Defying the odds of Hollywood, where the majority of directors and directors of photography are men, Jessica Gallant emerges as one of the entertainment industries most gifted, talented, and professional directors and cinemato-graphers – of ‘any’ gender.
Hailing from the hometown of Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor, Jessica Gallant led the movement of filmmakers in Cleveland, Ohio in the punk rock music scene, where she honed her craft filming the most notoriously difficult set up’s possible; rock concerts. Anyone who has tried to get a clean image with proper lighting during multi-colored lights blinking off and on, and strobe lights flashing psychedelic pulses every second, knows the near impossibility of such a feat. Yet Jessica Gallant not only mastered this, she mastered the next to near impossible other task; documenting punk rock shows, where the crowds did not-needless to say, sit still. Fighting mosh pits and the occasional combat boot flying at her lens, Jessica Gallant proved to not only be a deft filmmaker, but even more so, a cutting edge documentary artist, fearlessly jumping in to the trenches-literally, of the most challenging of circumstances.
As her contemporary Penelope Spheeris was busy covering the So-Cal music scene on the West Coast, Jessica Gallant was back in Cleveland, keeping strong to her roots, and documenting some of the most legendary punk bands of our time back in the 80’s. The award winning cinematographer and director later moved to Los Angeles, and decided to hone her skills and talent even further. She attend Columbia College of Hollywood where she graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and received the President’s Award.
Since then, Jessica Gallant has shot nearly 40 feature films, and four feature length documentaries. She also Co-Produced and directed the now highly collectible punk documentary video This is Drop Dead, featuring performances by a heaving 20 bands, including the infamous Lene Lovich, Ex Voto, and Ausgang, as well as many rare and exclusive interviews with notable members of the punk scene, among more.
Jessica is also well known for her work on the award winning independent feature films, The Playaz Court (featured in Kodak’s “In Camera” magazine), as well as the motion picture Tom’s Wife, and the cult favorites Roddenberry on Patrol, which features many stars from the iconic Star Trek and Star Trek Voyager films. Jessica Gallant has also received wide recognition for the award nominated punk themed comedy series, Oblivion, an ITV Festival favorite, with a large online cult following.
In 2003, Jessica was selected as one of six female Directors of Photography to speak at the “Kodak Power Up Panel” on “Women Behind the Camera,” further cementing her reputation as one of Hollywood’s most gifted cinematographers to watch. In addition to her film work, Jessica Gallant has written esteemed articles on independent filmmaking for the international British magazine “Showreel.” Jessica Gallant has also proudly taught cinematography at classes for her alma mater. For 18 years, she has also been Administrator for the widely recognized Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), as well as for the FBKSTS award winning and internationally known Cinematographer Mailing List (CML) through Cinematography dot net.
Passionate about the craft of filmmaking, dedicated to her work, and a recognized leader in her field, working constantly and in great demand from her peers, Jessica Gallant is known for her extraordinary professionalism, and her outstanding creative vision. Recognized for her dynamic shots and beautiful compositional techniques, legendary film trade publication “Variety” highly praised her work on the film Roddenberry on Patrol that she shot, powerfully stating that “Jessica Gallant’s color lensing is exceptional!”
Jessica Gallant recently helmed the upcoming new webisode, Hollyweird!, starring renowned celebrity Michael Lohan. Hollyweird producer and Hollywood Sentinel dot com publisher Bruce Edwin states, “Jessica Gallant is a rare and brilliant talent. Beyond that, it is a breath of fresh air working with her due to her level of commitment, skill, and expert conduct. She is truly amazing.”
Bio by Bruce Edwin – Hollywood Sentinel
1. When did your dream of becoming a filmmaker begin and how did you get started as a cinematographer?
I never really dreamt of becoming a cinematographer, at least in the way some people dream of becoming directors or actors. I was a social worker in Cleveland for quite a while, and was very good at it, but career wise it wasn’t a good fit for me. Helping professionals (social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc.) tend not to be very creative and seem to be uncomfortable around creative people.
