Taos News Article

Light and magic

A ‘painter with light,’ David Jean Schweitzer looks for ways to bring movies to Taos
By Rick Romancito

When a cinematographer looks through a view­finder what they see is more than an image in the frame. A multitude of skills and experiences, both technical and artistic, suddenly come into play. This is the funnel through which the direc­tor realizes his or her vision.

“If you paint with light it doesn’t matter what you’re doing and what you’re acquiring on. You paint with light, period. That’s what a cinema­tographer does,” according to Taos resident David Jean Schweitzer. “They bridge the tech­nical with the esthetic in support of what the director sees in their mind’s eye.”

Schweitzer has been behind the camera for a great many feature films, documentaries and music videos, including the just wrapped “The Signal,” which included scenes on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos, allowing Sch­weitzer to actually sleep in his own bed at night.

A lot of attention has been focused on the state’s film industry after the hump was passed regarding the wrangling between supporters of incentives and Gov. Susana Martinez’ approach, characterized by many as “tightfisted.”

For locals — and there are quite a few techni­cians, support services workers and actors who live here — there’s always the question of how to attract film productions to Taos, so they they too can sleep in their own beds at night while working for one of the most lucrative and clean industries in the state.

While it’s laudable to do everything we can to bring movies here, the real key, Schweitzer says, is mining what’s right here in our own backyard.

“They’re going to come when it’s appropriate and when they need something that we have,” he said. “We’ve had great success doing that. We have to thank (former Taos County Film Commissioner and professional location scout) Jonathan Slator for helping to put us on the map (but) we don’t have a film liaison anymore. It would be good if we had a film liaison or if either the town or county, or a combination of the two, had someone that would attend the state liaison conventions and have a hand in it.”

He said the location scouts in the state know Taos very well, “and they’re very pro-Taos,” but when it comes to movies made here we may have to rely on our own talents to make that happen.

“We need to create our own films,” he said.

Schweitzer points out the fact that Taos has a rich vein of stories here, from historical subjects to colorful characters to stories yet-to-be-writ­ten that could easily be set here.

“I want to go ahead, and I’ve got a few ideas, and I think what we need to do is choose some of these old stories or some of the new stories that are available here and write a script and cast it with some box office appeal and mix in locals, and real people too, and do something!”

He said John Nichols’ book “The Milagro Beanfield War” is a good example, even though it was done by a big name and shaped for a broad audience.

Here was a story written by a local, about a slightly fictionalized local conflict, and although shot in the Chimayò/Embudo area, featured Northern New Mexican vistas. Now, look at Taos and make it even more locally oriented. That’s what he’s suggesting.

“I think it’s doable,” he said.

Until then, Schweitzer is honing his skills from old school film cameras to what are now called “linear capture devices.” It’s a constantly evolving skillset, learning how to “paint with light.”

At the age of 9 while in a soap commercial, Gerald Hirschfeld ASC sat Schweitzer on his lap and let him look through the viewfinder of a Mitchell BNCR motion picture camera and from that moment on he says he knew he was going to become a cinematographer.

Today, his work blends film and digital imag­ery using digital cameras as well as traditional, slit scan, large and medium format film cam­eras and combining techniques of toning, deep infrared, cross processing, hand coloring, modi­fied chemistry and high dynamic range.

For more, visit davidjeanschweitzer.com .

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