Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Camera: The Goldlink Vignettes and A Conversation with Sam Cutler-Kreutz

I first heard Goldlink way in the backseat of Baltimore producer Tek-Lun’s 2014 release, Ridin’ Round. One of only two passengers, his verse on the penultimate track, “Hip Hop,” is the climactic moment of the ride. Goldlink is still on the road. This past November saw the release of his sophomore album, entitled And After That We Didn’t Talk.

“I almost try to create the illusion of a car ride, and a car crash” he says of the project in a recent HotNewHipHop interview. And though it begins with a crash, AATWDT is a smooth ride. Producer Louie Lastic keeps the synths bouncing over 808s, and the Goldlink vocals weave across the dotted line between hip-hop and R&B. I usually find myself in the car when I’m listening to it. It’s a good album to drive to.

“Fuck a review,” says Goldlink later in the same interview. Never fear. This isn’t that. This is a conversation with somebody who is not Goldlink, but who worked on the triptych of vignettes Goldlink released to accompany AATWDT.  Blue. Pink. Orange. Each is a woman. Each is a feeling about a time, spoken in short acapella verses by London MC Kojey Radical.

 

 

Enter Sam Cutler-Kreutz. Me and Sam go way back. Our parents ate granola and biked around back in the day. We all went to France together once. Nowadays Sam makes moving pictures. He did the cinematography on the vignettes. We had a conversation about that project, what it is he does, exactly, and his philosophy regarding film:

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We often hear films talked about in terms of their cinematography as basically how the movie looks, but I think most people couldn’t tell you exactly what the cinematographer’s job is on set. Give us the layperson’s rundown of what it is you do.

The best one sentence answer for what I “do” on a film set is: if the director directs the actors, then I direct the camera and the lights. That might seem trite, but it’s sort of true.  The director is incredibly busy during the shoot working with the actors, so having someone who is there just thinking about the visual look of the film is really important.  None of it is done without the consent and most of the time it is with the close collaboration of the director. Together we are responsible for finding/building the visual style and language for the project. It is my job though on the day of shooting to be the translator, from the more theoretical language of the director to the more technical language of the crew. Typically I manage a crew anywhere from 6 to 12 people across 3 different departments: camera, lighting and grip.  

In a project like the Goldlink vignettes, where there are a lot of people involved in the creation of the final product, how do you fit into the creative process? What would you like to take credit for in the vignettes, if anything?

Well the whole thing was a super collaborative process between Jason [Sondock], Simon [Davis] and I, so it’s pretty hard to really take credit for one thing. As I was saying before, the lighting design was almost completely designed by me, but it was definitely something that we talked about conceptually before the shoot. I operated the camera for the shoot so ‘technically’ all the compositions were made by me, but you can bet that Jason and Simon were standing at the monitor talking it through with me. Honestly my relationship with them goes way back, so I was involved from a very early stage, and I think that really helped elevate the final piece. I knew what they were thinking and could prepare properly. They ran many of the decisions by me and I put my 2 cents in.  

You also worked with the rubberband. crew on another project for Goldlink, the video for Dance On Me, which is much more of a traditional music video than the vignettes project. Could you speak a little bit about how the vignettes were conceptualized and developed as a separate piece to accompany the album?

Well, album teasers are a big thing these days, and these three pieces were originally conceived as a set of trailers to build hype for the release. The way the production ended up shaking out though, the album came out before the video pieces, so we had to re-conceptualize them to work as vignettes. This required us to think more abstractly, to visualize the album as a whole and focus less on the individual song. With Dance On Me we were working on telling a very specific story that corresponded to the lyrics and themes of the song. With the color triptych we could be abstract and playful with the themes on the album

You’ve also written and directed several short films. Do you find it easier to execute somebody else’s vision or to work from your own ideas? Do you prefer one or the other?

Working in the role of cinematographer, it is incredibly useful if the director has a very clear vision of the project. It makes my job so much easier because all I have to do is ask the right questions and sometimes not even that, and I will realize what the director is going for. On the other hand though, every director has a different level of visual literacy. Some directors are much better at working with the actors say, than describing the look of their film. So to that end I always have a vision prepared, one that I think will both be visually stunning, but also help tell the story/themes in the most efficient way. It’s almost a backup plan in a way, something that I fall back on when the director is too busy or confused to know what he/she wants. My vision is 100% created with as much information as the director can give, but I flesh out everything else.  A lot of times it’s just about asking the right questions. I’ve gotten a lot better at that over time.  

What’s your favorite color?

I don’t really have one. It’s probably somewhere in the blue spectrum though haha.

The relationship between auditory and visual artwork is old. Theatrical works always have a score. Silent films were accompanied by organists. On the flip side, music has a natural synesthetic quality to it, associations of sound with color, as in the blues. Symphonies were often written to evoke particular stories or images. How do you go about creating a visual work to accompany music? How about choosing music to accompany visuals? Do you take a different approach for the two? How would you characterize that relationship between what we hear and what we see?

This is an interesting questions from a cinematography perspective because I normally associate music with more of the directing and editing side. This can easily be seen in the editing of music videos and commercials where music plays a large part in the mood of the piece. That being said, colors and tones have a set of associations that I work hard to sensitize myself to. The Goldlink pieces are an interesting example because the music was chosen after the pieces were shot. So in some respect I had no idea what I was working with musically before I went to work. We had a general sense but the specifics materialised after the fact.  Again it took place in the editing more than the shooting.   

Who are some of your favorite filmmakers currently working? How about artists who don’t work in film?

So we have to split this question into two categories, directors and cinematographers.  On the directing side. I’m a huge fan of the Coen brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alejandro Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron, Shane Carruth, Cary Fukunaga, David Fincher. These are all directors who have incredible visual styles and are masters of their craft.  On the cinematography side, there are so many legends alive right now but to name a few: Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki, Robert Elswit, Wally Pfister, Seamus Mcgarvey, Bob Richardson and so so many more. I could list forever.  

Lastly, what are you working on now? What projects are you excited about in 2016?

Right now I’m working on writing a short film that will go into production in the summer, it’s a near future story about clones in a love triangle. I’ve got a bunch of other shoots coming up this winter, some branded content and a few music videos.  

You can follow my work at:  www.samck.com, and on instagram @samcutlerkreutz

We will, thanks for taking the time!

Listen to Goldlink’s And After That, We Didn’t Talk below: