Nutmeg Gazette: "Chaos Theory Indeed" - Adrian Peng Correia
Chaos Theory. That’s what comes to mind when I think of my filmmaking journey. Small moments that eventually turn into storms. I was always into films and photography, from a very young age. It was the thing I most connected to my father through. He loved schlocky sci-fi, action and war films and Doctor Who. My mother loved horror films and monster movies. So, I sort of became a genre junky from parental osmosis. I still remember watching Fulci’s Gates of Hell with my mother when I was 8. When a particularly pretty young lady began to vomit all her internal organs out of her mouth I nearly lost my mind, and was summarily chastised by my mom, because “That not real!” (read this in a heavily Thai-inflected broken English I won’t be offended). Anyway, between screenings of Yor, the Hunter from the Future, Kill or Be Killed, Battle Beyond the Stars and Humanoids from the Deep I started to formulate somewhere in my mind that whatever the process that renders these things into being must be something fantastical, alchemic even. However, it certainly didn’t seem viable for me. I put those things away and stepped forward confidently into eventually failing out of The University of Connecticut’s School of Engineering.
Four butterfly effect events then happened concurrently to steer me towards filmmaking. As a newly christened failure I just started to drift to what interested me, so I took a few courses at UCONN about film history. Professor Bob Smith was an infectious wealth of information and passion*, and he naturally rekindled my love of movies combined with a new theoretical analysis to how they were put together thematically. It was like CSI for movies. So, I kept taking classes with him because I just loved it too much to let it go. There was also this amazing video store at UCONN called Video Visions and their extensive collection and really knowledgeable staff are basically responsible for my entire foreign film education. I eventually rented a documentary called Visions of Light, about the history of cinematography. I was like, “That’s what that is?!?!?!”. Suddenly the thing I found so otherworldly and mystical became grounded in the reality of people and craft. Finally, my best friend Michael Field, suggested to me one day that I should be a filmmaker, and consider taking a production workshop with him in New York. That was pretty much it, as I continually heard Michael’s voice in my ear…pretty much all the time. He pulled the idea, that was buried somewhere in the back of my mind, to the forefront and there it stayed. I consciously began moving forward toward my goal of being a cinematographer.
I worked in film as a production assistant for the next three years and bounced around in a lot of departments to try and make as many contacts as could. One of the biggest benefits of film school is it creates a network for you immediately, so when you go out into the field you already have a web of contacts to try and build a career. I didn’t have this so I had to meet as many people as I could. I took whatever work I could and just tried to be kind, courteous, hard-working and a pleasure to be around. You’re around your filmmaker compatriots for at least 12 hours a day, so you see and work with them more than your own family. If I’m going to be around someone that much I better enjoy their company. The skillset of the person is exactly as important as how much I like them as a person. If you’re an ornery and unpleasant cur best believe you’re not going to get hired twice. I tried to always embody two ideas, do the best job I could while being the best person I could. I slowly built my career that way, and continually evaluated my weaknesses both as a person and in my work. Where I saw deficiencies, I would try and fill in the gaps. My reel didn’t have any night exteriors, so I lit and shot a few pieces to build that out. I didn’t have a great close up of a beautiful actress, so I staged a shot that could fulfill that in the reel. Day interiors, period material, night interiors, faces of people of color…I tried to fill all those holes in the visual resume to broaden my photographic appeal to creators and filmmakers.
When I mentioned chaos theory before, please keep in mind that I failed engineering. So maybe we should just think about Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park. Because as a filmmaker, your career will most likely resemble that drop of water on Laura Dern’s hand. I would say unpredictable is the fairest word I can use in describing the film industry. This is coming from the perspective of a cinematographer. The nature of roving tax credits, the nomadic path of production means you have to be ready to travel and move to where the work is and be ready for anything. You just have to look at the history of film production in Connecticut to see the writing on the wall. When the initial tax credits were implemented, and the Film Industry Training Program began there was a strong groundswell of production and crew settling in, there seemed to be a genuine foundation here for the future. Now, a few years later and the situation is completely changed. This happens all over the country. North Carolina was a production hotbed and is now fairly silent, same for Tennessee and Michigan. So, you have to be ready to move, or you have to be ready to work guerrilla style and force your ideas into being wherever you lay your hat. For my career, I move and travel, for others who really want to embrace the idea of regional filmmaking, they are intent on making their projects in their backyards. Honestly, the form is as democratic as it has ever been, and with the tools so accessible to all of us there is no excuse for you to not be producing your stories and speaking your voice. Connecticut has so many varied locations and looks to it, and you’d be surprised how many people who work in the industry either live here or started in this neck of the woods.
The one thing I would say to anyone who is looking to work in film is you have to be ready to persevere. There will be good moments and there will be a bad moments and good deal of uncertainty in between. This is the nature of the business. In 2014 I had two features premiere at SXSW to amazing reviews and buzz. In 2015 I traveled to Bulgaria to shoot a feature and then it was dead. In 2016 I shot in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Iowa, California, Florida, New York and South Africa. In 2017 I went to Sundance with a film, debated leaving the industry to teach a master’s program in cinematography, and ended up shooting the second season of GLOW for Netflix. It’s a crazy and unpredictable future, but it is never boring, and I’ve never had the same experience from one day to the next. Finally, and this is something I cannot stress enough. You have to able to weather the storm. So much of this industry is out of your control, and so much of it is dependent on luck and timing. Sometimes you just have to breathe and keep going. Let’s put it this way; I’ve shot thirty features, countless commercials, shorts and music videos and this is how I got GLOW. Sure, I had a good interview, but to get that interview this had to happen. The original cinematographer for GLOW had to choose between season 2 of GLOW and season 2 of Atlanta. He chose the latter. A director/producer from GLOW was shooting a film in London and was tasked with helping to find GLOW a new DP. He directed a pilot for HBO with a cinematographer I knew. That cinematographer just happened to come to London to prep her film, and they decided on the night they had free to have dinner. They had a conversation, the GLOW job came up, and my name was put forth for consideration. The creators and a bevy of others looked at my reel and decided to bring me in for a call, and bingo. In the end, many small things had to happen for me to have my biggest break after almost twenty years of shooting. Chaos indeed.
- Adrian Pen Correia
*Editor's Note: Pat also encountered Professor Smith during his tenure at UCONN and agrees wholeheartedly with Adrian's assessment of the man and his unlimited knowledge on these subjects.
Adrian Peng Correia is a an award-winning cinematographer, who has lensed all projects all over the world. Over the last decade he has shot dozens of feature films, commercials, documentaries, and short films. Adrian's work has screened at world-renowned festivals included Sundance and SXSW. He is known for his work on Ava's Possessions (2015), Night Owl (2015), and Nightcap (2017). Adrian is the Director of Photography on Season 2 of Netflix's hit series GLOW. For more on his career: http://www.adrianpengcorreia.com/