ELLEN KURAS   ASC

 

Born: 10 July 1959, ?, New Jersey, USA, as Ellen M. Kuras.

Education: Brown University [Anthropology]; Rhode Island School of Design [Photography] ['I became fascinated with the photographic image and how it was used as propaganda to manipulate and persuade the viewer, which is exactly what we do in film.']; University of Paris, France [1979] ['I went to France for a year to study the theoretical aspects of film. It was a lot of seminars and we'd talk about deconstructing the image - color, perception, movement, and how and why a person identifies with an image. I went back to Brown and got a double major in semiotics and anthropology. I got into ethnographic film and documentaries. I'd go to the Margaret Mead film festivals where there were 15 people in the audience, including the filmmakers!']; Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, N.Y. [Still Photography]. She got a Fulbright Scholarship in 1983 and wanted to study at the Lódz Film Academy in Poland. When she couldn't get a visa, she decided to get involved in documentary film.

Career: After her study she took a course in Super-8 filmmaking in New York. Became prod asst, sound track editor, electrician and c.asst with doph Burleigh Wartes and Frank Prinzi. Shot her first doc in El Salvador [1987]. After her first doc on film, 'Samsara' [1987], she ph a number of short videos.

Ph commercials dir by Noam Murro [for Nike], Spike Jonze [for Adidas], Spike Lee, Nicolai Fuglsig [for Guinness], Terry George, Ellen Kuras [for Diet Coke], a.o. Ph music videos dir by Spike Lee.

Member of the ASC since 1999.

Appeared in the doc's "The Making of 'Bamboozled'" [2001, Samuel D. Pollard; ph: Dylan Verrechia], 'Women on Top: Hollywood and Power' [2003; prod: Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato; ph: Sandra Chandler], 'Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry' [2004], 'Women Behind the Camera' [2001-2006, Alexis Krasilovsky] & 'Cinematographer Style' [2005, Jon Fauer; ph: J. Fauer, Jeff Laszlo, Brian Heller & David Morgan].

Awards: As ph: Sundance FF Jury Award [1990] & Eastman Kodak Documentary Cinematography 'Focus' Award [1990] for 'Samsara'; Sundance FF Cinematography Award [1992] & Independent Spirit Award nom [1993] for 'Swoon'; Sundance FF Cinematography Award [1995] for 'Angela'; 'Emmy' Award nom [1995] for 'A Century of Women'; 'Emmy' Award nom [1998] for '4 Little Girls'; Women in Film's 'Kodak Vision Award' [1999]; Sundance FF 'Best Cinematography Award' [2002] & Independent Spirit Award nom [2002] for 'Personal Velocity'.

As dir: 'Oscar' AA nom [2008], Independent Spirit Award 'Best Documentary' nom [2008], Sundance FF 'Grand Jury Prize' nom [2008] & 'Emmy' Award [2010; shared] for 'The Betrayal [Nerakhoon]'.


While Ellen Kuras has been drawn to art since she was a child, she didn't always have her sights fixed on becoming a filmmaker. Kuras attended Brown University, where she explored her interests in other cultures through a major in anthropology. But when she took a photography class, she began to see light as an artistic medium and was intrigued by the way that it can be used to create a narrative. A year at the University of Paris studying film and semiotics helped her frame a new outlook on the power of images through her newfound interest in propaganda and color psychology.

As a cinematographer, Kuras says that she tries to avoid standard uses of light, color and framing, searching instead for imagery that can enhance story and character. She explains that she tries to find 'alternative ways of seeing the world' as a way of shaping the audience's perception of the story and a means to make her images more artistic. Kuras also notes in a recent interview that when she was young, she dreamed of becoming a sculptor - she found it satisfying to create something tangible and physical. This interest in form influenced the way that she views light - in the same interview, she says that in her work as a cinematographer, she approaches light in a physical way, molding and shaping it, and experimenting with the interplay between shadow, color and contrast.

After graduating from Brown, Kuras remained in Providence, R.I., and worked at a museum where she put together exhibitions. In her spare time, she began to take photographs of the Southeast Asian immigrants who were moving into her neighborhood in South Providence. As a result, she became interested in documentary as an artistic form as well as a storytelling device, and began to see that making documentaries would draw upon both her interest in anthropology and her talent for capturing images. After taking a short class in filmmaking in New York City, Kuras began to shoot her own films. She eventually began to work on 'The Betrayal [Nerakhoon]'. Little did she know then that work on the film would continue for the next 23 years. [From an article by Sean Holmquest on the PBS-tv website.]


