"Story First": An interview With Cinematographer Johanna Coelho & Her Time on "The Rookie"
May 23, 2022
published in SHOOT

We had the opportunity to speak with talented cinematographer, Johanna Coelho. Most recently Coelho brought her insight and professional experience to ABC’s The Rookie, which follows a man as he starts over as LAPD’s oldest ‘rookie’. She has a multitude of skill sets in the film sphere and she discussed her work, creative process, and professional journey with us. In this interview, we touched on Coelho’s journey into cinematography and her time working on The Rookie.

What was your journey into cinematography like, and what drew you to the industry?
I loved stories as a kid, and when I started using my parents' VHS early on, I fell in love with visual storytelling. As a curious child, it felt like everything could be explored through filming. I started learning different cinematic approaches by self experimenting. After graduating as a Science Major in high school, I decided to continue my college studies in cinematography to dive deeper into the craft.

Getting to film different stories every time is so unique, and the connection you build with a director and crew on set is so special. As someone who always wanted to do everything and be everywhere at the same time, being a cinematographer really makes me feel complete.

What is one thing you wish you would’ve known when first entering this profession?
Creating images is only one part of the cinematographer’s job. Working as a Director of Photography is also being a leader, adapting constantly and managing on set politics. It’s about taking responsibilities and being able to deal with many things at the same time. I feel we often underestimate this side of the profession when it’s a critical part of the job.

How would you describe your creative process?
I always focus on the story first. I want to understand the characters’ journey and the script's intentions. 

Then I start gathering visual references based on the tone and feel of what we discussed with the Director, and create a final lookbook that I will share with my team so everyone is on the same page.

Once we have a clear creative approach with the Director and talk more about specific shots, I start looking for the right camera equipment for our film and get all the technical details figured out. 

Even though I like to prep as much as I can, I stay flexible on set and ready to change or adapt anything that doesn’t feel right to the story.

Is there an aspect of your work you would describe as your personal touch to each project you work on?
Even though I believe my work as a DP should be versatile and adaptive to the story, and therefore not specific to one style, I do give a lot of attention to the use of colors and contrast. I love how colors can communicate a strong feeling or a mood, and how shaping an image helps draw the eye to a specific place. 

How has your time working on The Rookie differed from previous projects?
Working on the Rookie was a different approach to shooting. We had a lot of pages to shoot per day and we were working with three cameras. It forces you to think much faster and more efficiently. Lighting for three angles at the same time can be difficult, and finding a workflow and approach that works for you is key in not compromising too much within the time you have to film.

You also have to constantly anticipate, think about what is next and what can you get started while you are still filming the current scene. 

What’s the best way to stay connected with you and your future projects?
I’m not as much on social media as I would like, but I try to share my work on instagram as often as I can! (@johanna_coelho).

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