David Procter is an internationally acclaimed Director of Photography with production experience across Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia. His body of work includes film, cinematic documentaries, commercials, music promos and most recently, a new Netflix Original series.
Alongside commercials for Puma, Nike, Jaguar, ASOS and Issey Miyake (to name a few), David’s work has been recognised by worldwide ceremonies including the British Independent Film Awards, Cannes, and the Camerimage Festival for the Art of Cinematography.
His commitment to his craft recently earned him a nomination for Best Cinematography at the 2017 MTV VMAs.
1. Your work takes you all over the world. What has been the toughest location to shoot?
I recently shot a car commercial in Autonomous Tibet. We travelled from Shanghai; a 4hr flight before 14hrs by road, much of which on dirt tracks to an altitude of 16,000ft. The thin air was brutal and some of the crew were rushed to hospital with altitude sickness. We shot a sunrise sequence, at -10ºC, involving a visceral handheld camera. The physicality coupled with low air-pressure meant I had to take oxygen between each take. It was worth it though for the beauty of the location.
2. What’s the most stressful thing about your job?
When the stakes are high, there can be a lot of pressure on set. You become acclimatised to it over time and at the end of the day, we’re not saving lives. I think the word ‘stress’ is grossly overused; I mean, imagine being a heart surgeon.
3. Your documentary work often touched on sensitive subjects. Have you ever had any scary responses to any of your work?
My first documentary, Red Sands, was a study of the emotional paradox surrounding bullfighting. At the film’s world premiere at Raindance, an irate animal rights activist had misconstrued the film to be a pro-bullfighting film, and subsequently attacked me. ‘Independent Filmmaker Attacked in Premiere Controversy’ turned out to be the best press we could never have afforded!
4. What piece of cinematography do you wish you’d been responsible for?
The Hunt (2012) is a compelling and deeply harrowing social study. Terrifying because of its viability, it’s the kind of emotive story I’d love to shoot.
5. What advice would you give to students looking to get their first break in the industry?
- Don’t obsess over new technology. Anyone can master technology but storytelling and the craft of lighting is what makes us!
- Expect knock backs & don’t expect a big break.
- Small steps, it’s a tall ladder to climb.
- Accept criticism, learn from it & keep shooting.
- Be selective, even if it means not working.
- Be calm; be good to your crew. Work hard, play hard, & keep it fun!
Legendary cinematographer Donald McAlpine ACS ASC once said to me, “calm seas never made a skilled sailor” – I live by that!
And just for fun…
6. What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever witnessed on set?
Often the lengths a commercial production will go to in pursuit of perfection are staggering. I was shooting an ad in Southern China near the border with Myanmar and we needed a picturesque tree beside the water for a sunset, camping scene. A suitably beautiful location couldn’t be found near enough to our other locations and so it was decided that we’d plant a tree beside the local river. A 35ft tree was driven for over 24hrs across rural China and planted by two industrial cranes on an exact spot I had marked out, right by the waterline.
Fast forward to our shoot day … we arrive at the location to find the tree a good 80ft from the water, surrounded by mud. After some heated debate it transpired that a dam had been opened downriver in Myanmar, causing the water level to recede hugely. Anyway, after desperate pleas to the Myanmar water authorities to close the dam failed, against the odds, we adapted the scene to make it work.
7. Your personal interests include motorbikes and snowboarding, what’s the dumbest way you’ve been injured?
Despite the hobbies, the two dumbest were definitely on set…
I fell on a pile of cactus spines in Kenya on a location recce, and we’re not talking about the type of cactus you’d find on grandma’s windowsill. Aside looking like I’d slapped a porcupine, I ended up needing surgery, which was dreamy. There’s still a spine in my left hand that they couldn’t remove.
And … shooting in an abandoned church, we lit the space with a huge number of candles. I needed a large number out so we collectively began blowing them out. I blew a huge 4ft pillar candle out and an ocean of wax blew back into my face. My eyes were immediately waxed shut, I was blinded. I fell to the floor frantically trying to peel open my eyes and as I managed to open them all I could see were blurred shapes and colours. As the medic rushed over I knew I was in trouble. I carefully removed my contact lenses and could see with clarity, each lens coated in wax, having saved me from possible permanent damage. Don’t buy me candles for Xmas.
8. What’s your favourite film to laugh along to?
I watch Groundhog Day every afternoon.
9. What’s the worst purchase you’ve ever made?
I can’t comment on how it happened but I ended up with about 28 varieties of Original Source shower gel.
10. What’s next for you?
I’ve recently finished shooting Netflix Original series ‘The Innocents.’ Starring Guy Pearce, the dark, Scandinavian/UK drama premieres across 140 countries on Aug 24th…
You can learn more about David and his work on his website,or watch the trailer for his new Netflix release here.
You can also follow David on his Instagram account.