Is the next wave in entertainment extended reality (XR) and artificial intelligence (AI)? Cinematographer Vince Pace discusses 3D filmmaking, LED virtual production, and the future of innovative storytelling.
This summer, I interned at Fuse Technical Group in L.A., a leading multi-media design and development technology company specializing in LED lighting, virtual production, live events, installations, and project management. From observing short films shot in state-of-the-art extended reality (XR) studios to learning the ins and outs of working in a warehouse to meeting incredibly talented and genuine people, I’ve truly enjoyed my time with Fuse, as it’s provided me with exposure to an emerging, fascinating branch of entertainment I hadn’t previously considered — I’ll never forget my first time stepping into an LED Volume and being completely immersed by a digital oceanic environment, highly-realistic waves lapping over my head amid a storm brewing in the distance — piqued interest in on-set production, increased my understanding of the complexities surrounding warehouse inventory intake, distribution, and management (after removing shaders on LED panels, I have a newfound appreciation for LED installations as well as barcoding and scanning items), developed my interpersonal abilities, and further solidified my desire to work in the entertainment industry.
Perhaps the most invaluable opportunity I’ve had with Fuse is interviewing Vince Pace, a cinematographer, stereographer, underwater camera and lighting expert, and the Fuse Film/TV lead, who’s passionate about bridging the dynamic between emerging technology and artistic expression, one in which technology complements an individual’s creative vision and serves as a supportive application to their goals.
Pace has worked extensively on films and series, serving as Director of Photography on Ghosts of the Abyss (2003), Aliens of the Deep (2005), Expedition: Bismarck (2002), and Avatar (DP L.A., 2009), underwater camera crew, technical consultant, and visual effects producer on Titanic (1997), The Abyss (1989), The Blue Planet (2001), and Tron: Legacy (2010), respectively, and stereographer on 3D concerts and shows like Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert (2008), Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience (2009), and Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away (2012).
For Avatar, Pace co-created the 3D Fusion Camera System with James Cameron to mimic human vision and shoot features in stereoscopic 3D, a process that took seven years to develop and allowed filmmakers to match-move the performance-captured CG characters for compositing shots, increasing editing efficiency and transforming the future of 3D storytelling. The two formed the Cameron-Pace Group in 2011 to promote 3D filmmaking, supplying equipment and working on films like Hugo (2011), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), and Life of Pi (2012) as well as sporting events for ESPN and the NBA.
Our conversation lasted nearly an hour, though it didn’t feel like it as I was completely absorbed, and it’s been the most resonating and meaningful discussion I’ve had regarding film, both in terms of the medium’s evolution and life advice. There’s just so much intelligence, depth, and sincerity to Vince, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.
Starting off, Pace explained his machinist upbringing, in which his father owned a machine shop and worked as an underwater photographer for trade magazines, teaching him the trade and gifting him a Nikon F2 camera, igniting his enthusiasm for photography and filmmaking. As such, he’s scuba-certified, and has dove Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon, a wartime wreck site, via scuba and the Titanic and Bismarck via submersible.
Transitioning, Pace discussed his experiences working with James Cameron on Avatar, Ghosts of the Abyss, and Bismarck as DP, his admiration for Cameron’s craft present, highlighting their shared passion for high-quality, immersive filmmaking. He detailed the technical aspects of the 3D Fusion Camera System, which was designed to perfectly capture human perception, where the system imitates human vision and converges on a subject matter through a technical motion controller that mimics focus, iris, zoom, and convergence in a synchronized manner.
Delving into Avatar’s impact on 3D filmmaking and the formation of the Cameron-Pace Group, Pace stated that he and Cameron formed the Cameron-Pace Group to facilitate 3D filmmaking and foster its commercialization. However, despite Avatar’s box-office and pop cultural success, 3D overall was met with technical hurdles and pushback from an industry too concerned with profit, competing interests, lack of dedication to the craft, and reliance on cheaper, faster, easier technology, resulting in its slow erasure from mainstream cinema. Still, he noted 3D’s presence in IMAX and attraction-themed venues like museums, aquariums, or theme parks, emphasizing that when done properly, as in Hugo or Life of Pi, the feature was remarkable and revolutionary.
Segwaying into Pace’s current position at Fuse and his work with virtual environments, Pace addressed the challenges of adopting emerging technologies while maintaining the integrity of storytelling and artistic expression. He contended that virtual production is the next wave after 3D, stressing heavily that technology, whether that’s AI or XR, should be complementary to the cinematographer’s toolkit and help them achieve their creative vision, not dictate, or control it. He expressed intrigue in finding this balance with Fuse and brightened at the possibilities of the harmonious application, citing that bridging technology and craft has always been his approach to cinematography — one I strongly agree with.
