An interview with Ben Kasulke, one of "10 cinematographers to watch," according to Variety. Kasulke is helping to put important Northwest filmmakers, such as Lynn Shelton and Megan Griffiths, on the movie map.
If famed cinematographer Gordon Willis is “The Prince of Darkness,” then Ben Kasulke just might be “The King of Rain.”
Kasulke, who held the camera that filmed two of the Northwestiest movies at the Seattle International Film Festival (“Your Sister’s Sister” and “Safety Not Guaranteed”), has done some of his best work amid the mist and trees of Washington state, and its sun’s slow surrender.
“I love filming in the early morning, and when the sun is about to set,” Kasulke said the other day. “And in the Northwest, the ‘magic hour’ can last two and a half hours in the summertime.”
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Kasulke’s work as director Lynn Shelton’s right-hand man (on “Your Sister’s Sister” and her 2009 Sundance award-winner “Humpday”) has helped raise the Northwest’s film cred in Hollywood and beyond.
In the process, Kasulke has made a name for himself, as well.
On SIFF’s opening night, he received the Mayor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film for his work on more than a dozen local features and short films, including Megan Griffiths’ 2011 “The Off Hours,” for which he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
Earlier this year, Kasulke, 35, was profiled by Variety magazine as one of “Ten Cinematographers to Watch.”
“It’s been a great year, but it’s a little intimidating,” Kasulke said. “I was sort of designing things to be this way; the jet-set element, having friends all over the world. I hoped my life would have that, but I never thought it was possible.
“And here we are.”
“Here,” on this day, is Park City, Utah, where Kasulke is teaching at the Director’s Lab at the Sundance Institute. Eight students were working on features and workshopping the most difficult scenes from their screenplays with the help of working professionals.
“It’s a way to test out some things, experiment and try some things and fail,” Kasulke said, “and not ruin your movie.”
His fellow teachers in the lab were “a little bit of everybody,” Kasulke said. Screenwriters, directors and editors of all levels, but also big-time cinematographers like Caleb Deschanel (“The Right Stuff,” “The Natural”) and Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood,” “Good Night, and Good Luck”), whom Kasulke sees as mentors.
Heady as that may be — both the company and the altitude — Kasulke found it hard to leave Seattle right after SIFF opened with Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister.”
Key colleagues like Griffiths introduced new films at the festival, and his own work was featured in Colin Trevorrow’s “Safety Not Guaranteed,” a movie that bagged a distribution deal at Sundance and is now back in Seattle for a regular run. (Kasulke popped back in town for the SIFF screening of “Safety.”)
The screening of “Your Sister’s Sister” marked the first time a film that had been shot locally, by a local, opened SIFF.
“I hope that keeps up, that it’s not a flash in the plan,” Kasulke said. “I hope that recognition that there is a voice in the Northwest sticks around.
“It’s not New York, it’s not L.A., and it’s consistently sending out movies that are going the Sundance route, which is the place for American narrative industry films.
“That’s the gateway for getting a movie out into the world.”
So as Seattle films head out into the world, it seems natural that Kasulke does, too.
Kasulke, who grew up in New York state, attended Ithaca College and has been a part of the Seattle artistic scene for years, still has a loft in Seattle, where he loves to cook.
But he also keeps time in Los Angeles, where he stays with writer/director/actor Mark Duplass, who starred in “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister”; and New York, where he sublets a place in the East Village while working on the Adult Swim TV miniseries “The Heart, She Holler.”
He’s now in the midst of shooting 100 short films in 100 days at art museums around the world with Guy Maddin, who first hired him to shoot “Brand Upon the Brain!” and “Keyhole” (which also played at SIFF this year).
This new collaboration involves filming at art museums around the world. The Winnipeg Art Gallery. New York’s Museum of Modern Art. And the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
From there, Kasulke will just follow wherever the light leads him.
“The plan is to just put a brick on the gas pedal,” Kasulke said, “and keep going.”
Nicole & Co. appears every Sunday. Reach Nicole Brodeur at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.