Cinematographer Feliksas Abrukauskas: Not All Shots Have to be Beautiful
Feliksas Abrukauskas is a well-known cinematographer whose professional excellence has been recognized with the highest national awards. He contributed to such Lithuanian and foreign film projects as “Agent Hamilton”, “Chernobyl”, “War and Peace”, “Vesper”, “Cinephilia”, “The Generation of Evil”, etc. About the discovered world of cinema, connections with creative teams and influential films – in a conversation initiated by the Vilnius Film Office.
Let’s start at the beginning – how did film appear in your life?
Since childhood I was interested in stories. I read books, borrowed fairy tales, adventure novels from the library. Where I grew up there was no cinema, so I watched everything on TV, and I really liked films.
I discovered film, as an industry, a visual art form, in Vilnius, when I came here to study photography. Cinemas, new friends, festivals.. In the higher technical school, where I was studying photography, film education programmes appeared. We were taught by Skirmantas Valiulis, he would mention film as well, as these two fields are related. This is how interest in film as a form of art came into my life, as an industry I understood how films are made, they are made by ordinary people.
Have you ever doubted your choice?
I am happy with this choice, I thought about it since I was a teenager. I have worked as a cameraman my entire life – I have been filming since I was 18 years old. Most often you choose films that are interesting to you, each of us brings in our own stories. I think, I am satisfied with what I have done about 80%. Now it is hard to summarize the whole experience, maybe after some time passes it will seem different, but today, all of the film projects to which I have contributed seem important and serious, they taught me a lot.
How do you choose films that you want to work with?
Most of the time, offers come from those that I have already worked with – sometimes even, you know about the next project whilst still working with the current one. Everything begins with a script, a conversation with the director. Sometimes it happens so, that after working together you become boring to one another and you need a break of sorts, to feel, how other creators work. That is normal, some creative tandems work, others fall apart, sometimes you go back to them.
What relationship do you try to create with directors, actors?
The process partially depends on the director. Some filmmakers share the script a year ahead and want the cameraman to get involved, help realise those ideas. Others leave collaboration for the last minute, the most important thing for them is for the cameraperson to film it to a high standard, leading the process correctly. I can work in all ways. One or other option does not cause disappointment, or more joy, everything is part of the creative process.
When speaking about people, with whom one works, you cannot maintain the distance from one another. Everyone is part of a single creative team. Whatever those people may be doing, whether there are 20 or 50 of them, the joint purpose connects them, and we strive together. Therefore actors, producer, cameraperson, director and screenwriter must collaborate. If it is not successful, conflicts, disagreements rise up and the result is not as good. Most often such projects do not have continuity – only people who are capable of creating synergy, despite of liking or disliking the other members of the team, can work together for a long time.
How do your work specifics change when working on different genre films (sci-fi, comedy, drama)?
A new script is a new challenge, a new beginning. Each film has certain criteria, certain tools, needed for the visual language of the chosen genre. In a horror film, to create tension, scare the viewer, certain things are needed – it cannot be filmed like a comedy, considering light, camera movements, creation of tension.
Do you yourself get to seek filming locations, natural landscapes suitable for filming?
Even though, most often filming locations are found by the location managers, anything can happen. In the film Vesper we sought more interesting forests, but it was very hard to define what kind of flora would be suitable. It is difficult to explain to other people, how you need to place the camera, what access is suitable, how to deliver it from technological point of view. The location manager will find it easier to locate a church, a house, an interior, a street. While a forest or a meadow, will look differently depending on where you will place the camera. Only the cameraperson or director can decide whether such a place is suitable, what needs to be drawn out of the landscape. Sometimes I need to go myself, sometimes whilst walking in the streets I find an interesting angle. It is easier to reach a joint result.
What is a good shot for you? What aspects are important for you, inseparable from excellent visual fulfilment of a film?
There is no such term, because film is moving, a continuing kinetic art. It would lose its meaning if we would watch it from the end or the middle. Maybe in one shot there may be really beautiful light, a moment, but film does not remain within it. Film is the entirety of those shots; therefore, it is futile analysing a single moment. The shot is never singular and not all shots need to be beautiful. Maybe it works better in photography when you can analyse a separate composition.
What film would you consider meaningful?
When speaking of film in general, for me a good film is the one that has impact – when I can escape thinking about how it was made, view it as a non-professional. I want to leave the cinema different, think about what I have seen. Of course, the film affects each one of us individually, whether it is good or bad depends on the viewer, on what they need at that time. Maybe they want to laugh or take something with them, or maybe get to other worlds.
In your opinion, how is the art of cinematography developing in Lithuania? Do we have things to be proud of or contrarily to catch up with?
I think it is developing greatly. The results of the recent years show that there are plenty of filmmakers and the number is growing. I see in cinemas, that we have taken strong steps forward, we are on a good track. We are a very young country, only 30 years ago our attitude toward film has changed, as well as funding and the whole ideology. I think that in those years of freedom we have done a lot and in the next 30 years we will achieve even more.