Director, cinematographer, photographic explorer
The wearer of many creative hats, director, cinematographer and photographic explorer Michelle Mae Cameron explains more about her different roles.
How did you get into the screen industry?
When I was younger I loved reading comics and novels, drawing, writing and being creative. I took drama and film at university, and then moved to work in Wellington. Exciting projects always wander into my life; lighting for productions, directing, cinematography or pursuing my own storytelling outlets.
What does it require you to do day-to-day?
If I’m designing lighting schemes for a show or a film, I visit show locations or gear hire studios with a list of questions. Sometimes I’ll ask other technicians if they’ve had similar experiences and get their advice.
When I'm directing a film or a documentary, I spend a lot of time pre-planning. I visualise my story boards, speak in-depth with my collaborators about their vision and motivations - the 'why' of the film. I plan for certain milestones, for example, deadlines for rough cuts, collecting gear or booking meetings, and always the creation of a 'Plan B' if anything doesn't go the way I expect – on- or off-set. I also make time to research the topic by reading, watching documentaries or drawing.
As a cinematographer I can spend hours going over a script and drawing out how I want a scene to play out.
This all means that if things don't go according to plan on-set, I will be confident enough to stay flexible and use my mistakes as a creative bounce to the next decision!
What strengths do you need?
I believe you need to approach your projects with care and conscious deliberation. Keep learning and stay-up-to date with any technical things you use in your work. Don’t be afraid of self-doubt or of being shy around others. And always take care of yourself.
What are the things you love about it?
I love that making films requires a vortex of learning and information. There's a variety of stories, topics and themes to pursue, and filmmakers are usually curious people to interact with. Manifesting a story visually and aurally is extremely fulfilling and fun for me.
What advice would you give to other women wanting to do the same job?
Take it easy and have courage to speak to people that inspire you. Don't worry if you feel you've made a bad impression or make mistakes, as your passion and willingness to evolve and learn is what really counts. Take time to write and craft from the heart, and believe in your own intelligence - you will always be able to solve the challenges that come your way! Be sure to surround yourself with people that support your vision and help you to find clarity and passion about what you want to do.
What are some productions you’ve worked on?
My biggest personal production is Fight Or Flight, a seven-episode partly-animated series on mental health, which tells different stories about anxiety. I pitched, produced and directed it to completion.
I also co-directed Tūmanako, a short made in collaboration with MA graduate Catherine Pihema, and a group of rangatahi from He Huarahi Tamariki, a school for teen parents, that explores the experiences of young Māori mothers. It premiered on Māori Television and has been used as a mental health resource. It was an awesome experience to work with strong wahine. Amongst a multitude of shorts, docos and music videos, I think this one is my favourite so far. Looking forward to the next big thing!
Tell us one of your work stories.
I was once working with (WIFT NZ member) director Sarah Hunter on a series of opera re-enactments for the New Zealand School of Music (at Victoria University of Wellington). COVID 19 rules came into play and the entire set was re-designed to allow for the actors to be either one metre apart or be separated by clear perspex ‘corner’ walls, which stood at 90 degree angles. We had about four of these walls and it meant that there were reflections of the whole crew and camera set-up EVERYWHERE! We had to work very hard with lighting and camera position to make sure we weren't all going to be caught on film. Super challenging but really fun to make!