About filming 'Personal Velocity: Three Portraits' [2001]: 'From the start, I had to set up some parameters about shooting, given my prior lessons on 'Bamboozled', which was a great first learning experience on Mini-DV. I didn't want to shoot very many wide shots. If we were going to shoot wide shots, we would have to move the camera far away and shoot on the longer part of the lens. This is because the lines on Mini-DV cameras resolve much better when shooting with the longer part of the lens that is slightly zoomed in. The other concern was contrast. We would choose locations and angles for shooting that did not place the actor in full sun. It was important for me to shoot more in shadow than in sun, so that I could recreate the sun for myself in the way that I felt the video medium could handle. Oftentimes, when you're outside, the sun creates the 'stepping' effect or aliasing on any kind of white lines apparent in the image. It's a misconception that people have with Mini-DV that you don't need any lights to light Mini-DV. It's really the opposite, because you do need to light it in order to give it some texture and shape.

The only lenses used were the ones that came on the camera. The electronic lens has no markings for any kind of feet or distance. We never operated off of the flip-out monitor that comes with the camera because it's inaccurate. It's not 1:1 with what is actually being recorded on the chip. We used monitors to see the focus because in a way, we had to feel the focus.

It's important for people to remember the Mini-digital medium enabled us to capture a certain feeling in this film, but both Rebecca and I agree that we could have shot in Super 16 and gotten close to the same effect. We both talked about how the use of Mini-DV and the versatility of the camera allowed the actors freedom of acting. It's more of an approach to filmmaking than it is about the camera - filmmaking as an attitude. If you go in with the attitude that you are going to light the room and let the actors move around, you can still achieve that kind of feeling in film as you could in video. I do think that some of the technical limitations of the Mini-DV medium also kept me from being a free and creative mind. I found myself very preoccupied with the color, contrast, the slim latitude and focus. These wouldn't have been as large an issue in my mind if we had shot on film.' [From interview with An Tran on the cinematographer.com website, 2003.]


 

 FILMS

1987

El Salvador [?] v/c; doc/?m

1987

Samsara [: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia] [: Survival and Recovery in Cambodia] [Ellen Bruno] 16mm/c; doc/29m

1988

Resident Alien [: Quentin Crisp in America] [Jonathan Nossiter] b&w-c; doc/85m; video ph; ph: John R. Foster; filmed June 1988 - April 1989

1990

Q Listen Up [: The Lives of Quincy Jones] [Ellen Weissbrod] b&w-c; doc/115m; co-addph (+ co-c.asst); ph: Stephen Kazmierski

1990

Swoon [Tom Kalin] 16mm-35bu/b&w

1990

Traveling at Night [Chris Kraus] c; short/11m; cph: Rob Popper

1992

Guerrillas in Our Midst/Guerilla Art [Amy Harrison] 16mm/c; doc/35m; addph: John Inwood, Maryse Alberti, a.o.

1992

Nation [Tom Kalin] s8/c; short/60s; addph; ph: T. Kalin; edited into 'Trans-Voices' (14x 60s shorts dir by various) & 'Third Known Nest' (comp of 9 shorts dir by T. Kalin)

1993

The Shvitz [Jonathan Berman] b&w-c; doc/46m; addph; ph: Evan Estern & Laurence Salzmann

1993

Geoffrey Beene: 30 [Tom Kalin] b&w; short/32m

1993

Romance de valentía/Only the Brave [Sonia Herman Dolz] c; doc/90m

1993

The Heart of the Matter [Gini Reticker & Amber Hollibaugh] c; doc/56m; cph: Maryse Alberti

1993

Post Cards From America [Steve McLean] c

1993

Roy Cohn / Jack Smith [Jill Godmilow] c

1994

Angela [Rebecca Miller] c

1994

Unzipped [Douglas Keeve] s8+s16+16mm-to-35mm/b&w-c; doc/73m; cph: Robert Leacock; 2uc: John Busch & Evan Estern

1994

Death and Peanuts [D.A. Tsufura] c; short/4m

 

Prod Christine Vachon - dir Mary Harron - EK

"I Shot Andy Warhol"

 

1995

I Shot Andy Warhol [Mary Harron] c; addph: Russell Fine & Toshiaki Ozawa

1995

The Women Outside [J.T. Takagi & Hye Jung Park] 16mm/c; doc/60m; cph: Herman Lew, Sandra Chandler & Emiko Omori

1995

Letter to My Father/Distant Ground [Ellen Kuras] became 'The Betrayal [Nerakhoon]'; see 2007

1996

Poverty Outlaw [Pamela Yates & Peter Kinoy] v-to-16mm/c; doc/58m; cph: Mark Webber, Frank Cardón Jr. & Carlos Aparicio; addph: Tom Hurwitz, David Riker, John Bentham & Mark Zero

1996

Scratch the Surface [Tara Fitzpatrick] 16mm/b&w; doc/71m; cph: Niels Alpert, Phil Abraham, Sarah Cawley, a.o.