2. You have an impressive background as a cinematographer and documentarian of rock concerts. How did this first come about and how did you find the experience?
My father, a voice over artist in Los Angeles, bought me a Hi8 camera one year for my birthday. The next thing I knew, I was shooting bands & shows, PSAs, live events, etc. Apparently I was good enough at it that people hired me and recommended me to others.
3. You were quite successful in Cleveland and really made a name for yourself. What brought you to Los Angeles?
I don’t know if I was all that successful in Cleveland. I was still a social worker and shooting whatever I could on the side. In 1995 I was in a serious accident on the job, in an awful lot of physical pain, and filed for worker’s compensation. My employer fired me after I filed, which is supposed to be illegal. My father suggested I return to school and get a degree in Cinema. (I already had one degree in Psychology with emphasis in Experimental & Perceptual Psychology). So I enrolled in Columbia College Hollywood, the sister school of the better known Columbia College Chicago, to earn another B.A.
4. You've shot some 40+ feature films as well as four feature-length documentaries since arriving in LA. What would you say was your BIG BREAK?
I don’t think there was any one thing that happened that would constitute a “big break”. I think I was extremely lucky and fortunate that when I graduated from Columbia College, miniDV was becoming popular and a lot of DPs refused to shoot on it. To me, it wasn’t all that much different than shooting on Hi8 and I was OK with it. Many of the projects I shot were pretty forgettable. (Some of them still are.) On one of the first features I shot, I asked the director why he hired me and he said “Everyone else said no”. After that, I stopped asking. I took whatever work I could find and did my absolute best. Britton Hein (an old classmate of mine) and Greg Morgan hired me to shoot The Playaz Court, a gritty urban drama shot on S16mm for $75,000. It did well in the festival circuit and almost immediately got a distribution deal with Artisan which was a very big deal at the time. It gave me some amazing looking footage for my demo reel.
5. What is it about the documentary process that you find so appealing?
Documentaries are wonderful learning experiences, plus they’re usually fun to shoot. If you’re shooting sit down interviews, you can listen to the interviews and learn about things you might never experience. If you’re shooting cinema verite, they can be challenging and time consuming, but they’re also great fun when you’re able to rise to the challenge and get difficult shots and content that you need to tell the story.
6. What has been the greatest lesson you've learned during this journey?
Persistence is important. Sometimes I think I’ve survived as long in the industry as I have because I’ve been too stubborn to quit.
7. What has been your greatest achievement as a filmmaker?
Surviving as long as I have. Last time I checked, only four people from my graduating class at Columbia College were still in the industry.
8. Where do you hope to see yourself in five years’ time?
I have absolutely no idea. Most likely I’ll be doing the same thing I’m doing now. I can’t really picture myself doing anything else. I don’t want to do anything else either.
9. The film industry changed drastically over the last decade with modern technology. Where do you see this trend going?
Predictions about the future are difficult because we see technological progress as linear whereas it tends to me more exponential. As a result, we overestimate the short term changes and underestimate the long term changes. That said, in the short run we’ll see resolution increasing in cameras. We’ll see better dynamic range in cameras and monitors. Cheaper storage will mean shooting less compressed footage with better colorspace which will mean more flexibility for color correction in post with fewer artifacts and more natural looking color. Tools are also getting less expensive so more people can make content and (hopefully) the quality of that content is steadily improving. Netflix and Hulu can make content that only the networks and HBO were able to make 20 years ago. Rick and Morty on Adult Swim and Bojack Horseman on Netflix are two of my favorite shows right now. Compare the quality of the animation on them to the Saturday morning cartoons of the 1970s and 1980s. The difference is striking. (Plus they’re doing stories they would never, ever have been broadcast back in the 1970s and 1980s.) I suppose someday, ten, 20, or 30 years from now, someone will read this and say “What is a Bojack Horseman?"
10. What words of advice would you like to pass along to someone just starting out in the industry as a cinematographer?
I don’t have any sage advice except maybe: