An Interview with Mauricio Vidal
Mauricio Vidal is an award winning cinematographer and has worked extensively in film, documentary and television. Having worked on acclaimed series such as, Narcos and Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, I spoke with Mauricio about his first experience in the industry, his work on both of these series, and his most challenging shot to complete.
Did you always think you would go into cinematography? What was your first experience in this line?
I studied Social Media at the University in Bogota, and then started working as an Editor at a Production Company where I used to cut a Documentary Travel show who’s Director later on invited me to join him. I got to visit wonderful places around the world (Patagonia, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Hong Kong, French Polynesia, Eastern Island, Australia, New Zealand, and cities like New York, Paris, Buenos Aires, Berlin, New Orleans, and so on) and it was a great, eye-opening experience for a 24 year old aspiring Cinematographer.
Are there any particular films, or cinematographers who have really inspired your work?
There are so many, and so many different influences that you have as a visual artist, you are always inspired by the culture you grow up in, the books you read, the life experiences you have, the arts you enjoy, the places you travel, the relationships you have, your political opinions. It is a complete mix of images and ideas that you have to deconstruct and reconstruct in every project, depending on the story, the Director´s vision and the characters. And obviously the work of Darius Khondji, Seamus McGarvey, Mathew Libatique, Rodrigo Prieto, Alexis Zabe, Walter Carvalho, is always there to help!
You worked as cinematographer on Narcos. Can you tell me more about this experience, and how the opportunity came about?
I shot 2nd Unit work on NARCOS Season 1, when nobody knew it was going to be such a success on Netflix. It was one of those big American shows coming to Colombia to shoot in the real locations, thanks to Director Jose Padilha who always wanted a level of truth on the story. The Producers came to Bogota to have interviews with lots of local talent. I had already shot some 12 features in Colombia, Peru and Panama, but had no idea what a 2nd Unit was supposed to do. Obviously I did some research and talked to a colleague who had done it before, but the bigger the show, the more responsibilities you have, especially with all the management and logistics you end up dealing with. But it was such an amazing experience, working for 6 months with a great cast and a wonderful crew who became family.
Which camera did you use to shoot the series, and do you have a preferred camera/kit?
Narcos 1 was shot with the Red Epic and Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses. I do have my preferences, but nowadays there are so many good choices from Arri, Red and Sony that I am most concerned with the lenses, but it all depends on the story and what you want to do, so the tools are the tools, only that.
You also worked as camera operator on Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. Can you tell me more about this?
It was even a bigger show than NARCOS, with lots of resources and toys. For me it was another great experience, where I got to learn a lot about logistics. Every project you work on teaches you something, no matter how big or small it is, the cinematographer´s job is to try to make it the best you can within the restrains of time and resources. Being one of the camera operators was such a big responsibility with lots of pressure, but working for Director Phil Abrahams who used to be a DP and Operator was such a pleasure, and also taught me a lot about communication with your crew.
Can you think of a shot throughout your career that was particularly challenging to complete?
A few years ago I shot a documentary called MONTE ADENTRO that followed the life of a family of Muleteers, a kind of cargo shipping service on mules through the mountains of Colombia. Our crew was the Director, me on the camera and the sound man. For 6 weeks we were based in a little town in the mountains and I had taken my wife, who also helped us as Data Manager, and my 3 months old daughter.
Every night after a long day of shooting and walking when we come back my wife would give me the baby and I would give her the cards to download. It was a very demanding shot, not only physically, as we were trying to keep up with the mules speed and at the same trying not to interrupt the muleteers work, following them through very narrow muddy paths in their long journeys. I always had the feeling that I could cover the action only from two angles, the front and the back, with very few chances of any other coverage because of the geography in the hills….luckily for me, the project won a Special Mention at the Camerimage Festival in the Documentary feature competition.