We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Phillips and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sarah, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Wow, Risk. Well… Risk is a wonderful board game, we can start there. Risk in our lives can be scary, but I do believe in calculated risks. I moved to Los Angeles, after all.
For example – I have spent a lot of the past five years buying film gear slowly so that I could be in a position where rentals could be minimized. I found that as a cinematographer in the indie space, most of the time producers and directors come to me with a budget that couldn’t rent all the bells and whistles, and the projects would suffer for it – not having a large director’s monitor, not having wireless video, not having enough lights – and as the DP, my career directly is impacted if the project is impacted. So I began buying gear, and now, when I believe in a project, I can bring that gear for way less money, elevate the project, and thus elevate my career in the long run.
I think that’s the biggest mindset I have when it comes to risk, the long-term big picture perspective. Many people ask me if I’ve made my money back on renting that gear out – and if you measure it specifically in cash, then no. Have I gained value in my career? Absolutely. Now – I’m in a position where I don’t have a ton of responsibility yet, I don’t have kids, I don’t own a house (yet), and I own my car, so I can throw a little money over five years toward my goals.
In my filmmaking career, risk comes in the form of putting my own money into projects – shorts, pilots, and coming soon, my first feature. Again, these have to be seen as long-term investments. I don’t think anyone could see films, especially short films, as money-making schemes or anything with guaranteed ROI. The value comes in your long-term career, those ships being sent out and living their lives as projects in the world.
Which all comes back to investing in my ability to make those things for less up-front money per project personally, and being able to come on as an in-kind producer on projects I’m DPing by bringing high-value gear.
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 am in love with the creative process.
It all stems back to writing with light. And filmmaking is just writing story by capturing light into a camera.
This is why I find cinematography, writing, drone, directing, and VFX to go hand in hand.
As a freelancer, I mostly work as a narrative director of photography. However, as an extension of that, I do quite a bit of drone aerial cinematography and operating – its a natural extension, essentially becoming a flying crane. And I began an indie VFX house last year because as I got deeper and deeper into my own projects, because I saw that other indie filmmakers needed VFX at a reasonable rate, and I could do that from my house!
So because I do all of these things, it makes me better at each of them. My cinematography certainly benefits from my drone piloting, as well as my VFX knowledge, and vice versa.
And the great thing is that I truly enjoy all of them.
Ultimately, of course, these things all lend themselves to a greater grasp of story when I do direct on projects I’m truly passionate about.
As far as my brand goes, I usually hear that my cinematography innately understands and expresses emotion, and I would agree with that.
I got where I am today by basically not stopping – just continue that slow trudge up the hill, and put one foot in front of the other. Continue to look for opportunities to pivot, grow, and expand. And keep my mind that of a child – stay curious. And I have a long way to go, so hopefully I see you all on that mountain hike!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Haha, well this might be the most frequently asked thing of long-time Angelenos, but I have to admit… Once you’ve been here as long as I have, a lovely day mostly includes NOT driving anywhere. So I would probably try to convince her that the pier was overrated, the promenade crowded and overpriced, Rodeo a spectacle, and Malibu way too far hahaha. I’d tell her that we should just walk around in downtown Eagle Rock, go to the new Vidiots theatre over there, walk around Larchmont on a Sunday for the farmer’s market, pizza, and vintage (but still pricey) clothing finds. Then I’d say that we should walk to either Blair’s or Edendale for food and drinks, and probably take some 35mm shots of her along the way. If she insisted on being touristy (I doubt it, she doesn’t like crowds either, one reason we get along), I’d say we should hit El Matador and then Neptune’s Net on the way home – I’ve met some very rad bikers out at the Net. Then see if any of my friends are projecting a movie on their rooftops that night. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have to shoutout my parents. Maybe it sounds cliche, until you meet them. I don’t know a more supportive group of people, honestly. My mom lives with her husband in North Carolina, and my dad lives with his wife in Kansas City, and both of them have gone above and beyond to support me in my career emotionally and financially. I sincerely don’t know where I would be without their support, kindness, generosity of spirit, and words of affirmation. All I can hope is one day I can thank them in an awards speech, and maybe have a little ADU for them to come visit sunny California.
Additionally – Ricardo Perez-Selsky was the first director to hire me on a feature film, and hires this freelancer any chance he gets – he is a true feminist ally. Tennessee Martin is relentless in her support and we are currently shopping an LGBTQ+ Christmas feature film together. I had a company with Laetitia Leon for six years, without whom I would be lost and we made some incredible content and grew together for many years – she is now shaking things up in the Austin scene.
There are an endless number of people who contribute bits to everyone’s careers, and I’m fortunate to be surrounded and work alongside some incredible humans.