Regarding AI, Pace explained that AI simply regurgitates existing information from a repository, quickly becoming derivative, whereas the human mind brims with creativity. Therefore, he believes that as long as humans continue envisioning unique ideas and narratives, something AI inherently cannot, people will realize AI’s repetitive nature and transform it into a tool for their own ingenuity.
Throughout our talk, Pace reminisced captivating anecdotes, such as shooting with Simul-Cam on Avatar, where he’s seeing Neytiri in front of him but not in reality, to working with DP Robert Richardson on Hugo and slightly adjusting the camera lens in a complementary manner to watching Cameron’s intense commitment to story, characters, and emotions on Ghosts of the Abyss, emphasizing his love of the technical layers and craft that go into making a film. Additionally, I asked Pace several tangents, such as if he’s seeing Barbenheimer (yes to Oppenheimer, unsure but possibly to Barbie), if Hollywood, per the success of HBO’s The Last of US, is turning to the gaming industry for content, and his stance on reboots, remakes, spin-offs, and sequels, to which he scoffed and reaffirmed that given artistic freedom, creativity will reign and that simply rehashing existing IP isn’t going to suffice in the long-run.
Nearing the end of our conversation, Pace grew thoughtful and reflective, musing that his best advice for aspiring entertainment professionals was to find a discipline in the industry that one had passion and skill for and pursue it without hesitancy. He noted solemnly that he’s seen colleagues and friends pass and reiterated that while he’s had memorable experiences, such as being in the open air with dolphins and whales or in a submersible exploring oceanic depths, worked with masters of craft, and is very comfortable and content with his contributions, that at the end of the day, take away all the glamour and sheen, it’s still work. Hard work that doesn’t come easy and isn’t linear. That his path may have been less of a path and more of a reaction, a yes to any opportunity. A hunger for possibility. A desire for innovative storytelling. That’s what landed him on the dive to the Titanic and opened the door for extraordinary opportunities.
Read the full interview below.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Anna: Starting off, what inspired you to pursue a career in the media entertainment industry, and how did you first become interested in working in film/tv?
Vince: I was fortunate enough that my dad owned a machine shop; so, he was a machinist by trade, and right next door was a scuba dive shop. So, my dad would make parts for the scuba dive shop because they wanted to take pictures underwater for trade magazines, no films or documentaries, just motor-land magazines, travel magazines, so they’d go to Tahiti and shoot pictures underwater, then publish them in the magazine. So, my dad would make underwater housings for them as a side business; he always said they never had money, and you could get fed well — abalone, lobster, fish — but no money. And so, he did it as a side business and I started working with my dad when I was 10 years old, learning the trade of being a machinist, and I started to get interested in lens optics, underwater optics, the cameras they were using, so my dad bought me a Nikon F2 and I started to get interested in photography. He then bought a darkroom, a developer, and I was able to start making pictures. That’s where I started, where my first passion started to come and go beyond the technical world into more of the creative world.
Anna: That’s really cool. Was your dad scuba-certified and did you become certified?
Vince: He actually traded some of the work to have us all scuba-trained, so I have 2 brothers and so we all learned together to be scuba divers.
Anna: What’s the coolest place that you’ve dove?
Vince: I’ve been on the Titanic, the Bismarck, I think the Bismarck was the coolest for me; now that’s submersible diving, which is different from scuba diving. Scuba diving, I think Chuuk, it used to be called Truck Lagoon, it’s now called Chuuk — they have a lot of the wartime wrecks there underwater, it’s kind of an incredible place to dive.
Anna: You worked closely with James Cameron on groundbreaking films like Titanic, The Abyss, Ghosts of the Abyss, Aliens of the Deep, Expedition: Bismarck, which was nominated for an Emmy for Cinematography, and of course, Avatar as DP. But before we dig into Avatar, can you share some behind-the-scenes insights about the collaborative process and any challenges you faced while working on these projects? Are there any anecdotes or memorable experiences from working with James Cameron?
