We had the good fortune of connecting with Tara Jenkins and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tara, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I pursued a creative career because I felt an imperative to tell stories and amplify voices. That’s the romantic answer, but I think you have to be looking at the world from a bit of a romantic perspective to decide to embark upon a career in the arts. The on the ground, daily experience of pursuing a creative career is not very romantic. The freelance life is challenging and there are a lot of difficult decisions to be made about work/ life balance and about how to maintain a healthy outlook. That being said, it will only really work if you don’t lose that feeling of the magic of it all. I try to ground myself in what made me fall in love with film in the first place. I wanted to pursue this life because of a mix of selfish and altruistic reasons– nothing makes me feel more alive or less alone than storytelling. I want to share that feeling with other people as well. I can’t imagine a life without storytelling and creative expression, and ironically, that makes the practical choice the one to try and make a living in it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I was born in Phoenix to two PhDs. Quiet and soft-spoken, I seemed destined for a terminal degree and a private practice. As a bookish child, the arts seemed like a far cry from my future. In fifth grade, my parents forced me to join the cast of a children’s theatre production of Bugsy Malone, and much to their surprise, nothing was the same again. I found my voice through storytelling in front of the camera, and eventually, behind it. I went on to receive my BA in Theatre and Media Production from Pepperdine University, where I studied both acting and directing. From undergrad, I went straight into my MFA in Film Production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Through the first year of my time at USC, I found my passion for cinematography. I had been intimidated by the technical side of filmmaking, and felt that it wasn’t for me.
Now, I feel at home behind a camera. Women often aren’t welcomed in to the more technical fields of filmmaking. I am so glad that I was given a chance to find my passion for cinematography and I want to help create that pathway for other people who have been marginalized by the traditional filmmaking community. Things are changing and I am excited to be a part of that process.
I currently work in digital content for the American Society of Cinematographers and write for American Cinematographer while freelancing as a director of photography. I’m most proud of my documentary Spokespeople, which addresses transportation inequality by looking at the cycling community in Los Angeles. It was wonderful to work on something where I felt like I was able to amplify voices that needed to be heard and immerse myself in a subject that I knew little about but fell in love with. Spokespeople has gone on to win the USC First Look Outstanding Cinematography Award and Best Short Doc at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
For me, showing someone around LA centers around two integral components: food and film. A week trip showing someone around the city would include multiple screenings at the New Beverly and American Cinematheque– hopefully catching some classic film prints. When my best friend visited from Arizona, we lucked out and were able to see Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm at the Aero. Just as vital as the film is the food. I would want to show someone the breadth of the cuisine in LA. We would have to get everything from street tacos to noodles and curry from my favorite place in Thai Town, Ruen Pair.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to give Paul Maibaum, ASC a shout out. During my time at USC School of Cinematic Arts, it was the mentorship of Paul that helped me have the confidence to pursue a career in cinematography. He always believed in my ability behind the camera and gave me the advice I needed to succeed. It is because of Paul that I was able to start interning at the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers), where I currently work. I still know I can reach out to him whenever I have a question or want to complain about the ups and downs of freelancing. It has been so encouraging to me to know that someone who has faced the same challenges and came out highly successful is rooting for me.