1996

My Perfect Journey [Andrew D. Cooke] c; short/24m

1996

The Dadshuttle [Tom Donaghy] c; short/22m; addph: Antonio Tatum; also seg of comp DVD 'Boys Life 2'

1997

Harvest/Cash Crop/A Desperate Season [Stuart Burkin] c; aph; ph: Oliver Bokelberg

1997

Just the Ticket/The [Ticket] Scalper/Piece a Cake [Richard Wenk] c; 2uc: Richard Eliano

1997

He Got Game [Spike Lee] c; Chicago ph; ph: Malik Hassan Sayeed

 

[Right] with dir Scott Silver - "The Mod Squad"

 

1998

The Mod Squad [Scott Silver] c; 2uc: Sandi Sissel

1998

Summer of Sam/The Son of Sam [Spike Lee] c

1999

Bamboozled [Spike Lee] mdv (Sony DCR-TRV900 & DCR-VX1000)+s16-to-35mm/c

1999

How Kids Grow in NYC Public Schools [Steve Buscemi, Nancy Savoca, a.o.] dv/c; doc/6 seg (x 5m); cph: Tami Reiker, Walter Bell, Amy Rice, a.o.

2000

Blow [Ted Demme] p/c; 2uc: Sandi Sissel; 2u aph (Mexico): Guillermo Rosas

2001

Personal Velocity: Three Portraits [Rebecca Miller] HD (Sony HDCAM & PD-150P)-to-35mm/c; addph: Toshiaki Ozawa; see above

2001

Jim Brown: All American [Spike Lee] 16mm-35bu/c; doc/129m; originally made for HBO-tv

2002

Analyze That [Harold Ramis] c

2002

25th Hour [Spike Lee] c; 2uc (was not available for 1st unit ph); ph: Rodrigo Prieto

2002

Asylum [Sandy McLeod] c; doc/20m; cph: Kirsten Johnson

2002

A Decade Under the Influence [Ted Demme & Richard LaGravenese] HD (Sony F900)-to-35mm/b&w-c; doc/108m & 152m; co-add c.op; ph: Anthony Jannelli & Clyde W. Smith

2003

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [Michel Gondry] c; efx ph: Mark Sawicki; + small part

2003

Coffee and Cigarettes [seg 'Renée' & 'No Problem' dir by Jim Jarmusch] b&w; 96m; cph: Tom DiCillo ('Strange to Meet You/Coffee and Cigarettes', 1986), Robby Müller ('Twins/Coffee and Cigarettes II/Coffee and Cigarettes: Memphis Version', 1989) & Fred Elmes ('Coffee and Cigarettes III/Coffee and Cigarettes: Somewhere in California', 1993); ed from these 3 'Coffee and Cigarettes'-films and other shorts

2003

The Ballad of Jack and Rose [Rebecca Miller] s16-35bu/c; addph: Sandi Sissel

2004

Savage Grace [Tom Kalin] c

2004

[Dave Chappelle's] Block Party [Michel Gondry] s16+dv-to-35mm/c; comedy acts + mus perf/103m; filmed September (Brooklyn, New York City)

2005

Neil Young - Heart of Gold/Prairie Wind [Jonathan Demme] s16+mdv-to-35mm/c; interv + concert film/100m; + co-lighting design; c.op: Anthony Jannelli, Declan Quinn, Alison Kelly & Jack Donnelly; home movie footage: Jonathan Demme & Jimmyjoe Roche; filmed 18-19 August (The Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee)

 

With dir Michel Gondry [left] - "Be Kind Rewind"

 

2006

Be Kind Rewind [Michel Gondry] J-D-C Scope/c

2006

Berlin [Julian Schnabel] c; concert film (with rock musician Lou Reed)/85m; + 'a' cam op; other c.op: Declan Quinn ('b' cam), Charlie Libin ('c' cam) & Carlos Guerra ('d' cam); filmed 14-17 December (St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn)

2007

The Key to Reserva/La clave Reserva [Martin Scorsese] c; comm short/9m; addph; ph: Harris Savides; for Freixenet Group

2007

The Betrayal [Nerakhoon] [Ellen Kuras & Thavisouk Phrasavath] 16mm+s16+s8+RED+Hi8+VHS-to-35mm/c; doc/96m; addph (1984): Tony Cucchiari & John Ramon; filmed over 23 years; also ep of PBS-tv 'P.O.V.'-series (2009); + co-scrpl/co-prod/co-sound

2008

The Tree of Life [Terrence Malick] 35mm+65mm+RED+Phantom HD-to-35mm (+ D-Cinema)/c; ph New York; ph: Emmanuel Lubezki

