ASC 2020 ising Stars 


Laura Merians Gonçalves
 
“I love being challenged and working with people who challenge me,” says cinematographer Laura Merians Gonçalves. “I like to think through our limitations and thrive. If you have the right collaborators, you can figure out how to make anything happen.”Gonçalves grew up in a family of photographers. “We were always taking photos and looking at photography as art,” she says. Her parents encouraged her to pay attention to light, often steering family conversations toward the subject. “Cinematography is very nostalgic for me. I’m always thinking about my childhood and the spaces I lived in. Memories are my best inspiration.”
During her time at the University of California, Berkeley, she studied philosophy and “started to experiment with lighting and electricity. Something about that world really resonated with me.” After graduating, she started her journey into filmmaking as best boy electric on the 2001 featureBully, directed by Larry Clark and shot by Steve Gainer, ASC, ASK. Gonçalves joined IATSE Local 728 and, later, ICG Local 600, and she credits the unions and her work on features, commercials, music videos and television for her real education. “Whether a job turns out to be gloriously well-received or no one ever sees it, all the work serves as learning experiences,” she says. “You have to embrace less-than-perfect results, and look at them in a positive way so that it transforms you and makes you better. The process is the result I want.”Gonçalves never participated in professional shadowing experiences, but over the years many cinematographers have served as mentors. “I learned so much by watching others do it. Someone who looked out for me early on was the forever kind Ramsey Nickell and, more recently, Ed Lachman, ASC, whose insight and patience I am deeply thankful for. I also wrote many letters to [actor] Steve Martin looking for advice because he’s a philosopher, too, but I haven’t received his reply yet.”See MoreDuring her time at the University of California, Berkeley, she studied philosophy and “started to experiment with lighting and electricity. Something about that world really resonated with me.” After graduating, she started her journey into filmmaking as best boy electric on the 2001 featureBully, directed by Larry Clark and shot by Steve Gainer, ASC, ASK. Gonçalves joined IATSE Local 728 and, later, ICG Local 600, and she credits the unions and her work on features, commercials, music videos and television for her real education. “Whether a job turns out to be gloriously well-received or no one ever sees it, all the work serves as learning experiences,” she says. “You have to embrace less-than-perfect results, and look at them in a positive way so that it transforms you and makes you better. The process is the result I want.”Gonçalves never participated in professional shadowing experiences, but over the years many cinematographers have served as mentors. “I learned so much by watching others do it. Someone who looked out for me early on was the forever kind Ramsey Nickell and, more recently, Ed Lachman, ASC, whose insight and patience I am deeply thankful for. I also wrote many letters to [actor] Steve Martin looking for advice because he’s a philosopher, too, but I haven’t received his reply yet.”
Gonçalves approaches each project with an “anything is possible” attitude. “There are no rules and no absolutes. I love making images I connect with on many levels — emotionally, psychologically, physically. My intentions are to create imagery that illustrates [what I felt] when I read the screenplay. I try to distill the style of the project to a theme in one or two words. For Pacified, it was favela poetry.”


Gonçalves lines up an over-the-shoulder shot. (Photo by Barney Cokeliss)Pacified won two awards at the recent Camerimage International Film Festival: Best Cinemato-grapher’s Debut and Best Director’s Debut (for Paxton Winters). For her work on the film, Gonçalves was also awarded Best Cinematography at the 2019 San Sebastián International Film Festival and Best Cinematography at the Aruanda Film Festival in Brazil.Her additional cinematography credits include the short Solipsist, the Netflix special John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch, and numerous other shorts, music videos and documentaries.“Something that I would advise to future filmmakers,” the cinematographer says, “is if you have the opportunity to shoot a film in a language you don’t speak, do it! It allowed me to completely focus on the photography and made me realize how few words you need, how pared-down you can be in that way. Language, like lighting, can be kept very minimal and simplified. With some hand signals and three light bulbs, you can shoot a movie.”


 Pacified wins Cinematographer's Debut at Camera Image