’t mind getting thrown into a wildlife documentary one day. I grew up in a Polish countryside, always surrounded by nature and always fascinated by it. And that has definitely influenced my work. I love shooting outdoors and incorporating nature, landscapes and environment into my projects. I try to observe nature searching for interesting lighting patterns and little nuances which I can then use on set to add realism to my work.
What sets me apart? I guess one unique thing about me is my background in YouTube. Before pursuing an actual filmmaking career I was a travel youtuber for a good couple of years, reaching an audience of over a hundred thousand people. Showing others the beauty of the places I would visit is what initially got me interested in cinematography. And I never stopped creating for my channel. While in the professional world I develop my career as a cinematographer, YouTube remains this creative sandbox for me, where I can be a one-man crew, make videos of any kinds, document my travels and get feedback from thousands of people. It has also been a great networking tool throughout my career.
I’ve learned a lot along the way. I had my share of fails and embarrassment every time I made a mistake on set, but I’m glad that it wasn’t always smooth because every mistake gave me a valuable lesson. The years spent on YouTube gave me a good understanding of new media and new ways of storytelling. While the last three years of working on film sets allowed me to turn my passion into my job.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Assuming that friend has the same interests as me, I would rather spend 6 days exploring the nature of California and surrounding states and 1 day exploring the city, than the opposite. LA is a unique and diverse city, with a lot of great places that I probably don’t know about, but for someone coming from Europe it’s the landscapes of the West Coast that are really impressive, not the cities. I’d take them on a hiking trip to Zion and a drive on the West Coast Highway. I’d take them camping to Yosemite and to the sequoias. In LA itself, I love to experience the diversity of cultures, so I’d take them to Chinatown, Little Tokyo and Koreatown. The Grand Central Market would be a great spot for lunch. If they felt more adventurous, I’d take them to my secret hiking spot – abandoned gold mines somewhere in the San Gabriel Mountains. Narrowing it down to favorite spots in my neighborhood – Hollywood. I’d say The Brickyard Pub and Scum and Villainy Cantina are good, calm places to go out on a weekend. Delicious Pizza is my local lunch spot, full of great, creative people. And Hollywood Boulders is my climbing gym, a place to work out, work on my laptop and spend time climbing with friends.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Without a doubt, my parents and my girlfriend Wiktoria are my biggest supporters. No matter how weird and unconventional path I took, my parents would always believe that I knew what I was doing and kept motivating me to do what I loved. But since we’re in LA, I’d like to dedicate my shoutout to all my friends and close collaborators who have repeatedly trusted me with their projects and without whom I’d feel very lonely and bored in this city. There is nothing better for a young DP than a group of creative friends who keep throwing projects and challenges at you.