Career Spotlight: Kate McCullough, Director Of Photography

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Kate McCullough is a leading Director of Photography who has worked on acclaimed Irish documentaries IT’S NOT DARK YET and THE FARTHEST.  Kate has kindly contributed to Screen Training Ireland’s career spotlight established to outline the many different careers in the screen sectors with a particular focus on female filmmakers. You can read more about Kate’s work here   What’s your connection with Screen Training Ireland if any? I don’t have a direct connection with Screen Training Ireland. I have attended some workshops over the years and found them helpful. How important is training? I think establishing a system of working is important at the start. Then once you are comfortable with that you can switch it up and around depending on the project. How you establish that system depends from person to person. I went to the National Film School in Dun Laoghaire for four years. I needed a framework like that to help me gain confidence as a cinematographer. I was pretty shy to start so I think if I had gone straight in as a trainee I would have been swallowed up. But starting as a trainee is a really great way to get hands on experience and meet people, one job leads onto the next and if you are keen and precise with your work you will move forward quickly. Getting exposure to film-making abroad I found invaluable. I spent two years studying at the National film school in Poland. There is a great tradition of cinematography there. Grandfathers, fathers and sons all working in the same field. There was also a female cinematographer teaching at the college which I found hugely inspiring. The relationship between the director and cinematographer in Poland is a very strong bond. There was a lot of watching, analyzing, discussing. When it comes to the question of training- In a sense I believe I should always be aware of new technology, new tools and systems for my work. The landscape is constantly changing so we need to move with this. There is constantly a low level of training, learning going on. What are you working on at the moment? I’m just finishing a T.V series CAN’T COPE WON’T COPE. A comedy/drama which is a totally new animal for me. I have been shooting some pretty serious documentaries up until now so it’s been really great to shake it up and look at the framework of comedy and how best to tackle it. What/who originally attracted you to a career in Cinematography? I had been watching a lot of documentaries in my teens, especially Hoop Dreams sticks in my mind. Its a film about two inner city boys from Chicago attempting to make a career from basketball. I was fascinated by the intimacy of these portraits and the new perspective they gave me on the world. What has been your greatest career high? Winning the Sundance award in 2010 was really amazing since it was completely a total surprise. Since then I have had lots of mini more personal moments – filming during the day the marriage equality referendum goes through; a politician(who has just seen our film Jaha’s Promise) is inspired to nominate Jaha as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize; being invited to to join the largely male organization the Irish Society of Cinematography. What was your first job in the screen sectors? I’m not sure whether it was my very first job but I do remember being very excited receiving a phone call out of the blue from Emer Reynolds saying a colleague of hers Dearbhla Walsh wanted to see some of my work. Emer was hugely encouraging about my work and that gave me a huge strength to continue on the journey. So I sent a VHS (yes those big bulky things that you stick in a machine and you have to rewind if you want to view it again) of my showreel to Dearbhla and she asked me to shoot a small sequence for the Ulysses centenary. I was so nervous but so grateful at getting a chance to work alongside the hugely talented director. What’s a key piece of advice you’d give to someone starting a career in the industry? Take your time, look + listen. Decide first what you want to say and then how you’re going to say it. Even the smallest job can lead to something big, just trust your gut feeling on things. You can also read more about Kate’s work in this recent Irish Independent article by clicking here.