When we hear the word cinema, great productions, Hollywood, artists and of course, a moment of distraction immediately comes to mind.
Without imagining that behind the big screen, there are thousands of people working tirelessly to achieve a scene of up to 30 seconds.
Within that world of cinematography, there are those individuals who manage to prepare in various specialties such as Lester Beck, originally from Paris, who decided to immigrate to New York and now works as a Cinematographer, Gaffer, Editor and Musician in the entertainment industry.
In an exclusive interview with perlarico.com, Beck shares with us how he left his country in search of the American dream and is now achieving success and reaching for the stars.
1. Hi Lester, thank you for the interview, how do you describe yourself?
Lester: I describe myself as a hard worker, always putting myself in question and try to improve myself and be more efficient; at work or in life. Not just that, I also think social life is very important and in this industry it’s a big part of how to get jobs.
2. Why did you immigrate to New York?
Lester: In film school, I had this opportunity that offered students their fourth and optional year of study here in New York. So, I decided to give it a try and see what it was about. Having a deep admiration for New York City since I was a kid, I wasn’t thinking I would actually be able to stay more than this one year. Nonetheless, very quickly I heard that foreign students can extend their student visa for a year called OPT (Optional Practical Training), which extends student’s visa for a second year with a Social Security Number and the right to work in my field of study.
Laster emphasizes, “After those 2 years, I eventually worked with enough people that I was able to hire a lawyer and apply for an artist visa called O1 visa. It’s a very selective visa, which requires a handful of proof of my lead role in prestigious projects. Hoping it got approved, and it’s been 3 years now, and I love New York.”
3. New York opened its doors to you labor wise, how has that been?
Lester: When you work in film, I believe that New York is definitely the right place to be. As a foreigner, having no connections or family, the amount of work that is out there in this city got me able to find work pretty early. In New York, people give you a chance.
4. How did your love of cinema start?
Lester: When I was a child, my mother had this tape camera recorder that I started to play around with, since then I always liked doing videos with my friends, like vacations for example. Then when I was in High School, I started doing my own music video until someone I knew told me that I should try to go to a film school, which I did and eventually found what I was really meant to do for a living.
5. Is working as a Director of Photography (DP) stressful or fun?
Lester: It’s fairly both. All the preparation of the shoot, fixing all the problems, making sure you will get everything you need for your shortlist, lighting wise, grip wise and camera wise can be stressful. However, once you actually build your scene, the lighting and the shot, the stress goes away and for me at least it’s pure fun and I have no perception of time when I’m working.
6. Which projects do you believe have been the highlights of your career so far?
Lester: There’s been a few. In the narrative world, I had the chance to work on independent movies with a very talented Director, famous actors and as featured Director of Photography. In the commercial world, I had the chance to work for brands like UPS, Huggies, Mercedes, Porsche, Play Doh and others that are very valuable to my résumé.
7. That’s awesome! How has your experience been as an editor and actor?
Lester: When I was a kid, I was doing my own videos and editing them. As I grew up with the rise of the internet, I also had an ease to learn software like Final Cut, Premiere, Photoshop and others. Oh! It’s always something that I loved to do, but lately I decided that I would only edit for my own projects since editing for someone else is a different story. Being an actor was definitely interesting, as I’m used to being on the other side of the camera, it was a really interesting experience.
8. You’re a man of many traits. We are aware you have worked on numerous projects as a Gaffer, what can you tell us about your job and your participation in film?
Lester: The Gaffer is the right arm of the Director of Photography, he is the head of the lighting department. He is the one who decides how to light a scene or characters based on what mood the Director and the Cinematographer are looking for. The Gaffer is also in charge of all the lighting gear and the electricity power on set and has to have a clear knowledge of camera and lighting sciences and electricity. It is one of the most important roles on set.
9. Tell us more about your role in the Electrical Department? Is it hard?
Lester: Electrical Department concerns the Lighting Department and depending on the situation, sometimes it’s harder than others. Once you get enough experience, and you meet most of the setups that usually happen on set (greenscreen, exterior shoot, dinner scene, car scenes etc..) no matter what movie, setups remain roughly the same.
10. That’s very interesting. From all the roles you have worked on, which one is your favorite and why?
Lester: Definitely Director of Photography, because it is the apex of what I love doing. Even if the Gaffer is the head of the lighting department, the DP must have all that lighting knowledge to be a good one, and definitely has a word to say about how he wants a scene to be lit. Thus more importantly, the DP is the one who is actually shooting the shot, choosing the lens and defining camera movement and position. He is also working very closely with the Director to help him tell the story the way he wants it.
11. You have worked in other productions such as short films, commercials, video clips, fashion and corporate, how do you manage to handle all of it?
Lester: Each of these productions usually require a certain type of lighting and look. Narrative is usually more about contrast and natural look. Music videos are way more creative in terms of colors and lighting effects, commercials/fashion/corporate are usually way more clean and including its lighting.
12. Was there an instance you thought things weren’t going to work out the way it was intended on set and was there a work around?
Lester: On set, we often talk about Murphy’s Law, when everything that can go wrong will go wrong. It’s a truth in the film industry and every department has and must think that way. Usually, you are always prepare for a plan B and C.
13. That’s very funny. Many individuals immigrate to the US wanting to live the American dream, do you believe you have achieved that?
Lester: I am very happy to be where I am right now.
“If someone would have told me I would be here 5 years ago I wouldn’t have believed it. Whenever you reach a goal, there is a new one that appears right above it, and I don’t think I am at the point where I don’t want to keep getting further up. I will always have the hunger for more.”-Lester Beck, Filmmaker.
14. What is your family telling about you living in the US and possibly living a life many don’t have the courage to live?
Lester: My family is proud, obviously in France it does really sound good that I have been able to start to make my way in the US. Since it is my own life, I don’t really feel like it was anything crazy, but I know that I had to work. Everything is possible when you really put the effort that it takes.
15. That’s very inspiring! What would be your message to other people who want to get involved in the filmmaking world?
Lester: It is not an easy path, no security of work, long hour days and not a lot of time for yourself and family. However, if it’s really something you love to do, there is no way you can’t make it. Some people just want to get into that industry because it sounds “cool” but usually if it’s the only motivation that won’t take you anywhere. This is a hard industry where you have to fight for your place and hierarchy is very important.
16. You’re a successful man, to whom do you dedicate all your achievements?
Lester: Honestly, of course all the support of my family and people close to me really helped me, but when it comes to my life in New York and the film industry, I’m the only actor of my choices and behaviors. Of course, I’ve met people who put me into new jobs, better jobs with better salary etc… but only after you show them that you know what you are doing, they will trust you. Thus, if you recommend someone that makes mistakes on another job, it will fall back on you in this industry. At the end of the day, if I put all this effort to be where I am today it’s only for my mom to be proud of who I am.
Thank you Lester Beck for inspiring us and showing us that if you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, it doesn’t matter if you come from another country. It has been a pleasure to listen to your story and how you are growing within the field you love, the entertainment industry. We cannot wait to see what’s next in your life and career.