Last winter Arts Out Loud welcomed a new Board Director, Joaquin Sedillo, ASC, Director of Photography. If his name seems familiar it’s probably because you have seen his work on Glee and have most likely interacted with him on Twitter. The ultra-loyal “GLEEKS” and Joaquin have a special bond, and now it appears the fans of Scream Queens are just as taken with our favorite DP!
We spoke with Joaquin after Glee came to an end and he was settling into his new role as DP on the new Ryan Murphy production, Scream Queens.
Can you share a little bit about yourself?
I was raised in a small mountain town in Arizona – Flagstaff. I was raised Catholic with a small immediate family but a huge extended family! My dad had nine brothers and sisters and all of the cousins grew up pretty closely knit.
I always loved movies with beautiful photography as well as photos with beautiful lighting. My high school counselor encouraged me to pursue higher education in filmmaking.
When did you know that you wanted to get involved in the TV/film industry?
I had been brought to my high school counselor’s office to choose amongst a number of university scholarships I’d been offered. I found nothing interesting in any of the majors offered at the school’s I had been invited to. After a short discussion of what did interest me my counselor passed on all of the scholarships and we applied to the University of Southern California’s Film Program. I got in and I was off to the races educationally and professionally.
What is the Director of Photography responsible for on a TV production and what do they do?
Artistically I am entrusted with both creating and maintaining the overall visual style (based on notes from the creators of the series) then maintaining the essence of the look of the storytelling. I select the key members of my crew. I orchestrate the daily operation of shooting the work in an artistic and economical way. In other words as “captain of the ship” I make sure it stays on course and gets to each port in a timely fashion – and looks pretty and makes sense.
What does an average day of work look like for you?
Most shows and movies strive to maintain a twelve hour work day. So, along with drive time and lunch, I’m generally away from home 14 1/2 – 15 hours. This is why on a series like Glee we become so close – we spend more time with our fellow crew and cast than we do with our families.
Did you have any mentors or resources that helped you come into your own and follow your artistic goals?
I learned from three cinematographers with whom I spent years. Wally Pfister, ASC; Glenn Kershaw, ASC and Victor Hammer, ASC. Obviously I also studied their lighting, camera placement, lens choices and how to move the camera and use light to tell stories and to service the vision of my directors. All three gentlemen worked differently from an artistic stance and all three taught me valuable lessons on how to conduct myself on set and how to communicate with directors, producers, writers and actors and how to “lead the troops” on the field. Great men and great artisans.
One of the big points I stress when I speak to college groups is patience. In my high school year book, next to my senior picture, printed are the words, “I’m going to USC and I am going to become a cinematographer”. I set my sights on ‘SC, got in, graduated and then took a deep breath and prepared for a slow and steady run. The marathon. I knew a lot of fellow students who were dead set on immediate fame and success and that’s just not how this industry works. You have to earn your success over a long period of time. Particularly in my field. Knowing what the brass ring was and that I’d eventually be reaching for it, I spent my first 8 years out of ‘SC working as a focus puller/camera assistant; then I spent 8 more years working as a camera operator. That’s sixteen years working toward a position I had always known I’d be doing. The entertainment industry is a complex beast. My position alone has a web of craftsmanship, logistics, economics, politics, and social aspects. Every tidbit of finesse, set politics, communication and the nuts and bolts of filmmaking are aspects you have to perfect along the way.
Ryan Murphy and company produce some of the best dark humor on TV. What’s it like working with Ryan as a DP?
It’s so rewarding! It’s never ordinary nor boring. Ryan might say, “I want this driving sequence to look like an old 40’s movie” or “I want this maze to feel exactly like the shining!” or “we should light this scene with only candles!” Nearly every scene has an exciting challenge – challenges my crew is always up for. Ryan’s enthusiasm and creativity are infectious!
I recently jumped on Twitter and the Scream Queens fans have connected with you too. What’s it like for you when fans reach out and share personal anecdotes about themselves?
I absolutely love it! Our Glee fans are particularly important to me. Only a few strictly Scream Queens fans have reached out. I like the personal connection with the fans – they’ve all got such great and unique stories. So much of my day is spent creating “make believe” it’s fun hearing inspiring real life stories.
Glee was remarkable for its emphasis on diversity and depicting more well-rounded LGBT characters. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing LGBT youth today and how do you think organizations like Arts Out Loud can help?
We can as LGBT adults give the youth a safe place to express their ideas. As mentors we can open a dialogue about their ideas and guide them to an emotional place where they feel like someone might see entertainment, fun, deep emotion and human value in what they have to contribute. The scholarship funds can provide an avenue for these young artists and performers to take their education and development to a level they never thought possible.
Do you think it’s important to represent different types of LGBT characters on TV?
Absolutely. I think it’s imperative that the LGBT community be represented in a way that (to use one of our icons) shows all the colors of the rainbow. I think it’s really important that we as a community not be shown as a stereotype – or just as caricatures. The personalities in the LGBT community are as diverse as any other group and the differences are vast and interesting.
Just to touch a bit more on the mentoring aspect, since we do have a program starting here soon, do you have any experience as a mentor yourself?
I spend a great deal of time outside of work with about a dozen mentees who’ve been assigned to me over the years by the USC Cinematic Arts program as well as the Emmy Foundation. It’s been very important to me to give back to the industry which has been my home for decades. The way I choose to give back is by helping shaping the minds, attitudes, work ethics and standards of our next generation. Hard work, integrity, patience and a respect for the craft of cinema is very important to me.
You’re on the Board of Arts Out Loud, what do you hope to accomplish by serving with our organization?
It’s always been important to me to impress upon the “next generation” of artists, craftsmen, and storytellers the importance of honing your craft – it’s also very, very important to me to impress upon those same people, who happen to be LGBT youth, how important their contribution is. Often still, young minds and souls in the LBGT community often have self-esteem issues, and therefore sometimes have trouble seeing what they have to offer, or that what they have can be valued by others – especially others outside of the community. I want them to learn to open their minds, their hearts and realize they do have value and they can inspire others through their art.
And just because I’m into it, do you enjoy karaoke, and if so what is your go-to song?
I am a terrible singer and a country boy at heart… so, my go to is usually something by Tim McGraw and I generally hit the stage sometime after midnight when everyone else is too drunk to tell how badly I’m slaughtering Mr. McGraw’s work!
Photo credits: Joaquin Sedillo