Steve Arnold is an award-winning cinematographer.
A graduate in Cinematography and Editing at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS), his impressive body of work includes over thirty feature credits across multiple genres, including many classics of Australian cinema. He has also worked extensively across television shooting mini-series, telemovies and episodic series.
Steve’s feature credits include Disgrace starring John Malkovich, which won the International Critics Awards at Toronto, and La Spagnola (both directed by Steve Jacobs), for which Steve was nominated for an AFI Award for Best Cinematography. Steve shot the comedy drama Separation City (directed by Paul Middleditch), starring Joel Edgerton. Steve worked with Paul Middleditch previously on A Cold Summer which screened in Official Competition at Montreal and Rotterdam Film Festivals, as well as Terra Nova, for which Steve won an ACS Gold Award for Feature Cinema. Steve won an ACS Award of Distinction for Turning April (directed by Geoff Bennett) as well as shooting fantasy sci-fi Highlander: The Source (directed by Brett Leonard). Steve was a DOP on Mad Bastards (directed by Brendan Fletcher), which was shot in two parts. The film premiered in competition for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2011, won the Independent Spirit Award at the 2011 IF Awards and was nominated for 5 AACTA Awards in 2012. Last year, he also was one of the cinematographers involved in a worldwide shoot for documentary Red Obsession on the wine industry, co-directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross. The film debuted at Berlin International Film Festival and screened Tribeca. Other directors who Steve has worked with on multiple projects include Bill Bennett, Megan Simpson-Huberman and Craig Lahiff.
Steve feature documentary work includes Gillian Armstrong’s AFI Award winning classics Bingo, Bridesmaids and Braces and Not Fourteen Again. He received an Emmy Nomination for Cinematography for The Natural History of the Chicken (directed by Mark Lewis) which screened in Official Competition at both Toronto and Sundance Film Festivals, and won two Emmy Awards.
Steve has also been prolific in television. He shot two stylistically innovative telemovies, Mortgage and Malpractice (directed by Bill Bennett). Malpractice was selected for Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Other television credits include telemovies Grange (dir. Catriona McKenzie), Balmain Boys (dir. Ray Quint), Doom Runners (dir. Brendan Maher), Ebbtide (dir. Craig Lahiff) and Mimi Goes to the Analyst (dir. Megan Simpson-Hubermann). Steve shot AFI Award winning mini-series The Day of the Roses (dir. Peter Fisk), for which he won a Silver ACS Award. Steve most recently shot documentary JFK: The Smoking Gun, an international doc coproduction from Montreal-based Muse Entertainment and Australian partner Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder.
In addition, Steve is a highly sought after DOP for high end TVCs and has an extensive list of music video credits. Here, he chats to ArtsHub about his career.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Something to do with Cinema, I thought it was amazing from age 5.
When did you know you would work in the arts?
Not until I was doing it!
How would you describe your work to a complete stranger?
I’m a cinematographer working on all sort of different production from Feature films to commercials, TV Drama, Documentaries and music Videos, if they’re interested we could talk from the obvious to the arcane.
Is there a mission to your work?
I never wanted to be bored which keeps me moving on creatively and moving back and forth between different sorts of production, which has been good and bad.
What are you proud of?
Being part of a collaborative group on projects that have had success here and abroad artistically and commercially
What’s your background – are there studies that prepare you for this?
I went to High school, Film School, the ABC, shot Film for TV, then freelanced as an assistant and worked my way through crew roles to Director of Photography. Every job is a learning process . Every project draws on all my experience filtered through my sensibilities.
What stimulates your creativity?
Everything. Each project seems to require different influences which need research . Ideas filter through from that which determine an approach in terms of Atmosphere, Dynamics of Camera Movement and Framing, Colour and tone to tell the story. Its an evolving individual experience each time. Fascinating.
In a general sense all the visual and theatrical arts are a source of inspiration. Literature. And of course Music. All music.
Can you describe an “average” working day for you?
Some days are more average than others! All I can say is it involves a group of people and some camera equipment concentrating on some piece of Esoterica. Usually.
Although recently I was involved in developing a Virtual camera system inside a Virtual Set. So in that case it was just a bunch of people and some computers!
What else do you do to pay the bills?
I work solely in film although I have conducted Mastercalsses and Workshops in Cinematography. Years ago in Film School and for the first 10 years of my career I composed Music for Film with my friend and collaborator Graham Tardif ,some of it under a pseudonym.
What’s the one thing – piece of equipment, toy, security blanket, – you can’t work without?
Tricky question, my work involves a lot of peripheral equipment so each project has its own inventory of bits and pieces that are necessary. The Evolution of technology that is rampant right now means the latest best piece of gear is next months boat anchor. Now even light meters aren’t strictly necessary and the sharpest lenses are De rigeur one film then the worst thing to use the next! So it looks like its just me. Good food and a well made cup of tea are nice to have but not mandatory.
What gets you fired up?
Negativity shits me.
Who in the industry most inspires you?
I’ve never thought about one individual or group specifically over others.
What in the industry do you despair about?
Australia is a small market and that goes for the culture and the media that tell us that we’re second rate.
What is the best thing about your job?
Well I’ve certainly encountered some very creative and intelligent people, I’ve travelled the globe and I’ve been able to exercise my art on many great projects.
What’s the worst?
It’s a feast and a famine.
What are the top three skills you need in this industry?
I don’t know about the top 3 but I think , passion, spontaneity and perseverance count for a lot.
What advice would you give anyone looking to break into the field?
There are no rules, only conventions.
How do you know when you missed the mark?
I don’t know maybe I missed the mark on that one.
If you had a motto, what would it be?
There are no rules.
When do you know you’ve made it?
Hmmm. I don’t know. I guess somebody else tells you! Particularly if its from overseas. That seems to be the Australian way.
Arnold currently freelances as a sought after cinematographer on various scale productions and is also available for workshops with Metro Screen. For more information visit http://metroscreen.nsw.edu.au
(Pictured: Steve Arnold)