Putting beauty on the big screen

Andrew Green and Andrew Green

Kevin Richey became a believer last week.

The third-year graduate Radio/TV/Film student has long been interested in a career behind the camera. He is quick to add a disclaimer, though.

“I’m a realist,” he says. “I know where my limitations are … Up until last week I didn’t know for sure that I wanted to pursue (cinematography).”

A message on Richey’s answering machine changed his mind.

The president of the American Society of Cinematographers had called to congratulate Richey on receiving honorable mention in the ASC Robert Surtees Heritage Award for Outstanding Cinematography.

“I freaked out,” Richey says. “I really didn’t think I had a chance in hell. Getting this from the highest cinematic body in the land at least made me think that some of the stuff I had done was worthwhile.”

The honor came for Richey’s work on “Copywrite,” a 2000-01 Studio 22 grant film. His entry was one of 47 that the ASC received from students at top film schools across the country. Two submissions won top honors, and six others, including Richey’s, received honorable mention. He is the first Northwestern student to win the award, according to ASC Events Coordinator Patty Armacost.

“My feeling is that ASC Student Cinematography awards are quite prestigious among university film schools and in the industry in Los Angeles,” says NU Associate Speech Prof. Dana Hodgdon.

Three years ago, before the phone call and the acclaim and the potential Hollywood career, Richey was a University of Alabama graduate who didn’t know what cinematography was.

“I had never touched film, never done lighting,” he says. “All I knew was that I was really, really interested in working with the camera, but I didn’t even know what the name for it was. I wanted to make pretty pictures.”

Steph Green gave Richey the chance to make a pretty picture. Green, who graduated from NU last year, wrote and directed “Copywrite.” She knew Richey from class and asked him to supervise the cinematography for her film.

“It was an unimpressive selection process,” Richey says. “But I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a large-scale thing. After reading the script, I started seeing a lot of really cool stuff visually that we could try.”

He and Green laid out each scene in the film before shooting started.

There were no purely functional shots,” he says. “We tried to get as beautiful a shot as possible.”

The film captures the separation between and eventual fusion of two different worlds. The first is the static, apprehensive environment of an author struggling with writer’s block. This is contrasted with the world his characters inhabit, which is bright and saturated with color.

“We tried to make it visually apparent that the two worlds were different,” Richey says. “We used visual rules to separate the two worlds.”

The author’s scenes tend to be grainy and dark, dominated by the color green “for a sickly effect.” The alternate world is clean and crisp “to show how dull the author’s story really is.”

As the border between the worlds begins to blur, Richey “forced the picture to be more saturated and grainy. We wanted it to look like everything was falling apart.”

Richey was involved in most aspects of the film, orchestrating the lighting and the cameras. After the film finished shooting, he helped the colorist with the “messy procedure” of matching the colors in each scene.

“This was not a flippant project,” Richey says. “I wanted everything to get the same amount of attention.”

He was able to use the knowledge he gained filming “Copywrite” in his most recent film, “Threshold,” a graduate student project. “I took everything we learned in ‘Copywrite’ and pushed it even further,” he says.

But before Richey launches new projects, there is still praise to be wrung from his work on “Copywrite.”

“The department of R/TV/F is very proud of Kevin’s achievement,” Hodgdon says. He “really knows how to make a beautiful film.”

Now maybe some Hollywood hotshots will realize that.

“It’s not like you can go and get interviewed for a job in Hollywood,” Richey says. “You impress somebody and they give you the pearl or you work your way up through the system.

“I don’t have any assumptions … I still approach cinematography like I did when I first got here. I still want to make pretty pictures.” nyou