LA cinematographer, Patrick Lawler shoots indie bands, fashion brands and Audi commercials. Patrick talks about the long term friendships that he has forged through many years of working with creatively likeminded people.
“I guess my first introduction to cinematography was through my father, when he bought a brand new Sony PD100. I went out into our front yard and shot ‘The Blair Cat Project,’ where I scratched the front of the lens by running this thing through the leaves on the ground! So all of the videos I ever first shot as a kid, each have this big scratch down the front of them."
"I was doing all of these crazy videos as a kid, so my mom and dad, found me this summer camp called California State Summer School for the Arts. I got to go there during my freshman year of high school over the summer, and it totally blew my mind. I suddenly discovered that there was a place where I could go and be with creative people like me, who all wanted to make art. This was the first place where I felt like I fit in and was surrounded by people who would encourage me creatively."
"After going to CSSSA, all I wanted to do was get out of high school and go straight to film school. Creativity had always been part of my family, with my dad being a professional photographer and teaching graphic communications at Cal Poly, and mom being a graphic designer. So when it came to being a creative kid, growing up in my house was really nurturing and awesome."
"When I did finally go to film school, like everybody else, I wanted to be a director. In my first month I was doing both film production 1 and cinematography 1. When they explained, that cinematography was the class where you focus on lighting, cameras, and making the images look cool - I said this is exactly what I want to do! I realized probably on the second day of class, that I was going to be a cinematographer."
"I went to two film schools in the end. The first was Santa Barbra City College at the School of Media Arts. I went there for two years, basically only taking the classes that interested me. I only wanted to study what I was inspired by at this point in time. This was a very inexpensive college with a shockingly good film program. So out of that, I picked up a whole bunch of class credits and also worked in the computer lab tutoring students in Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, and After Effects. During my last year I won the SOMA Cinematographer of the year award."
"After SBCC I went onto the Academy of Art in San Francisco, which I consider to be one of the best film schools because we shot exclusively on 16mm and 35mm film which really helped me grow leaps and bounds as a DP. I approached this film school pretty much like my last, and started to choose what really interested me. For me, my interests were cinematography and VFX, so that’s what I focused on while I was there. By the time I got to the Academy of Art, I was already pretty advanced in After Effects, editing and lighting. So as a freshman I was already taking many senior classes."
"While I was at Santa Barbra, I had got into shooting quiet a few music videos, so by the time I got to San Francisco, they were starting to really pick up. While I was at film school, I was actually traveling a lot shooting music videos and was pretty much working and studying at the same time. My music video for ‘Divided by Friday’ actually helped get that band signed and that kind of launched my music video career."
"Because I was already working, being at college gave me a huge advantage because I could consult the industry professionals who taught our courses, and I could get help troubleshooting real-world problems I was currently having. I had the honor of learning from professionals such as Adam Patch, Ellen Sumter, and Phil Bowen. Film school was an amazing tool I am so glad I was able to take full advantage of."
"My career took its first leap when I was back in my hometown San Luis Obispo visiting. While downtown with some friends I met a man named Omar Saad who had just received his Red One camera. These things were mythical back then, so to know someone with one was an incredibly rare thing! Together Omar and I shot several videos and I learned how to use the camera very well. All of a sudden, I was one of only a handful of people in San Francisco who knew how to manage, operate, and shoot with the Red One."
"At AAU many of the graduate students wanted to shoot their thesis films on Red, so I found myself as an AC on some of the largest student projects which was invaluable experience! Pretty soon I was known around the school and teachers as the ‘Red guy’!"
"Then all of a sudden I started to get all this work down in Los Angeles, because I knew how to use a Red camera. Now I am traveling down to Los Angeles all of the time and shooting music videos all over the place, and pretty soon I am missing a whole bunch of classes. My teachers were pretty cool and tried to help me out, but in the end I was heading towards a crunch where I had to choose between college or my career as a DP. It was a no brainer really."
"At that time, the Vimeo community also got me a ton of recognition and attention. I was very active when it first started and because I had a Panasonic HVX back then, I wanted to see my work only in HD. I made a good quarter of all of my friends via Vimeo and a bunch of my videos were featured as ‘Staff Picks,’ which got me a lot of my early work."
"In 2010 the LRG clothing brand contacted me through my videos on Vimeo. They were coming up to San Francisco to shoot the ‘LRG Fall 2011 Lookbook’ and were looking for a local cinematographer who knew San Francisco well. I was super excited, because these guys were my first major client! So I ran around San Francisco with them to a bunch of unique local spots shooting this lookbook. After I edited it and LRG released it, I was told that when the owner of the company saw it, he said ‘this is what the brand is all about.’"
"LRG was so happy with the quality of my work that they told me I had a job if I ever moved down to Los Angeles; which is pretty much what made that move possible for me in 2011 which I am still so thankful for. Around then I also got a job working alongside Greg Ephraim on a Sketchers commercial as his AC, where I got to pull on a brand new Red Epic for the first time!"
"Soon I decided to take a huge leap and finance the purchase a Red Epic for my business with the help of a local bank in San Luis Obispo. A few weeks later when I got the camera, my dad and I went up to the Redwoods to do some camera tests. The camera soon started paying for itself, because I was one of the first thousand people in the world to own this camera. From then on, things kept getting better!"
"Most recently I have been getting really into lighting cars and shooting automotive content thanks to Audi. With Joseph Olesh as director, I shot the 2014 Audi R8 Iron Man Canvas piece. Since then, I have done several more projects with Audi. We shot the video for the Audi Sportscar Experience, which was a really exciting project we did up at the Sonoma Raceway. I was operating on a priceless vintage Otto Nemenz 150-600mm war lens following these Audi sports cars around the racetrack all day, getting some seriously crazy footage. Later last year we went to the Valley of Fire in Las Vegas, where I got to operate the ‘Ultimate Arm’, which is the sports Mercedes with the gyro-stabilized camera crane on the roof. That thing is the coolest thing you can ever do! That shoot was probably the greatest time of my life!"
"I have been super fortunate to have so many great friends I get to work with, like my best friend since 7th grade; Cameron Alexander, who has directed most of my music videos and just sold his first feature script to CBS! There is of course Joseph Olesh at Audi, Gille Klabin a director over at Lord Danger who is one of my most inspiring and talented colleagues, and my 1stAC Rich Hawkinson, who is probably the best AC in the entire world! I really have to share my title card with Rich because he is just so damn great at what he does, he makes me look good."
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"Then there is Leo Kaliski, who is this incredible composer I grew up with who has scored most of my narrative and commercial projects, and last but not least, the music production duo Jordan Baum & Mike Mac over at Mactown Music who have produced the tracks for some of my best music videos. This job is all about the incredible people you work with. It is so much fun and so rewarding to work and grow with my best friends every day creating beautiful art."