Sharpshooter: Shooting zombies and IKEA
Interview by Barrie Smith
Whether he is filming ice skaters in -26C or shooting a major TV drama series for SVT, Swedish cinematographer Nicklas Karpaty knows that every production is a team effort.
Name: Nicklas Karpaty
Base: Stockholm and Gothenburg
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Gothenburg but we soon moved to Kopparberg in the middle of the Swedish forests. When I was about five we moved again, this time to a small village close to Borås. My teenage years were spent in the countryside just south of Gothenburg on the west coast.
What languages do you speak?
I speak fairly fluent English, as I spent a year in Australia in my early 20s. In school, I learnt German for a few years, which I’m keen to practice whenever I can. I also understand Norwegian quite well after living in Lillehammer for three years.
What education have you had?
I have a university degree in Film Studies and a Bachelor of Cinematography from the Norwegian Film School. I have also attended workshops run by Kodak, Sony and RED in the past.
The organic look and feel of film has not been matched by digital formats. I still think a lot of features benefit from being shot on film
Give us a flavour or some of your recent assignments
I have just finished a shoot for the American FOX network as a part of a feature spot. I have also done quite a few fun commercials. In recent times, I have been involved in the grading for an SVT drama series, Ängelby, that I shot last year for the production company Tre Vänner. That’s good fun too, as it is a large part of my job to oversee the final stage of what I actually shoot.
I have also shot a crowdfunded film with director Kersti Grunditz called The Man Behind the Throne, a documentary about Michael Jackson’s choreographer, Vincent Paterson. I will hopefully start prepping on a feature that we may shoot in Morocco.
Have you been busy?
The last few years have been very busy: a lot of commercials, including many IKEA spots. I’ve also done a number of drama series for Swedish television. Doing my own projects is good fun too. I did a teaser for a zombie series with a friend of mine and my own poetic short starring two dancers in a forest.
Where have you been shooting?
The last few years I have been to North America several times, also to Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. I love shooting in these exotic places, meeting many fantastic people who let us enter their world. In Rwanda, for example, we made many good friends and they showed us that although the horrors of the genocide were in their everyday life they have a strong desire to make a bright future for the country.
What country do you most like to shoot in?
Morocco is nice: great locations, climate, crew and people. And Italy, because of the food. I would like to shoot in India one day. It seems that things are happening everywhere: colours, people, shapes, buildings, animals, cars.
What was your first shooting job?
My first paid film job, I think, was during film school. I was put next to a camera shooting for Norwegian Television, outdoors in the freezing winter for an outdoor concert with a lot of snow, ice and ice skaters. I found out that I was just supposed to guard a camera that was remotely turned on/off during the event. Me and the camera were on ice and it was -26C.
What do you like best: shooting commercials, features or documentaries?
I think I’ll continue to focus on features and TV drama, as it’s quite challenging and creative. So far I’ve been lucky to mix assignments with documentaries and commercials.
What camera equipment do you use?
In Sweden, the Arri Alexa is the most used professional camera. I’ve shot a lot with it. I like the skin tones from the Sony F65 and will try to shoot something with that when I get the opportunity. For commercials, I’ve shot a lot with the Canon C500 and C300 cameras and they perform very well too. However, the most important equipment is what you put in front of the camera: the lenses. I have my favourites in Zeiss Super Speeds, Ultra Primes, Schneider Cine-Xenar and some Russian lenses I tried, the Illumina S35 optics.
What other gear do you have access to?
I have a DSLR camera for reccies and a colleague has a RED Dragon kit with RPPS who sometimes helps me out.
What useful piece of gear do you wish someone would invent?
I think the Easy-Rig, which was developed here in Sweden, is a very good tool but I would like it to be a bit more flexible for the body movements. Also, I hope that grip equipment, e.g. dollies and cranes, will be more safely constructed in the future.
Do you mourn the passing of film as a capture medium?
I started in the 1980s working in a stills lab, developing film and copying, so I have a nostalgic feeling for film. In my opinion, the organic look and feel of film has not been matched by digital formats. I still think a lot of features benefit from being shot on film. However, I think its days are numbered, as film and its chemical processing are not very environmentally friendly. I lost my best friend to cancer and I think that working with strong chemicals, as we both did back then, could have had a part in his demise.
The building under the flag was a military compound. A small army of military were waiting outside the hotel for us and we were really close to being arrested
What is the best thing about your job?
It is creative, a team effort and rewarding plus no one day is like any other.
And the worst thing about your job?
Tight time schedules. Time limits can certainly be good for a film though. At the same time, it’s very rewarding if the audience likes a film you’re part of. It’s a team effort and should be rewarded as such. However, working on a documentary, for example, you put a lot of time and energy into it, but it’s only the director that gets the credit.
Have you been involved in any assignments that didn’t capture the imagination?
I shot an information film for a medical tool once. That was quite boring. But, I think you always learn some things you can benefit from in the future. They’re often part of what I bring to the next shoot.
Have you been involved in any scary assignments?
I once shot a ghost documentary in an old castle. I still believe the ghost turned the camera on and off for me.
Also, I shot a documentary about the former Queen of Iran. The director and I were in Cairo and I needed a shot of a plane landing in Cairo. The planes flew right above the hotel, so I simply filmed through the window and panned, following the airplane as it landed behind an Egyptian flag, with Cairo in the background. Really nice shot I thought. What I didn’t realise was that the building under the flag was a military compound. A small army of military were waiting outside the hotel for us and we were really close to being arrested. The shot is in the movie though.
On another shoot we were on the tenth floor of a hospital with a crane, dolly and tracks. Although the team all had safety wires, it was still scary.