AMA! Justin Morrison - Cinematographer


(Justin Morrison) #1

My name is Justin Morrison. I’m a cinematographer and producer. I, along with a small group of my friends started web series called Break a Leg back in 2006 that went for 3 years. During that time, we created a production company called Happy Little Guillotine Studios or HLG. We focused primarily on branded content with our first big gig being a 3 week cross country reality show series sponsored by 7-Eleven and partnered with the Indie 500. We have shot a couple different digital series and many digital commercials and are presently pitching a new series entitled Binge.

Having learned most of my camera and lighting skills while shooting with my team in the San Francisco area, we had to figure out many things on our own outside of the Hollywood studio system. While HLG is now based in Los Angeles and we do now have access to many of the tools used in bigger budget Hollywood productions, I find that my time trying to accomplish cinematic moments during my early web series days with just my camera and miscellaneous scraps found at Home Depot has helped me greatly in problem solving on set when things don’t go as planned.

So if any one has any questions in regards to production, types of cameras to use, or what it is you need to do to actually make this crazy hobby your career, shoot them my way!


We've got an AMA for that!
7 Ways to Make Your Second Season Better Than Your First
(Bri Castellini) #2

Hey Justin! Thanks so much for being here today! When did you get into filmmaking, and into web series in particular? Why did a web series seem like a good idea, especially back in 2006 when they weren’t as much of a thing?


(Anna Bateman) #3

Hi Justin!! Congrats on everything you’re up to! Can you talk more about accomplishing cinematic moments in web series, especially without, like, any money?


(Bri Castellini) #4

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(Meg Carroway) #5

Welcome to the forum!! I don’t have a ton of experience working with an * actual * director of photography (it’s usually just a friend with a camera or a friend holding MY camera haha) and I’m wondering how involved DPs are during pre-production? Do you like the director already having a storyboard or do you prefer reading the script yourself and collaborating from the beginning on the camera look?


(Ollie R) #6

Hey man, thanks for dropping by. What are your biggest production pet peeves from a DP perspective?


(Joseph Steven Heath) #7

What are some basic things that you feel like a lot of people neglect?


(sam lockie-waring) #8

do you do a lot of lighting stuff as dp, or do you tend to rely on gaffers and the like? i once heard a good dp should always know how to light, but then i’ve also met a lot of them who only have camera move/angle opinions


(Meg Carroway) #9

How does the relationship between a DP and an AC work? Is AC like the DP’s AD, or is it something different?


(Justin Morrison) #10

Glad to be here! I actually wanted to be an actor since around the 3rd grade. Did all the plays that my sleepy town would put on. Then in high school I took a technology class that had access to Final Cut Pro 3. (shows how old I am) So my drama friends and I decided to shoot our own short films so that we could act in them. (BTW, those movies are hilariously horrible.) The more we did it though, the more I found I enjoyed being behind the camera. Then I entered college majoring in theater, but after one semester, I changed my major to Film.

As for why we created a web series back in 2006… My good friend Yuri Baranovsky (Who has actually done AMA here - look him up!) and his brother had written an episode for a possible show they were hoping to one day pitch to a network. Then we saw that the show Sunny in Philadelphia was holding a contest on MySpace (yep MySpace) where if you submitted a scene from a show you produced and was chosen, you could win funding to shoot a full episode and then submit it to be greenlit on the FX netowork.

We did not win.

But… the viewers on myspace liked our scene so much and left so many comments on our post asking if there was more, that we just decided to shoot an episode and see what happens. That then led to us shooting 3 seasons and creating our production company, HLG Studios.

If you want to see what my super early filmmaking looked like back in 2006 with no budget and no production lights and a camera shooting on miniDV tape looks like, well then here ya go!


(Sunny Larkson) #11

Hi Justin!!! I’m working on a found footage/vlog style web series concept right now and I was wondering if you had tips for making that style prettier/more interesting to look at but also still keeping the production itself simple?


(Joseph Steven Heath) #12

I’m now realizing how I first stumbled across Break A Leg! I was going to enter that same contest! I wrote up a script and everything. Then I read the rules and realized I was too young to enter. :frowning: (I still wound up making a couple of episodes anyway.)


(Anna Bateman) #13

What has being an official production company and not just freelancers done for you guys and your careers/hire-ability? Would you recommend it to other indie creators, or only after a certain point, or what?


(Ron Valderrama) #15

Very interested in the sponsored content aspect. Do you have someone that focuses specifically on business development to acquire new clients/sponsors?


(Bri Castellini) #16

Follow-up to this, I’ve seen your name credited as a producer for HLG too- do you like producing, or do you ever wish you could stick to DPing?


(Justin Morrison) #17

Excellent question! Really, it’s just about being creative and using what’s around you to get something interesting. I was shooting a low budget horror web series once. We were shooting in a garage and just had some very bright and direct lights to light the scene. The scene needed to look spooky and sinister so I found an Xmas tree ornament in a box in the garage. It was a bell made of loosely woven material. I ended up placing that in front of the light to create spooky shadows on the wall.

I’ve made a waterproof camera housing out of a Gatoraid cooler and some plexiglass.

Shot a scene on a bus at night. We got a bunch of people to push on the bus to get it rocking back and forth and then had someone swing a light around outside to mimic headlights passing.

Or have made some cool swirling light effects by just strapping some cheap LED lights to some C-stand arms.

One of my favorite shots I got was from from tying C-stand poles to either side of my car and using them to extend a long metal pole to the side of my car. I then strapped a camera to the pole and pointed it down to get an over head shot of the actress running. I also used suction cups to attach LED lights to my car to light up the actress. You can see that here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BHBa11mhJml/?hl=en&taken-by=justin_morrison


(Anna Bateman) #18

That’s amazing!! Where did you learn how do to all that? Film school?


(Rodrigo Diaz Ricci) #19

Hello Justin, excellent to have you here on the forum.

My question is related to cinematography.
How to create an attractive photograph in the web series format when a high percentage of the audience looks at them in a cell phone, sometimes from a very small screen?


(Justin Morrison) #20

Each director is pretty different. Some directors like to just focus on the acting and task me to creating the emotion with the camera angles and lighting choices. While other directors like to be pretty hands on with the image of the movie going as far to asking for certain lenses to be used for certain shots.

I myself like to read the script and have the director give me their thoughts on how they want each beat of the scene to feel. I then go over the script again and create a very rough shot list to go over with the director. If he’s on board with where I’m going with it, I’ll either draw up some VERY crudely drawn storyboards or (if the production has the time) I’ll use a program like PreViz to create 3D renderings of the shots.


(Idgafwebseries) #21

What exactly are the duties split between the director and the dp? Like who usually decides on the camera used, lenses, shot list and stuff. I’m still very confused on what roles handle what because i’ve seen it done different ways.

Also if you have a small budget but enough to afford a better camera than a dslr or something what cameras would you recommend using? I was thinking of renting a sony a7s II but i’m not entirely sure.

And what are the most common lens sizes you use on set for your shots? (One for wide, close up, mid shot.)