Vince: You know, I think, there were so many stories, it just was non-stop stories because we were doing stuff nobody had done before. But I think for me, on The Abyss, I realized Jim Cameron’s undying passion for filmmaking. He lives and breathes every single shot, every subject, every line. So, for me, that experience on the Abyss where I worked underwater for 13 hours a day — I worked 6 days a week on the film; I was there for four months straight, didn’t come back home, and even with all those hours, all those days, all that time Jim Cameron was underwater more time. He was there more; you know he just led by example and that really taught me a lot about the industry and how to get ahead — I had to work hard. But I have stories from being in the submersible with him three miles down to being in a helicopter in Canada shooting aerials, but I think the most impressive thing to me is he’s a Picasso, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein all wrapped into one. And I was fortunate enough to be close to him, enough to always learn and be a sponge, and that really taught me a lot in the industry.
Anna: Would you say that your passion for underwater exploration helped you bond or is that something you both were interested in separately and it just came together?
Vince: I started with a renowned underwater cinematographer called Al Giddings, he was the one who owned the dive shop; he ended up doing the Bond films and working with Jim on different projects, but Al Giddings really gave me the passion for underwater and the challenges to come away with material. He always had a saying that said ‘These projects are pages in your book. Your life is like a book, and it has chapters and pages. So, each of these projects contributed to that in your life.’ I know that when we worked on a CBS film called Titanic: Treasure of the Deep, that was my first exposure to Titanic and the project. We were coming back on the ship, and we were sitting on the deck, and I said, ‘Man, what a page in my book.’ And he said, ‘Vince, this is a chapter. This is a whole chapter.’ And it was true. I learned that whole passion from him, but what I related to Jim was the fact that he isn’t your white-collar director; he gets his hands dirty, he immerses himself in research and study, and that was more of a bond between us than anything else. Now, the passion for underwater, absolutely; he was going to go into outer space for a while. We designed — the prototype for the Fusion camera was initially called RCS, reality camera system — and he was going to take that to outer space, not underwater. Most people think it was designed for the film — he had a passion to bring back images from space that would enthuse people into what that exploration really meant, the feeling of exploration, but then it became too commercialized for him, so he redirected it and we decided to go out on Titanic. You know, everybody knew the story, right, the films had been done —
Anna: I will share that I’ve never seen the film, but now that it’s on Netflix I’ll have to watch it.
Vince: Yeah, you should see it. But most people were really negative towards the effort because they knew the story. They had seen the film on TV before, but Jim’s passion was that nobody felt it. Nobody felt how 1500 souls died on that ship and they didn’t feel it inside. They just watched it like it was over there, and his whole effort was to try to bring home the feeling of what really occurred that night, and he did an excellent job of doing that.
Anna: In my Film, Technology, and Style class, we learned that Avatar was the turning point for 3D technology and paved the way for CGI movies such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes. One of the significant achievements for this was the development of the 3D Fusion Camera System, which you co-created. Can you elaborate on the technical aspects of the invention and the challenges you faced in implementing and refining this technology? How did it enhance the production of Avatar and subsequent films?
Vince: I started the project with Jim on a friendship basis. Jim explained to me that he wanted to do something in 3D using the new digital cameras that were emerging in the marketplace. We fully felt at that time that we were going to go to other companies and acquire the technology for doing this film; we were not going to invent something, we were going to look around and see what they were doing for the theme park world, you know they had done shows in the Disney theme parks that were in 3D. So, we researched all those existing technologies and what we discovered was that it wasn’t dynamic enough. The 3D was like a fixed thing; it wasn’t real life; it was almost like a picture of a fruit bowl. Beautiful picture but it’s not cinematography. There’s no action. There’s no feeling. It’s just a beautiful picture of a fruit bowl. What Jim wanted to do was convert technology to what the human vision was really. He wanted to mimic what your eyes see. To do that, the technology had to be developed from the ground up, so we implemented more of a motion controller base so that the camera systems operate much like your eyes do; they converge on a subject matter. If I hold my finger up, you converge on that. Everything else is diverged because your eyes are focused on that, so we developed a camera system that would do the exact same thing. Now the key to it in cinematography is you had to have the viewer look where you wanted them to look, but that’s what you do in filmmaking all the time, so it was kind of a system that was designed for cinematography, not necessarily for a pretty picture. So, that involved a very technical motion controller that would mimic both focus, iris, zoom, and the convergence point of the camera in a synchronized fashion, so both eyes were working together.
Anna: What does it mean when it match-moved the performance capture of CG characters for compositing shots?
