Jake Hunter talks to us about being a director of photography, and using 16mm film

19th December 2019

MadeGood – So how did you get into being a DP?

Jake Hunter – I got into it pretty late, I came out of school and didn’t really know what I was going do, so I just went and worked for a while at the fish markets. It was really shit, it was awful. My dad was like “what are you doing, you’ve got to figure out what you want to do with your life”.I had an interest in photography, though I didn’t actually take any photos, ever. I saw an advertisement for a film school and decided that’s what I wanted to do. I started a two year course knowing nothing; I didn’t know how to use the camera, or even what an f-stop was, or anything like that. I started right from scratch, and then just went from there I guess.

After film school I managed to get some work experience assisting for one of the bigger first AD’s in Sydney, which was pretty cool. I got to go on and see big sets. I even did some attaching for Chayse Irvin, who is a big American commercial DP. He came out to Australia and I got to go on a long travel job with him, which was really cool. I didn’t really know anything, so that was pretty mind-blowing, being on a proper set.

MadeGood – What’s the of time frame here? Sounds like it all just went really well from as soon as you decided to be a DP.

Jake Hunter – First year out of film school I just tried to make as many films as I could with my friend Ben Fitzgerald, who is a director. He ended up going to the same film school as me but he started a year later. He was still at film school and I think we made about five films in one year, all self-funded.

MadeGood – So you two met at film school?

Jake Hunter – No we were friends, we went to school together and were friends for ages, since we were about twelve years old.

He was working at Channel Nine which is a TV station here in Australia. We just started doing stuff together, we’ve made so many little shorts together now.

MadeGood – The enthusiasm that you and Ben had to go about making all those films together, that must have been a really good experience. You must have learnt so much from doing that.

Jake Hunter – Yeah for sure. I think mainly because they were self-funded we could make whatever we wanted.

MadeGood – One thing that I found really interesting was that all your work seems to be all shot on 16mm film. How did that come about?

Jake Hunter – I majored in cinematography at film school, and one of the projects was to shoot one roll of 16mm and try and cut together a commercial. So I did that pretty early on, at a time when I didn’t even really know how to use a digital camera. It was a really scary trying to do. I had no idea how to read a light meter or anything like that, so I just thought the whole project was going to end up being out of focus and completely under exposed, but surprisingly it came back fine.

I really enjoyed that process, once I realised it was actually doable. Ben hadn’t shot anything on film, and we had this idea for a project, I think you ran it, called ‘why I drink’

MadeGood – Yes, that’s right.

Jake Hunter – We wanted to shoot quite a few scenes in the middle of the day, which I don’t usually like doing on digital. It’s really hard to shoot something in the middle of the day especially in Australia because the light’s so unbelievably harsh. I’ve shot stuff in the middle of the day on film and someone could be in the shadows, and you can get perfect exposure on their face, full detail on the sky and it’s pretty incredible. Whereas on digital all the highlights would be blown out.

We wanted to try and shoot it on 16 and we just made it happen. And then from there we made maybe another five. We haven’t shot anything on digital for almost two years now.

MadeGood – What film stock do you use usually?

Jake Hunter – I’ve only done one project on 35, so it’s mainly just 16mm. It’s all Kodak, mainly 500t or 250, and the project we’ve got coming up is all on 150d which I’m really excited about. We’ll need a lot of light for that, obviously.

MadeGood – The film is really fine grain?

Jake Hunter – A cleaner stock, yeah.

MadeGood – Do you think moving forward you’re going continue to shoot on film? It’s expensive, you can’t see what you’ve shot, the film takes time to process, the cameras are big and sometimes heavy to handle. There are plenty of negatives, but you think the positives outweigh that?

Jake Hunter – I think so, I mean, I definitely want to move forward with it and shoot more on 35mm, and that’s another reason why I’m making the move to London. The film scene in Sydney is pretty small, there’s not a lot of places you can get film scanned, there’s only one lab left in the whole of Australia that can develop 16 and 35mm. Almost every time I have projects scanned there’s an issue, so I usually have to go and get it scanned twice. So it’s not ideal doing it here. But I think 16mm has come back into trend quite heavily recently, pretty much everything you see on Vimeo is 16mm. I definitely want to shoot on digital eventually, it’s just at the moment if it’s a self-funded project I’m always going to try and push to make it happen on film.

MadeGood – And is it a joy to shoot on film? Is that part of the reason you like it so much?
Jake: Yeah for sure, it’s way more fun. I definitely get super nervous, just being super OCD about whether its going to turn out okay, but I haven’t really had a problem yet, so…

Jake Hunter – I just love the whole process and everyone goes into it knowing exactly what they want, with digital you can just film for an endless amount of time and not really get anything that means anything, I guess. Whereas film you work to the exact shot list and think about it before, so there’s more of a process to it.

MadeGood – You work on personal projects with Ben, what kind of professional work do you do?
Jake: I mainly just shoot smaller commercial stuff for money and then I’ve pretty much been putting all that money towards saving to move overseas. We’re also trying to fund whatever films we can I guess, so it’s just between smaller jobs and doing our own passion projects. But I haven’t done a lot of commercials, I’ve only done a couple so far.

MadeGood – Is that the sort of work you’d be looking for when you go to London?

Jake Hunter – Yeah for sure. I’m 25 and here that’s really young for a DP, guys who are doing commercials are like 35-40, you know what I mean? Way older, established DP’s who’ve shot features and there’s probably 4 or 5 guys getting all the work, so there’s not much room here in Australia to come up. Whereas in the UK, or in America they’re supporting younger filmmakers. They’re just more open to the idea of them working on commercials with bigger budgets. It’s a shame that’s not happening here.

The stuff coming out of the UK and Europe is the stuff I’m looking at and getting hyped on. I think it’s going to be the place to be, even if I’m just over there shooting music videos, I’ll be happy doing that because it’s not even really happening here.

MadeGood – A lot of these short filmmakers are happy to be less of an expert in one thing, and be more of a Jack of all trades when it comes to the film making process. But you’re very specific in that you want to be as good as you can at being a camera operator and DP- talk about that a little bit please.

Jake Hunter – I don’t know, I just never thought of directing, and I don’t think I’m terrible at writing, I just never really had an interest in doing that. I think I always wanted to do something within photography, but I wasn’t confident enough to try and become a photographer. I found filmmaking and realised that I liked motion more than stills. No I’ve never thought about directing anything

At film school we had to direct our own cinematography projects and I always struggled doing that, and would always try and get someone else involved so I could just focus on the cinematography side of the project. I think I’m more interested in the visuals than coming up with the concept or directing performances

MadeGood – What would your dream scenario be in a year and a half, after having been in London? What would you be working on?

Jake Hunter – Dream scenario… I guess just to be shooting as much as possible, doing music videos, commercials, I love doing short films. Feature films is a goal for me eventually, but until then I just want to do as many shorts as I can. I think trying to shoot something that gets into a festival, one of the bigger festivals is a pretty good goal.

MadeGood – Thanks for speaking to me Jake. Good luck with London, and everything else!