10 quick questions, 5 professional and 5 random, with people you should know.
Mike’s artistic interests were clear from a very young age, excelling at drawing, painting, and sculpting. His love of art fused with his love for computers, and Mike began working in visual effects when he was 17. Mike had an apprenticeship with the Academy Award-winning cinematographer, Russell Carpenter ASC. On the side he shot indie films, commercials and music videos. Mike’s last project with Russell was Charlie’s Angels. Following that he spent 14 years shooting many of Hollywood’s biggest actors and actresses. Mike has also been featured on 11 seasons of America’s Next Top Model as a guest photographer/judge, and is the resident photographer/judge on Asia’s Next Top Model season 2. He also loves to travel – from floating in the Dead Sea to running with the bulls in Pamplona to climbing Machu Picchu.
Q. Why this? You could have done anything, what pulled you to this profession/industry?
MR. Photography was always a passion of mine, but I never considered it for work until I got hired for a few very small gigs. I had spent years studying filmmaking but was a bit too young and sensitive to really thrive in the production environment. It can be rough, and I wasn’t quite ready yet. So I floundered for a bit, but once I realized I could approach a still shoot the same way I did films, I was hooked. Each shoot could be a mini movie, but the turnaround was so much faster! I finally got immediate (or almost immediate) gratification. Now years later, I’m back to directing motion pictures, and doing stills as well. It’s perfect for me. I was very lucky that my parents always supported and encouraged my artistic endeavors.
Q. Last piece of art (physical, image, architecture, music…anything) that moved you. What was it? Your reaction? Were you surprised?
MR. There are two: James Turrell’s Ganzfeld at LACMA, and the recently restored Rodin museum in Paris. Turrell’s use of light and space is beyond description. It’s even beyond photographs. It has to be experienced to really appreciate the energy and magic. Rodin has been one of my favorites since I was in high school. His use of stone and metal to suggest such incredible emotions and movement is awe-inspiring. They did a wonderful job renovating the museum, and you get to really examine and enjoy his process from sketch to completion. It’s so cool.
Q. What/who has been your biggest influence?
MR. Films and paintings. I love Italian, Dutch and Spanish Renaissance masters – Caravaggio, Goya, Rembrandt, Da Vinci. I also love movies – Bertolucci, the Coens, Coppola, Kubrick – incredible visual storytellers.
Q. Best advice, personal or professional, you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to have your career?
MR. I was once told that as a cinematographer (and also applies to photographers), you need to have 3 legs like a tripod – you must be an effective artist, manager, and politician. Without any one of these essential “legs”, you will fall over. And it’s true – being an artist is really only a third of the job. You have to be a strong manager/businessperson to manage both yourself and your crew. You also have to be a good politician who can navigate the frequent hurdles and pitfalls that are littered everywhere. People want to work with others who are pleasant and who won’t freak out if things go south.
To add to this, I’d also say, you have to be 100% a self- starter, because nothing will come to you. And you have to be patient, which I’m terrible at. You can have great work, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be hired for those jobs you want. Lots of people have great work, and many of the jobs go to people the clients know. Some are friends, some are family members. It’s not always fair, but that’s the reality, and you have to knock down doors to find or make opportunity.
Q. What about your work can’t you teach? What makes the work unique to you?
MR. I like to think that my work has a moody, cinematic, but honest look at the subjects. Some moodier than others, naturally. I think I’m pretty good at disarming people and getting them to open up and feel comfortable. I hope that shows through my work.
All of the technical things can be taught, and any photograph can be reverse-engineered. But personality, problem-solving – these are things that you can’t really teach, and these are the things that make a huge difference.
Q. Favorite City/Place in the world?
MR. I grew up in LA, and it’s enjoying the beginnings of a real renaissance. So for quality of life, LA is hard to beat. But I also love Paris. I lived there for a bit, and just being surrounded by art 24/7 is so inspiring. The city itself, the gardens – it’s all an interactive work of art.
Q. Has social media helped or hurt our society?
MR. A bit of both, really. On one hand it’s given rise to a whole new toolset of self-promotion – Instagram, Snapchat, etc. But on the other hand, the perceived value of followers has tipped the scales in weird ways. People less qualified, whether we’re talking on-camera talent, artists, anything really, are getting hired over those more qualified just because they have more followers. I think it’s hard to argue with numbers, but it doesn’t always mean the quality will be there. If you can get both, then great, that’s a win-win. But sacrificing quality for audience makes me sad. It’s also opened up all kinds of opportunities for young artists to get their work out there, which is really cool. The downside is a lot of young artists don’t know the business at all and sell themselves short, driving down prices.
Q. Most irrational fear?
MR. When I was a kid I saw the movie Ghoulies where a monster popped out of a toilet, and for years I was terrified of going #2
Q. What is the oldest technology device you own? Do you still use it?
MR. My wife and I have an original Nintendo Entertainment System at home. And it works. It’s not plugged in at the moment, but we bring it out for special occasions.
Q. When did you first consider yourself an adult?
MR. Around the time we moved into our first house, our best friends started having kids. It all got really real, really quickly. But not in a bad way – perspectives change, and I noticed a real shift in my life and priorities. As a young person, particularly a young guy, so much of our energy goes into breaking things – being crazy, making our mark, rebelling. Then you hit a point where, hopefully, your career hits the next gear and you start reaping the fruits of your labor. Suddenly creating and building things becomes way more enjoyable than breaking and disrupting things. It didn’t happen overnight, but it was a pretty quick shift.