Vince: Well, there was another level involved that other people contributed to — Simul-Cam, which immersed you in the environment. You’re seeing at Fuse, the virtual production now where the whole screen immerses you, but at that time, it was a set of goggles that would put you into that same thing. Some people call it augmented reality, but it was definitely taking the motion capture of the images and inserting them into a world so that the two were joined. So Glenn Derry worked on that with Jim Cameron, and for me, to put on my filmmaker hat to be with Jim when he said, ‘Here, put these goggles on and hold the virtual camera,’ and I literally did a shot where Jake is on the ground and Neytiri is stabbing him with the spear, saying ‘You dummy’ and so they cued up the shot and I laid on the ground, and I’m looking up and seeing Neytiri and she’s not there, but she’s there for me, and I’m framing her and I see my knee in the shot, and I move the shot so I don’t have the knee in the shot. Well, that wasn’t my knee, that was Jake’s knee, and it was just an amazing thing that I was fortunate enough to see it evolving. I just don’t know how Jim does it, from camera systems to performance capture, Simul-Cam, how can his head be spinning in all those worlds is beyond my imagination, I don’t know how he does that.
Anna: It’s really fascinating you got to work on that film. Can you tell me more about its impact on the film industry, particularly in terms of technological advancements and storytelling techniques, as well as its pop cultural legacy, as seen through Disney’s The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom and the recent release of Avatar: The Way of Water?
Vince: I think the journey in 3D is not done, right? Unfortunately, they’re some technical hurdles that really prevented its commercialization. Jim knows it well, sometimes it’s just a bar too high for a normal film, but I’m very proud of the fact that Jim was able to push through and then you look at a film like Life of Pi, and when you match what we did with 3D — I worked on it with Claudio Miranda and Ang Lee — and man, when you see that culmination come together – we’re talking Academy Award-winning films in cinematography; Jim did it with Mario Fierro with Avatar and Claudio and Ang Lee did it together on Life of Pi, Hugo with Bob Richardson, another film you should see if you haven’t —
Anna: I haven’t but it’s on my list.
Vince: Great film. And when you see the culmination of great filmmaking coupled with technology, unbelievable. And it’s not finished, sure they’re some hurdles. Most people thought every film should be in 3D; that’s an incorrect statement; that’s almost like saying every film should be in color. Well, they still prove, 2 years ago there was a black-and-white film, but my point is — it’s not something that’s a cure-all for this is the technique you should use. Saving Private Ryan used techniques that they don’t replicate in other films. I honestly feel that 3D isn’t done. It’s a great marriage with creative storytelling for some films and they should be done in no other way. But there are some technical hurdles that people feel uncomfortable with glasses, not everybody can see 3D, stuff along those lines. So, it’s not the commercialized product we were hoping it would be, but it’s certainly a tool, that when you look at these films and how they’re done, is starting to evolve in a different way. Look at Jungle Book, the way they crafted that film, same thing, it’s a technique not for everybody, but certainly, one that has changed how we look at a film in some incredible instances.
Anna: I’ll return to the emerging technologies thread in a minute, but cycling back, after working together on Avatar, you formed the Cameron-Pace Group with James Cameron. Can you tell me more about the motivation behind establishing the company and how it shaped future storytelling? What were some highlights and key contributions of the CPG? I saw it was used on Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Vince: So, we formed Cameron-Pace Group to try and promote 3D filmmaking, plain and simple. We had the technology, but we were met with a lot of pushback in the industry. TV’s wanted a button that could make a film instantly go from 2D to 3D with the push of a button through rotoscoping-esque techniques. It’s a failed technology but there were boxes made by Sony to turn 2D images into 3D. There were companies that would rotoscope every frame and push and pull it to make it look 3D. There were camera systems that didn’t follow our philosophy, so we were met with a tremendous amount of pushback. But what I’m most proud of, and what we tried to push as much as possible and I think we were successful in doing it, is when you saw these films, whether they’re Tron, Transformers, Life of Pi, Hugo, all of these films, we did Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers, and when you get a chance to see this, they’re great. Great representations of the technology but not everybody wanted to follow the rules or spend the money. They wanted it cheaper, faster, easier, and it was hard work. It wasn’t something where you just flip a switch and it magically appears in 3D, so there was a lot of pushback to what we were trying to do and other companies were trying to do it differently, and with a different product, so in the end it wasn’t sustainable as a commercialized product, so Cameron-Pace was designed to commercialize it, and we just couldn’t push it over the hump. There were too many competing companies, but you know, we ended up doing over 200 sporting events for ESPN; we did great work with the NBA, so when done correctly, it was a magical experience. We did the NBA All-Stars, and it was unbelievable. So yeah, I think we pushed the bar, it’s there for filmmakers to take advantage of, but is it a commercialized application for all filmmaking? No, it’s not. Sometimes, in filmmaking, they want to take an easier route, and I’ve been lucky to work with Ang Lee, Jim, and so forth who really pushed the envelope.
