“Bummer Summer”, a small film about a teenage boy, his home-from-college brother and their girlfriends, is not particularly dramatic, but completely absorbing. Credit goes to cinematographer Nandan Rao for capturing its mood so eloquently.
Born and raised in Corvallis, Ore., Rao is of Indian and European ancestry. After studying film at NYU, he and classmate Zach Weintraub moved to Olympia to make Bummer Summer.
Q: When did you first want to be a filmmaker?
Nandan Rao: I always liked taking pictures and shooting video of my family on vacation from when I was really young. When I was deciding what to study in college, I knew what I enjoyed most was making videos. So, I applied to film school. My parents have always been really supportive and encouraging, probably more than they should be.
Q: You moved across the country to make this movie?
NR: I lived with Zach during his last semester at NYU while he was writing what would become Bummer Summer. I knew him well enough to recognize how much of the situations and characters in the script came from his life and that really made an impression on me. It felt really honest. At some point, most likely joking, he suggested I leave school and come to Olympia to make the film with him. I realized that if I was going to film school for anything, it was to make films that I cared about. So I did.
Q: How did you juggle two jobs as a Director of Photography and producer on set?
NR: Both the roles were significantly less complicated on this film than on the majority of sets. I was co-producing with Zach and he did the real work by writing a film that would be simple to produce. Anything that seemed too complicated was quickly re-written. We spent a lot of time hatching schemes to raise money, but that usually left us breaking even at best, so we gave that up well before filming began. And, we shot almost entirely with natural and/or found light, so there was no crew or equipment I was in charge of as DP. I was just a cameraman.
Q: Your shooting style is brilliant!
NR: Zach originally told me he wanted the film to be black and white, and very composed. After that, we didn’t really discuss things, but after we got the camera we started playing around with it. We shot a fundraising trailer and started holding and shooting rehearsals. I remember one particular rehearsal, standing in Zach’s mom’s kitchen filming two 15-year-old kids arguing, when I realized that I just really enjoyed watching their tension play out in a single, static shot. I didn’t want to interfere with the scene at all, but watch it through a window. This wasn’t something we ever talked about — how this style actually came about — so I guess we were both always on the same page.
If you have the ability to control your environment, if you’re shooting in a studio where you can change walls, colors and light, you can draw a picture of what you want your film to look like and make it a reality. We took the opposite approach with every aspect of the film. Rather than having actors change to become more like the characters as written, the writing was changed to become more like the people acting. The same applied to the shots. Rather than having a specific notion of how a scene should be framed, we looked at the environment and thought about what looked good and right for the scene in the space we were in. Often, it might be very different from how it looks on a piece of paper. But as long as you have time to imagine how it interacts with the scene and with the film as a whole, the results looks intentional and works cinematographically.
Next up for Nandon Rao is editing his movie shot last fall in Detroit, titled “The Men of Dodge City”. The duo just got back from Buenos Aires where they shot Weintraub’s second movie, “The International Sign for Choking”. Rao is planning to move back to Oregon to teach video to elementary and middle school kids.
Learn more about “Bummer Summer” at: www.bummersummermovie.com.