2008

Away We Go [Sam Mendes] s35 (+ D-Cinema)/c; ph Arizona & Florida: Patrick Capone

2013

A Little Chaos [Alan Rickman] s35 (+ D-Cinema)/c; 2uc: Stuart Howell

2013

Split [Ellen Bruno] c; doc + anim/28m

 

 TELEVISION

1990

Danger - Kids at Work [senior prod: Lyn Goldfarb; exec prod: Pat Mitchell & Jacoba Atlas] doc/?m; addph: Cathy Zheutlin, Tami Gold & Alberto Dominguez; for Lifetime-tv series 'Your Family Matters' (1991)

1991

Shattered Lullabies [prod: Wendy Robbins] doc/60m; addph: Mitch Wilson; for Lifetime-tv series 'Your Family Matters' (1992)

1993

A Century of Women [Sylvia Morales, Judy Korin, Christen Harty Schaefer & (fictional family seq) Barbara Kopple] 3-part doc series: 'Work & Family', 'Sexuality & Social Justice' & 'Image & Popular Culture'

1994

American Cinema [ep #1 'The Hollywood Style' dir by Lawrence Pitkethly (LP), #6 'The Combat Film' dir by LP & #7 'Film in the Television Age' dir by Alain Klarer] 10-part doc series, 1995/b&w-c; cph: Michael Spiller (#1 & 7), Dyanna Taylor (#1), Alain Choquart (#1 & 6), Nancy Schreiber (#7), Bob Perrin (#6), David Boatwright (#6), a.o.; for PBS-tv

1995

The Good, the Bad & the Beautiful [prod: Gail Torr] doc/b&w-c/95m; addph; ph: Nancy Schreiber; for TNT

1996

Signal to Noise: Life with Television [Cara Mertes & Norman Cowie] 3-part doc series/b&w-c; cph: Stephen McCarthy; for PBS-tv

1996

If These Walls Could Talk [seg #1 '1952' dir by Nancy Savoca (NS)] tvm; seg #2 '1974' dir by NS and ph by Bobby Bukowski; seg #3 '1996' dir by Cher and ph by John Stanier

1996

4 Little Girls [Spike Lee] doc/102m

1996

Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground [seg 'Niggericans' dir by Spike Lee] tvm/82m/10 seg; this seg was cut from the anthology

2000

A Huey P. Newton Story [Spike Lee] tvm/dv; + archive footage

2004

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan [Martin Scorsese] 2-part mus doc/b&w-c/205m; cph: Oliver Bokelberg, Anghel Decca, Maryse Alberti, Lisa Rinzler, Michael Spiller, a.o.; in USA ep PBS-tv series 'American Masters' (2005)

2010

Public Speaking [Martin Scorsese] doc/84m/HD; addph: Lisa Rinzler; premiered on HBO-tv

2013

The 50 Year Argument [Martin Scorsese & David Tedeschi] doc/b&w-c/97m/HD (Canon EOS C300); co-addph; ph: Lisa Rinzler; shown on festivals, BBC-tv (series 'Arena') & HBO-tv (2014)

2015 The Night Of/Criminal Justice [Steven Zaillian (pilot + 7 ep) & James Marsh (1 ep)] 8-part  (+ unaired pilot, 2012) series, 2016; 2uc (7 ep); ph: Fred Elmes, Robert Elswit (pilot + addph) & Igor Martinovic

 

 MISCELLANEOUS

1988

Death Collector/Tin Star Void [Tom Gniazdowski] c.asst; ph: Adam Goldfine

1988

Histoires d'Amérique [Chantal Akerman] asst dir; ph: Luc Ben Hamou

1989

He Was Once [Mary Hestand; short] co-c.asst; ph: Steve Kazmierski

1994

Satya: A Prayer for the Enemy [Ellen Bruno; doc] many thanks to; ph: E. Bruno

2006

Shine a Light [Martin Scorsese; mus doc] co-c.op; ph: Robert Richardson

2011

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction [Sophie Huber; doc] co-add c.op; ph: Seamus McGarvey

 

 FILMS, TELEVISION & INTERNET AS DIRECTOR

 

Shooting in Laos [1995] for "The Betrayal [Nerakhoon]"

 

2007

The Betrayal [Nerakhoon] [co-dir: Thavisouk Phrasavath; + co-scrpl/co-prod/co-sound/ph; doc] see Films

2016

Falling Water [ep #8 'The Well' & #9 'No Task for the Timid'] series/HD (ARRI ALEXA/Hawk Scope), 2016-present; 1st season, 2016 (10 ep); ph: Richard Rutkowski

2016

Ozark [ep #7 'Nest Box' & #8 'Kaleidoscope'] series/HD (Panasonic VariCam 35), 2017-present; 1st season, 2017 (10 ep); ph: Ben Kutchins; for Netflix