Anna: Do you think 3D gets lumped with IMAX, where it’s featured mostly in attractions like museums or aquariums and maybe that’s why it wasn’t as successful?
Vince: It’s understood more in attractions than the theater. IMAX is an experiential medium anyway, it’s big and large, coupled with 3D it’s a great combination. In fact, a lot of the success of IMAX was credited to Jim Cameron, because they were a perfect format for embracing 3D so when Cameron was coming out with his film, what better way to see it than in an IMAX theater and getting everything? So, Jim was credited with helping IMAX sustain itself as a business model. In many ways, it’s something that did change the industry and help, but it settled into a boutique application. If it’s right, boy you can hit the ball out of the park, same thing with IMAX. Christopher Nolan does a great job shooting in IMAX, but some people want to see a theater with a 20ft screen, and there you go.
Anna: Sorry, quick tangent since you mentioned Christopher Nolan, are you going to see Oppenheimer?
Vince: Of course.
Anna: Are you going to do the Barbenheimer double feature?
Vince: I don’t know yet. You know, I’ve enjoyed films since I was a kid. When I worked on The Abyss, it was mesmerizing for me, to be able to be on a film set and see what goes into crafting a shot and then seeing the final product, it’s the best of both worlds. Because people don’t understand all these layers behind the camera. So, I enjoy the artistic side of it, and I love exploring how did they get that done — Top Gun Maverick is great with Joe Kosinski and Claudio Miranda — and you just wonder how they did that stuff technically to make it so believable, and that’s the part I’ve always been interested in.
Anna: Can you talk more about your role now with Fuse as the Film/TV lead and any aspects of your job you find rewarding or challenging, and if they’re any upcoming projects you’re interested in?
Vince: It’s interesting because I’m at the point of my career where part of me says retire, part of me says enjoy life, don’t get stressed, and then part of me says, wow, what’s the next wave? And for me, I started out in underwater, and I was fortunate enough to dive Bismarck, Titanic, work on Blue Planet series with BBC, train cinematographers to shoot underwater, so I mastered that whole aspect, and I enjoyed it tremendously and was really good at it. Then 3D came along, and it started to build a wave; it was a little swell and then once Avatar hit, it was like holy hell. We got great indicators with Hannah Montana, Jonas Brothers, U2. Cirque Du Soleil, those were all blips on the radar that pointed we’re headed in the right direction, and then the tsunami came with Avatar and blew everybody away. So, I loved that part of it and hitching myself to a wagon and I sat there and asked myself what do you want to do? Go work for a camera company, a lighting company, stay at home, retire? And I finally came to the realization that I feel that virtual production is that next wave, and it’s really something that is still in the ground floor of an emerging technology and unfortunately it has some hurdles in that it comes more from the gaming mentality (go in this box, we’ll track you, light you, put images on the screen). I want it to be complementary to the cinematographer. I want that Volume to be a dynamic tool for the cinematographer. We look at it as Volumes, which I don’t like that wording because that’s like I’m putting you in a box and telling you, you have to do it this way. It really needs to be a complementary tool because a DP, their job is to approach the project with a doctor’s toolkit — Steadicam, Technocrane, lighting, lensing — all that toolkit that they bring to the table is important for their artistic work. It’s their paintbrush. For us to take them out of that element and put them in a Volume and say, no, no you can’t use those lights, we’ll light from the screen, is very foreign to them. So, what virtual production must be is a complementary tool to that toolkit. It can’t be the only way to do it. So, I love that aspect or challenge of it where I can come and work with Fuse and find ways where we can make it more dynamic and open ways for lighting to come into play without having to dismantle anything — to shape it so that it could really be a part of what they do. Not, here you are, this is what you got, work with it. That’s the wrong approach the industry is taking and I’m at Fuse trying to change that. I do think it’ll be the next tsunami if we get it right, where filmmakers want to do it this way because it adds to their creative direction. But right now, there’s the question of doing it practically or digitally and both are applicable and some films could be a hybrid of each.
Anna: Like The Mandalorian, which was shot in the Volume.
