Our Friday column asks our members about their favorite tool, software, article of clothing, shoes on set, favorite scriptwriting software, etc.
Jendra Jarnagin – Cinematographer and DP
By Lisa Stahl
Jendra Jarnagin, a bookworm and amateur photographer in childhood, found her calling as filmmaker at the tender age of 12. Since graduating from NYU’s School of the Arts, she’s overcome the many hurdles of working in a male-dominated field, acquiring more than 20 years of bicoastal experience as Director of Photography on feature firms, episodic television, music videos, commercials, documentaries and art films.
Initially supporting herself as gaffer and electrician, once behind a camera she realized the importance of lighting, perfecting that art on Sex and the City, Law & Order, The Sopranos, Vanilla Sky, and other sets. Jendra was also a pioneer in adopting digital cinema.
Her cinematography has been shown at the Whitney Museum, the UN, numerous film festivals (Sundance, Tribeca and others). She’s shot TV series for ABC, FOX, PBS, and Hulu, and ad campaigns for Maybelline, Estée Lauder, Adidas, Canon and others. Her recent eighth feature film, Asking For It, tells a cautionary tale about female vigilantes who exact revenge on men who’ve done bad things to women.
Jendra’s work and passion for travel has taken her to 27 countries. I caught up with her when the coronavirus kept her sequestered in LA longer than anticipated. She shared some truly illuminating tips.
What are three things you can’t live without on set?
My coffee thermos and reusable water bottle (no single-use plastics!)
My iPhone (and Artemis viewfinder app)
My notes for the day’s work (usually in the form of a shot list)
What advice continues to inspire you?
While attending a DP Master Class with Steven Fierberg, ASC, I shared my frustrations with him. As a DP, you need someone to choose you to shoot their project just to keep working, growing, and making progress. Steven responded: “You don’t need someone else’s permission to create.” He suggested I take up drawing, still photography, or find something I could do solo to continue developing as an artist.
What’s your philosophy for dealing with the unexpected?
I feel most at ease, therefore more creative and open, when I am well prepared. I like to take my time with the director in advance of shooting to focus on the visual style and language, without all the distractions on set. I like to arrive to set with a shot list, but then be open to throwing it out the window if something better presents itself, or if what we envisioned isn’t working out. Blocking rehearsals with the actors is where a lot of magic happens, so I observe and listen and tune into the emotionality of the scene. We often revise the shot list once blocking happens on set, but we need to have discussed beforehand the director’s intentions and priorities for the scene. When I feel confident that I have an informed grasp of the emotional core of the story, I can be ready to pivot, without wasting valuable time on set.
What’s one new piece of equipment or technology you’d like others to know about?
The app Scriptation has been a game-changer. Not exclusively for cinematographers, it’s for anyone who needs to make notes on scripts. I used to spend hours transferring sticky notes from one script to another when script revisions came out. But with Scriptation, you can make all your notes on an iPad, insert photos, diagrams and then, when a revision is released, you just hit “transfer” and voila! Everything is moved to the new version. More than any new camera or technology, Scriptation has had a very positive impact on my work.
What’s your philosophy for surviving and thriving in the industry?
Most artists have a hard time viewing themselves as a business – but they are. And networking is a huge part of that. By attending Sundance every year, events throughout the year, following up, having a presence in Los Angeles and social media, you keep your name out there. You need to prioritize time for networking because this is a business of relationships. I probably spend more time networking than anything else. In planting seeds and tending to a garden, you never know which ones will grow or how long that will take. Most of my job opportunities have come from relationships cultivated over the years. Often the ones that bear fruit are surprises that might not have happened had I not taken networking seriously.
Learn more about Jendra’s work at www.jendrajarnagin.com.
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