Interview with Cinematographer for Tribeca’s Integrity of Joseph Chambers, Oscar Ignacio Jiménez
Creating lasting friendships with fellow collaborators is one of Oscar Ignacio Jiménez’s greatest joys in the world of filmmaking–in which he has distinguished himself as an emotionally nuanced cinematographer. Oscar’s past work examines the human spirit through an intimate, realistic lens, and includes the films The Killing of Two Lovers, Notes from a Quiet Town, The Minors, and Infinite Blue.
His latest endeavor and third collaboration with director Robert Machoian is the Tribeca 2022 Official Selection The Integrity of Joseph Chambers. The film closely follows Joe, a family man, as he heads into the woods by himself in hopes of proving his survivalist capabilities to his family. For this project, Oscar opted to rely on heavy camera movement by way of handheld shots and dollies to establish a sense of spiritual intimacy between the lens and Joe.
We had the opportunity to speak with Oscar about his approach to visual storytelling, his favorite takeaways from shooting The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, and his past projects and collaborations.
What is it like working with Robert Machoian on The Integrity of Joseph Chambers? What was your working relationship like with him?
This is our third project together, the other two premiered at Sundance 2019 and 2020 (The Minors, The Killing of Two Lovers). Our sensibilities were aligned from the start, which made working together pretty seamless. I will say that Robert has an encyclopedic knowledge of foreign and indie American cinema that has shaped how I approach filmmaking. With this project, the process was similar to previous projects sharing photographs and film references that shaped character choices and devices that moved the plot forward. Robert is very collaborative in the way he leaves me with a lot of room to experiment and that trust has given me a huge confidence in the role of DP. He is not concerned with coverage which is evident with his filmography — he prefers setting up the shot like a photograph and letting the blocking unfold.
Can you take us behind one or two of your favorite scenes for The Integrity of Joseph Chambers? Tell us more about your process and how you decide the right way to approach it.
(Spoiler) The scene that was most interesting for me to work on was when Joe attempts to pacify Lone Wolf after accidentally shooting him. The challenge was how do we show a violent struggle that reveals itself into an embrace or reconciliation of sorts. Figuring it out had to be done in layers, first was how the camera would react to the moment. We wanted the camera to feel removed and objective as the struggle happened. To help reciprocate the emotion of violence, we decided we would use about 150ft of track to follow our characters at full speed. Then as the scene goes for an emotional turn we would reveal it by having the camera creep on a tighter lens in their space until it settles into a 2 shot of both characters talking to each other. The sun also had to be done at a specific angle too, because when I think of death usually sunset comes to mind. To me it’s analogous to the fleeting moments that occur in a small window during the day, just how life or time becomes precious when we feel like it’s slipping away. Scenes like this I like because it’s fun figuring out solutions for emotional beats and when you feel it on set and you’re sure you made the right decision, you can walk away proud.
Did you approach filming characters in The Integrity of Joseph Chambers in a specific way at all?
With this film we decided to move the camera more than we have in his previous film which led to the question whether that would be steadicam, handheld, etc. We both really resonated with how a camera on dolly felt and went forward with that direction because on the smaller tests we’ve done it always felt like a spiritual presence that followed Joe. A couple references we modeled visual tone were Gus Van Sant’s Gerry and Last Days lenses by the late Harris Savides A.S.C, by its use of dolly shots to highlight human emotion — specifically solitude. As the film ramps up emotionally the camera feels like it goes from an objective perspective to a subjective one. We feel like a passive viewer as Joe traverses the woods but when choices are made the camera internalizes his guilty conscience up until the end of the film.
What were some of the other challenges you encountered with The Integrity of Joseph Chambers? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge we faced on set was the reality of using a dolly. We got asked many times how practical it would be to lay so much track in uneven terrain for several scenes shooting back to back. In the end, Robert and I were adamant that dolly was the way to go. Jack Lott my Key Grip was so important to the process, we had a small tech scout where he assessed how we should approach building our shot list so we wouldn’t put ourselves into a corner. Bringing him early in the process, showed I valued his role and expertise which in turn gave him creative stakes in the process. He and his team looked for opportunities to create special rigs, one was putting a long stretch of dolly track in the middle of a river to mimic the look of a technocrat shooting toward the bank of our main character.
What are some of your other favorite past projects?
One of the more recent projects I worked on is called Infinite Blue with director Christian Schultz. I have been a fan of his work for many years and getting the call from him to collaborate on a project was a dream come true. He had seen The Killing of Two Lovers and wanted to take my sensibilities and combine it with his style. The project highlights three individuals living in the Austin, Texas area at different stages of life coping with homelessness. The way Christian showcases empathy felt genuine where he did not really care to make it a sad story on homelessness but rather highlight their lives as individuals and artists. Each had personal talents that they have developed throughout the years such as an artist who manipulates computer code to create geometric illustrations, another who creates art using the natural resources that are available around her camp and last being a poet.
What else is happening next in your world?
At the moment, I am in the early stages of prep for a feature shooting late summer with acclaimed theater director Marco Calvani making his feature debut. Not more I can say at the moment — hope to report back soon with more info. Of course looking forward to the next collaboration with Robert and continually on the hunt for up and coming collaborators to begin lasting friendships — which I feel is the best part of this industry. In between jobs practicing recipes and culinary techniques for my other love which is cooking.