Vince: Yes, The Mandalorian is a good example of a specific direction benefited by specific technology — highly reflective environment, you surround them with images, those reflections become real, what a perfect application. But not every film is The Mandalorian. Not every film needs that aspect of it, so we have to adapt the technology, so it goes beyond Mandalorian, where it’s quick to deploy, quick to recover, it lands and gets the job done for the application that they want and it’s complementary to the cinematographer’s tools. If we pull that off at Fuse, then this technology will go places you can’t imagine. You know, a film could call in a Fuse Volume; we could erect it in a few days, they could shoot in it, we can use plates from the show, we can get the job done and we can go home. That’s how the business is set up.
Anna: Along those lines, how do you balance XR studios and the commercialization of emerging technology with maintaining the integrity of storytelling and artistic expression?
Vince: For me, I’m approaching Volumes the same way I approach 3D. If you go back to my 3D days, I’ll tell you a story on Hugo. I was working on Pirates of the Carribean, so I was late getting to Hugo. I flew into Hugo in London, and they were not happy at all. They had done some testing and didn’t like what they saw. Martin Scorsese was thinking about going back to 2D for the film because the testing they had done didn’t look good to him; it wasn’t contributing to his vision. Now, obviously, I’m worried because I’m trying to promote 3D, I don’t need Martin Scorsese telling me that 3D isn’t going to work. So, I showed up and they’re very negative about what they saw; they really don’t want to do the film in 3D, so I say, ‘With all due respect, can I see the images you guys have shot?’ So, we’re looking at dallies and I said ‘You’re right, they don’t look good.’ They said, ‘But it’s your cameras.’ And I said, ‘Sorry to say but this footage doesn’t look good at all,’ so I asked them to reshoot over the next two days the footage they had shot but with me working with the team to present it to them. And Marty agreed, which was great, and the cinematographer Bob Richardson, Academy Award-winning dude, said ‘Show me.’ There was a shot where we’re looking through the clock up in the tower at the train station, and he set up the camera and wanted to shoot it in 3D and he turns to me and says, ‘So Vince, what lens do I use?’ I say ‘What?’ He goes ‘What lens should I put on for 3D?’ I said ‘Bob, what lens would you shoot if you were just shooting this in 2D?’ He goes, ‘I’ve been told that you have to use a certain lens for 3D or else it doesn’t work.’ I said, ‘I don’t know who told you that, but pick any lens you want.’ And he goes ‘Ok, I’m going to put a 32 on here,’ and he puts the 32 on and lines up the shot, I move the 3D a little bit once he gets his whole shot composed, and we shoot it. And he goes ‘Ok what if I change the lens?’ and I said ‘I don’t care. What would you like to put on Bob?’ He goes, ‘An 85.’ So, he puts the 85 on, I move it a little bit, looks great, he shoots it again. We went through the whole day of shooting this exact same way, one lens ‘Whatever you want Bob, I’m not here’ — 3D is complementary to what he does; it doesn’t dictate it. Too many people insist on doing it a certain way, and an Academy Award-winning DP is told what lens to put on, what’s wrong with that picture?
Anna: There’s no creative expression.
Vince: Exactly. It takes away from the whole thing. So, I was like, ‘No Bob, do what you do, and I’ll come in later and make it look good’ and he said ‘Ok.’ And we looked at dallies with Marty there and he goes ‘We got a film’ and I go ‘You do’ and it looked great on the screen. So, I want to take that same approach that I did in 3D that worked well for me with what you see in virtual production. I want to be so complementary to that person who is good at what they do. I don’t want to dictate to them. I want to say, ‘How can I help?’ I think, if I’m successful, it’ll probably be my last hoorah, but that’s my approach to cinematography; it always has been. Technology should respect the craft as opposed to trying to change it.
Anna: So, what are your thoughts on the writer’s strike and how studios want to use AI to create scripts and the challenges it poses?
Vince: AI regurgitates material. Maybe it’s new for you because you haven’t heard it that way before, but AI is not a creative process, it’s an interpretative process. It takes existing information, scrambles it, and puts it together in a way you want to hear — but that’s going to get boring after a while.
Anna: So, you don’t think it’s lucrative? It’ll just fizzle out?
Vince: I think that people will realize that there isn’t a creative bone in that body. It’s a different bone, but that information is going to become repetitive because it’s going to the same depository. The mind doesn’t. The mind dreams. It has visions that you can’t even imagine and I’m not sure AI is capable of those dreams. I think it’s a technology that will help but will eventually plateau; that the repository isn’t going to grow. The only way the repository of information is going to grow for them to derive more information is through somebody’s mind, somebody’s creative expression.
Anna: That’s reassuring because I’m interested in screenwriting, but I’m still nervous about what’s happening.
