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“Projects Don’t Happen, Things Don’t Happen, You Have to Wait for Something Else”: Toby Oliver on Freelance Shooting

In April, as we began to put together the Summer, 2020 issue of Filmmaker, we asked directors, cinematographers, editors and other film workers to send us their thoughts on the quarantine and their own creative lives. The responses printed here were collected from April through mid-June — personal statements that speak variously to individual filmmaking practices, films halted mid-production, politics, art and life. Read all the responses here. — Editor

In early March, I went up to Washington state to do three days of pickup on a documentary an Australian friend was making. I hadn’t worked on the documentary before—I was just helping with an extra interview and a bunch of atmospheric B-roll footage around this small town.

I had to go through Seattle, which at the time was a hotspot, although it hadn’t been officially locked down yet. It was deserted. There was no one in the Seattle airport. The day I got back to Los Angeles they called the lockdown. So, I’ve been at home in L.A. for the past 10 weeks or so.

I’m not worried about getting rusty. I’m not really shooting anything on my own other than taking photographs as I normally do. I have some collaborators, old friends I’ve worked with over the years; we are in the very early stages of developing projects. The silver lining is it has been good having time to be able to do that.

I did three projects last year, two features and a TV series. To be that intense on set and in prep environments over a long period of time was a lot of work. But I am very grateful. And the truth is, the work does go up and down. This year, maybe I’ll shoot only one project, knock wood. Perhaps that’s not unusual. You’re a freelancer: Projects fall over, things don’t happen, you’ve got to wait for something else.

Toby Oliver is a cinematographer in Los Angeles.

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