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Catherine Rubey Blog April 16th 2007

Catherine interviews Pete Biagi, award winning cinematographer

Biagi's body of work includes over thirty short and twelve feature length films, as well as numerous local and national television commercials. Pete is a 1989 graduate of Columbia College - Chicago with a B.A. in Film/Video. In 2000, Pete lensed four Chicago based independent features: Chris Wieland's The Rest of Your Life (2000), Bryan Zises' Tenfold (2000), Davidson Cole's Design (2000), and Mark Murphy's Constructing Mulligan Stew (2000). In 1999, Pete shot Melinda Roenisch's The Secret (1999) and the Los Angeles produced Josh McGowan film, Wasted in Babylon(1999). Other credits include gaffer on the original locally produced Meet the Parents(1992), co-written and directed by Greg Glienna. Pete's background also includes work on the Hollywood features PayBack, Return to Me, White Boys, HellCab as well as the award winning indy feature Normal Life, and the television series Cupid. In addition to music and corporate videos, Pete's video work includes the First Waltz(1999) concert at Cabaret Metro, released by Palm Pictures. The show was shot with six HD cameras. At the 1999 Chicago International Film Festival, Pete was one of only two cinematographers to receive top honors for his work, winning Intercom's Best Cinematography award. Other recognition includes Best of Show at the 2000 AICP awards for the PSA "Stupid" directed by Paul Cotter, Best of Show at the 1998 Indy Awards for Melinda Roenisch's 16 mm short "On Becoming Blonde", as well as a regional student Academy Award for Ben Broitman's "Amphibian". He has worked with acclaimed director, Robert Altman on The Company and his last film, A Prairie Home Companion. Pete is a member of International Cinematographers Guild Local 600/DP classification.

1. What led to your love and career focus of cinematography?

Cinematography is the answer to all my desires - intellectual, emotional and spiritual. I can make a broad audience "feel" - an idea, an emotion. It fits me like a glove. As a child, I used to draw pictures with arrows showing how the subjects moved. It fits my personality, I wish to learn about new things, meet new people, and experience new things. I like the idea of being put in the awkward position of putting forth a new and worthy idea.

2. How has living in Chicago affected your career path?

Living in Chicago as a cinematographer has affected my career path in a very positive way. I've chosen to value the balance between work and family. I value the normalcy of midwest values and work ethic for my children more than the possibility of reaching the pinnacle of a cinematography career. But who knows where the day will take you. Of course, there exists more opportunities in Los Angeles and New York; but I'm hoping to contribute and flourish in the Chicago film community.

3. Youíve worked on some very well known projects: Robert Altman?s The Company and A Prairie Home Companion as well as the first Project Greenlight program. What stands out for you and how you do your job as the biggest difference between working with someone like Altman verses a Project Greenlight?

We're talking about working for arguably the most experienced director of all time versus the least experienced - quite a range. The most important thing is to trust your instincts - playfully, with candor and frankness make meaningful decisions about the visuals. Also, blend your personality with the project and people. Take just enough rope to be bold.

4. How has the use of HD impacted your process? Is it difficult to stay on top of the emerging technologies (it is for me)?

HD, like any other media, is understood when one knows its limitations and effectiveness. The job is to match the media with the project. It is difficult to stay on top of the emerging technologies. Altho I find it more rewarding to discuss the artistic sides of a story than the technical. I think its easier for some people to talk about technical things rather than artistic. Basically, one needs to do at least one project on the new media to learn its positives and negatives. Suitability is the key.

5. Do you believe the 20% Illinois incentive program is bringing new business to Chicago and Illinois? Do you think itís appropriate for the indie projects as well?

I do believe the Illinois incentive program is bringing new business to Illinois and Chicago. It is appropriate for home-grown Indie projects to utilize any and all support by our local governments. I've seen first hand the help the Illinois and Chicago Film Offices have given low budget productions. What we really need is more local investors in filmmaking to give Chicago a more resolute voice.

6. Finally, what pearls of wisdom would you like to share with budding cinematographers hoping to enjoy success such as yours?

Shoot every project that comes your way. Shoot shots that capture the moment, visually deliver the message, bring meaning to the forefront. Be respectful of the people around you - reputation can be more important than talent in Chicago.

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