Vince: Yeah, well you know obviously the distribution medium is changing, right, the formula for making money is changing. They’re representations for both sides arguing about who’s going to retain the most money, but that’s been going on for hundreds of years; it’s nothing new. Even if AI takes say 60% of the business away, the 40% will cost more because nobody is going to do it unless it sustains a living. So, rest assured — you just want to make sure you’re good at what you’re doing. If you’re just going to get in it to regurgitate information, then that’s not the career for you. But if you feel like you’re good at it, man go for it, because the revenue models will follow the market demand. The key is, is this something you feel you can contribute on a high level? Filmmaking is up there; it’s not easy to do it well or be successful.
Anna: Following that, what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers or individuals interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry as a whole? How do you stand out?
Vince: My best advice is to figure out what part of you are you good at expressing. In Jim’s case, he was a good artist; he could do math or talk to a scientist on their level, so he put it all together, but that’s not normally how films are made, where this one person can do everyone’s job. That’s an anomaly. There’s a group of people where each one does their job and they do it well — that’s normal filmmaking. And you need to figure out, look at all the disciplines — and they are disciplines, they’re not something where this person kicks back with a cigarette and a beer — they are disciplines, whether you’re acting, production designer, set designer, DP, gaffer, AC, they’re all disciplines and are sort of crafted as religions. You have to figure out which one of those religions applies to you, and which ones you’re good at.
Anna: What if you have multiple interests but you’re not certain which one to pursue? Should you start as a PA on set just to get your foot in the door? People have told me that the traditional route is to work in a mailroom at an agency but that sounds dreadful, so for someone who doesn’t know yet, how do you gain exposure and experience?
Vince: If you don’t know which of those disciplines you like most, you need to find a way to expose yourself to those disciplines because one of them is going to pique your interest. One of them is going to say ‘Wow, I think I can do that.’ If you want to be in filmmaking, break down the industry, take all those disciplines — you know, some people are more technical driven, others are more formula; a gaffer is more formula, a DP is part formula, part creative, a director is performance driven — so you just need to figure out where you gravitate. And then expose yourself to that. PA is a generalized thing; I don’t like it. But trying to find a way to work with a company that’s doing set or production design, you just need to find a way to expose yourself. If you don’t have the passion for it, you won’t make it through.
Anna: I’m personally torn where I love to write — creative writing and personal stories, poetry — and I’ve done several screenwriting classes where I can do it, but I’m not sure if it’s what I like, and I also write for several school publications, so more entertainment journalism, but then I’m also interested in writing for video games, which speaking of, what do you think of the video game to live-action adaptations like The Last of Us and the Super Mario Bros. Do you think that’s where Hollywood is headed next?
Vince: Nah, it’s an industry that is so unique in the sense that you can have Marvel and these franchises, but if all you do is churn and burn, everything starts being pulled down. I think it’s so critical that creatives be given the freedom to shape a product with their creativity. Too often, it becomes corporate, where ‘We bought the franchise, so it sells. We don’t need the lead actor or actress or creative person’ and really, successful films contribute on all levels including creativity; so, my feeling is that this industry will always seek new ideas, new forms of entertainment, and new ways of seeing the same thing. And that will determine its success, no question about it. It’s not a resolution game, or size, it really is — look at Squid Game, just out of nowhere, it completely changed the whole Korean market. The viewership now is 10% Korean films; they’re accepting that because there’s creativity coming from there. Too often we have the book, the formula, where Hollywood knows how to make a film, and everyone goes and watches it, but boy, they’re blowing up that model. So, creativity will reign and I’m not worried whether it’s an AI influence or video gaming, just, creativity will reign. If it piques your interest and immerses you in that storyline, boy you got em. But you know, make no mistake: As a young person in this industry, I’d be looking at something like AI and say ‘How can I embellish that? How can I take an AI product and turn it into a really creative offering for the studio?’ Maybe you want full ownership as a screenwriter, but maybe those days are gone. It could be that you’re taking something and you’re nurturing it to what the studio wants to see. And that could be a very valuable asset to a studio. Not, here’s something pumped out like a robot, but here’s the foundation and something I grew out of that — that could be very interesting.
Anna: So, an editing-ish position?
Vince: Right now, I would call it a ‘screenwriting embellishing’ position, where you’re trying to think what’s the creative layer. Maybe you’re that person to add that and maybe screenwriting will start to change where it’s part AI as a foundation — let AI do the research and pick names –
Anna: So, just the basic building blocks and then you come in and put in all your ideas?
