By John Calhoun, Jim Hemphill and Debra Kaufman - American Cinematographer
To select this year’s list of 12 Rising Stars, AC’s editors surveyed a wide field of excellent work shot by up-and-coming directors of photography. Eli Born, Carolina Costa, Johnny Derango, Ming Jue Hu, Matthias Koenigswieser, Rafael Leyva, Laura Beth Love, Nicola Marsh, Éponine Momenceau, Egor Povolotskiy, Michal Sobocinski and Adolpho Veloso have already begun to amass impressive credits in commercials, music videos, shorts, television series, documentaries and narrative features, and those credits promise tremendously bright careers ahead. As these stars continue to rise, we capture a snapshot of their trajectories to date.
When she was 14, Nicola B. Marsh discovered her love for photography. “I would conceptualize but couldn’t draw,” she says. “Photography and the darkroom really gelled for me. I am a physical person and a physical learner, and the physical craft of pictures aligned with that.”
After finishing college in the U.K., she worked as a camera assistant on commercials and indie features in London, then moved to the U.S. She landed in San Francisco, where she shot news for the NBC affiliate. “It was really good practice to have your eye on a camera every single day of the week, and then have to edit everything you shot, with a deadline,” she says. “I started work at 10 a.m. and had to shoot and cut a package by 5 p.m.”
By her third year shooting news, however, she was ready for a change. She entered the cinematography program at the University of Southern California, where School of Cinematic Arts associate professor Christopher Chomyn, ASC became a mentor. “He was a great teacher,” Marsh says. “He’s really interesting and nurturing. He was there to pick up my phone calls after school, and he extended his contact list to me.”
Through her USC connections, Marsh met director Morgan Neville, for whom she photographed the documentary Search and Destroy: Iggy & the Stooges’ Raw Power. Marsh and Neville continued their collaboration with the documentaries Troubadours and 20 Feet From Stardom, the latter of which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. “It was a slow incline,” she says, “but 20 Feet made the biggest difference in terms of having shot a film that people had seen or heard of. Working hard and getting lucky eventually overlap.”
Indeed, noting that there are many definitions of a “first break,” Marsh also highlights her experiences shooting Eye of the Hurricane in Georgia. “It was my first ‘real’ $2 million feature,” she says. And she’s proud of her work on the documentary Burn, for which she followed a Detroit fire department over the course of two years. “We had more footage than you could dream of, because they have 15 to 25 fires a night,” she says. Burn went on to win the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival Audience Award.
Shooting the Netflix documentary series Chelsea Does, starring Chelsea Handler, presented other challenges altogether. “Working with celebrities means there’s a higher bar for the aesthetics,” Marsh offers. “But it’s a documentary, so you want to make sure the talent has total freedom to move anywhere they want. You can’t light them into a corner.” At press time, Marsh was prepping a documentary with director Clay Tweel.