Olivia Schweikert of It's Always Necessary
After wrapping on It's Always Necessary in mid March, I have had some time to interview our creative team members! Here is a small interview with our Director of Photography, Camera Operator, and Story Editor, Olivia Schweikert.
What persuaded you to work on It's Always Necessary?
Knowing the crew was important. I was excited to work with a team I knew worked really well together. I also loved the idea of telling a story about sisters, because I’m so close to my own sister. I thought of the project as kind of a letter to my sister.
I thought of the project as kind of a letter to my sister.
Being the DP on the project, where did your inspiration stem from?
My gaffer, key grip, and I looked at the film Beautiful Boy because of the way the story showed memories and time through lighting. The way we lit each scene was guided by emotion. It wasn’t always realistic.
Collin and I referenced the films First Man and We the Animals for emotional camera movement. Both of those films feel like memories. Sometimes the frame looks like a family snapshot. It’s imperfect but very honest and close.
What was the best way for you to put your visions to work?
After talking about each scene with Collin, I met with Alex and Josh and explained the look I wanted. We talked about things like how much contrast I wanted in day scenes and how soft I wanted night scenes. We made a set of lighting rules in preproduction so that when we got on set, even if we had to improvise, we still knew what was within the bounds of what we wanted. We all had a clear idea of what each scene should look like. Alex and Josh are incredibly talented and were able to create a world for the story with their lighting.
One of the things I like to do for any film I shoot is storyboard. I sketch each shot with the director so that even before we have shot anything, we already have the entire film in front of us. It can change as we shoot it, but it’s super helpful to have a basic framework for the bones of the story. We can always build on that, but we know what we need to shoot in order to have a coherent story in the edit.
If you could've done "It's Always Necessary" all over again, what would you do differently?
The scene in the kitchen was difficult to light because we shot it throughout one day and the sunlight changed pretty drastically. I would have worked much harder in preproduction with Alex and Josh to try to fight that.
Recall your favorite memory from set.
There are a few. One of them is when we shot the burning egg. It was the second to last shot of the film. We were all tired and almost anything was hilarious. I was sitting on the kitchen counter holding the camera inches from the egg cooking on the stove. The entire crew gathered around because no one could make any noise while our sound recordist captured the sound of the egg cooking. So everyone, the director, the actors, the 1st AC, just stood there in total silence for ten minutes staring at this egg. That isn’t normal. It’s only something you do for film.
My second favorite memory is shooting the scene with Layla and Diana as kids. The two actors, Chloe and Elizabeth, have been running around and giggling together for hours. The instant bond they had was awesome, but we weren’t sure if we would be able to get them relaxed enough for the scene. But the minute we started rolling, everything went really quiet. Both of the girls just settled into the moment. I remember that the only thing I could hear was my heartbeat. Collin let me guide that scene. He stepped away to the monitor and let me reframe for different shots without cutting. That was one of the most peaceful moments in my entire life.
What is your favorite part about the collaboration process?
The sense of trust between our crew is incredible. We all have a strong faith in each other’s abilities. We’ve struggled in the past, but we have worked very intentionally through personal differences to reach a point of honesty and mutual respect.
One of the best parts about this crew is that we all share a language. We are friends outside of film, so we share inside jokes and memories. We’ve also worked so often with each other that it only takes a few words to explain a lighting setup or a camera movement. We know each other’s strengths, and we also know what kinds of things really get under each other’s skin.
The short answer is that we know each other, and that those personal relationships help us tell stories more effectively together.
Working as a DP, what is your process?
When I first meet with the director, I try to get a really broad idea of the story and what they are trying to say before we even start talking about the look of the film. There are so many visual choices that would be technically correct, but there are only a handful that would be right for this particular story.
After we get an overview, I ask for visual references and watch through those. Then I start storyboarding with the director’s approval. From there, I start making shot and lighting diagrams with my gaffer.
I take all of my plans on set. Sometimes we stick to exactly what we have planned, and sometimes we have to find another way to do something, but we always have visual guidelines that the director and I have laid out in preproduction.
Some of my favorite shots are the ones that I specifically mark in preproduction as the ones I want to improvise on set. I ask the gaffer to set the lights in a way that allows for free movement, and discuss the emotion of the scene with the director. Then on set, I am able to find each frame and be guided by the emotion of the story.
In preproduction, the director and I make sure that we are very clear about the story as a whole and scene by scene. That way on set we don’t have to constantly ask each other questions or second guess each other’s decisions. The biggest part of my process is making sure that we have all established trust with each other before stepping on set, and then doing everything I can not to break that trust even when things get stressful, which is inevitable on any set.
What are your special techniques?
Because I’m still learning, I don’t have anything that I would call a technique. I rely on things I’ve done in the past that have worked. If I’ve built a lighting rig that has given me a certain effect before, I’ll use that again. But usually I just have to find what works or what feels right, especially when it comes to framing or movement.
Do you have any onset rituals or superstitions?
During lunch I like to find a quiet place and just take a breath by myself. It helps me recalibrate.
What is your favorite project, besides IAN (duh), that you've worked on thus far and why?
I have two—Til Death Do Us Part and When Tides Recede, which both had mostly the same crew as IAN. They were both short films, but they were very intense shoots that were life changing, no exaggeration. The amount of heart that everyone put into those projects was incredible to me. Working with such a tight group of friends was something very special. It’s hard to separate the finished films from the process of making them, but I hope we were able to tell two stories that will make other people feel something too.
What's your next step?
In June or July, I am moving to Atlanta, GA. My goal is to work in the camera department in narrative film. I hope to continue shooting narrative passion projects as well.