Vince: And change them. So, here’s AI’s version and here’s my version, and guess what, I’m a great person at doing that — taking a foundation and building a house. That could be something you start to put your head around because the people who want to own it from design to concrete to foundation to boards to home, those were the old days, right, let some of the building blocks be done by AI and be the person who puts that creative brain to it. It’s always better to embrace what is in the industry than insist on tradition because it’s just not the battle you’re capable of waging. But if you can go to a studio and say, here’s a script from an AI, and here’s my script of that AI product, boy, it changes the game completely.
Anna: I will definitely consider that, as it sounds like something I’d find fitting. Briefly, since we touched on this, what are your thoughts on reboots and remakes? Not a big fan, or are some okay if they make changes that enhance the story?
Vince: Unfortunately, I think they put too much weight in what’s already been done, and it doesn’t add to it, and that’s a shame. Because then all you’re doing is rehashing, and all those things that go into making a film…We’re doing Ghosts of the Abyss, we’re 20 hours into filming and everyone is spent and it’s a scene where they’re running up the hallway, a guy with his wife and kids, and the water is rushing up and the rats are coming out and he gets to the gate and it’s locked and the camera is right on him, pulling back to show that the water will kill him if he doesn’t go through the gate. So, we’re set up for the shot and Jim cues everything and the guy comes running up with his family, grabs the gate, and realizes it’s locked, and Jim goes ‘Cut.’ ‘What’s wrong?’ He’s shaking the gate and the rats are coming out and the water is rising and everything is on cue, and Jim goes to the guy, ‘What are you doing?’ The guy goes, ‘What did I do wrong?’ Jim goes, ‘That’s your family. That’s your kid. That water is coming up and it will kill your family. You’re just shaking the gate, what’s that?’ He goes, ‘You’re not in the mood. You know if that was my kid and I saw the water, I would grab this gate’ – and everyone looked around the gate as he shook it because we thought he was going to rip it off its hinges. And that was his whole point. At the end of the day, you gotta believe it, you gotta feel like your kid’s going to die. And everyone was quiet, ‘Ok let’s do it again’ – that’s what keeps people coming back to the theater. That’s the difference between the two films. A reboot is, ‘Oh I’ll shake the gate because I know I’m not going to die but the water’s coming so they’ll think I will’, and no. In Jim’s world, a successful film is you believe it, and you try to rip that thing off the hinges. That’s what it’s all about.
Anna: Looking back on your journey, and you’ve touched on this before, any standout lessons, skills, or mistakes that you’ve gained in your experiences?
Vince: Well, I’ve seen friends die and colleagues, and they have families, you know, and a group of people come together to make a film and it’s very hard and I don’t think anybody should think, this is, man; it’s a job at the end of the day. You have to have respect for the craft and be passionate about it but make no mistake, it’s a job and you’re getting paid to do something. As I look back on my career, I’m just so incredibly fortunate that people paid me to do things that I would’ve paid them to let me do. At the end of the day, I’ve been with dolphins on the open water, I’ve been with whales that were birthing, I’ve seen things that just amaze me in natural history and at the same time, working on The Abyss when they had that water creature come out of the water and go through the hulls and show the face of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, I was hooked that this was something that I wanted to do. But it’s been hard, it’s not an easy market and I want people growing into it to understand that. The interesting part goes away after a while and all you’re left with is your contribution. So, you’ve gotta make sure it’s a good one. Because the whole pomp and circumstance — you just have to look at your contribution and be comfortable with it. I’ve been very comfortable with what I’ve contributed. It’s always made me happy inside, always made me feel good about the career path I chose, but you know, was it really a path or a reaction? Somebody wanted to do something, and I said yes.
Anna: Everyone tells me to just say yes to every opportunity that presents itself, so say yes and see where it goes?
Vince: I would. That’s how it was for me. It wasn’t a path, it was ‘Yeah, sounds good, I’ll do it’. And that yes, turned into well I have to build this for a dive to Titanic, let me do that, ‘Do you want to go to the Titanic?’ ‘Yeah, I do.’ So, I agree; that’s good advice, don’t think of it as a path. Think of it as an acknowledgment that you’re going to say yes.
Anna: Thank you so much. This has been incredibly insightful, and I definitely need to watch The Titanic, Hugo, and The Abyss now, I think. Those are the ones I haven’t seen.
Vince: Yeah, no I mean they’re good films and I’m very proud of what we contributed, and I’ve been really fortunate, but it all started with a yes. And I was hungry, and I wanted to do it.