AFI Alumni Spotlight on HOUSE OF THE DRAGON Cinematographer Catherine Goldschmidt – American Film Institute

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AFI Alumni Spotlight on HOUSE OF THE DRAGON Cinematographer Catherine Goldschmidt

With the Emmy Awards® right around the corner in January, we sat down with cinematographer Catherine Goldschmidt (AFI Class of 2009), BSC, who has been nominated by the Television Academy for shooting the episode “The Lord of the Tides” of the fantasy epic HOUSE OF THE DRAGON. Goldschmidt is the only woman nominated for Outstanding Cinematography for a Series (One Hour) this year and only the fourth woman ever to be nominated in the category’s 67-year history. Last year, Goldschmidt was named a 2022 Rising Star of Cinematography by American Cinematographer Magazine. Her credits include the venerable sci-fi franchise DOCTOR WHO, acclaimed TV shows CHLOE and A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, and thought-provoking docuseries UGLY DELICIOUS, WATCH THE SOUND WITH MARK RONSON and MIND/TRIP. We spoke with the talented filmmaker to discuss her training at the AFI Conservatory, co-founding a female cinematographers’ collective and how it feels to be in contention for an Emmy® this year.

AFI: After completing your BA, what led you to the AFI Conservatory?

Catherine: I was a Film Studies major at Wesleyan, which is a fantastic program that emphasizes film history and criticism more than production. After reading and writing and theorizing about the decisions other filmmakers made, I realized I’d rather be one of the people making those creative decisions. I moved to LA directly after graduation and started working on set fairly quickly as a camera assistant.  I wound up working for a few DPs who had gone to AFI – Paula Huidobro and Alison Kelly – and they encouraged me to apply.

AFI: How did the program help shape you into the cinematographer you are today?

Catherine: The program at AFI really lets you focus on your craft. Before I went to AFI, I was shooting shorts on the weekends between camera assisting gigs. Those shorts inevitably took a while to complete, and by the time they screened somewhere, I felt like I was practically a different person. Too much time had passed. The cycle at AFI of making films, having them critiqued, and then getting to make them again right away speeds up the learning curve, and you can really watch yourself improve. You figure out what you like and what you don’t, and you develop your voice. I learned so much from the Faculty as well as the other Fellows.  My ‘09 Cinematography classmates are still the people I turn to if I want honest feedback about my work.

AFI: Your credits range from shooting independent features and documentaries to hit television series. What’s the biggest difference in shooting film vs. TV as well as documentaries vs. narrative? 

Catherine: The biggest difference in shooting film versus TV for me is that the collaboration with the showrunner is something unique to TV.  In terms of documentary versus fiction, in documentary you have to be a lot more open and flexible to absorb and react to things in real time. But I think these skills are transferable to fiction filmmaking, and if anything, they help make me a stronger collaborator in the fiction sphere. Ultimately, it’s all visual storytelling. Whether it’s a documentary or a fiction film, whether it’s a TV show or a feature, you are still trying to find the most compelling images that will communicate some essential emotion.

AFI: When you’re working on such beloved franchises like DOCTOR WHO and the GAME OF THRONES prequel HOUSE OF THE DRAGON, how does that affect your preparation process? Do you feel a need to hold true to a prior look or feel like you have the flexibility to create a new visual aesthetic?

Catherine: When I shot the 12th Season opening block of DOCTOR WHO, it was Chris Chibnall’s second season as showrunner, and a few things had been established in his first season that he didn’t want to change. Namely, he was very attached to the fact that they had shot the 11th Season anamorphically.  However, I was able to change the camera, modify the shooting look-up table (LUT) and director Jamie Stone and I developed our own language for how we wanted to move the camera.  On the first season of HOUSE OF THE DRAGON, director Geeta Patel and I were very curious when we first started about what the established “rules” were, but showrunner Miguel Sapotchnik and lead DP Fabian Wagner, who had both done a lot of GAME OF THRONES, were keen that HOUSE OF THE DRAGON be its own show and had a somewhat freer approach. Generally speaking, there are always things about the look that people want to continue, and always things that are more flexible. I really love this “yes and” part of my job and discovering how we can take this well-loved show and look to push it further while still staying true to its essence.

AFI: How does it feel to be nominated for your first Emmy® for HOUSE OF THE DRAGON, and what does that recognition mean to you at this point in your career?

Catherine: I’m completely over the moon to be nominated for an Emmy® for my work on HOUSE OF THE DRAGON.  It was such an incredible show to work on. The whole cast and crew is so unbelievably talented that it was a genuine joy and privilege to go to work every day!  I think being recognized in this way is a validation of all the hard work I’ve put in not just on this show, but also in everything I’ve done up until this point. I just want to keep going!

AFI: Can you tell us more about illuminatrix, the collective of female cinematographers that you’re a founding member of, and why it’s important to have spaces like this in the industry?

Catherine: In my class at AFI, there were eight women cinematographers out of 26 cinematography students overall.  We made up a little more than 30% of our class, which is honestly a much better ratio than what I have experienced since graduating, and I think this is unfortunately true for most film school environments versus the real world. I never really realized I was in the minority until I graduated and started working as a cinematographer.  The number of times you hear “I’ve never worked with a woman cinematographer before” becomes ubiquitous, and when I moved to the UK, I noticed it even more.

In 2016, fellow cinematographer Vanessa Whyte and I decided we wanted to set up illuminatrix as a collective for female cinematographers so that we could publicize the amazing work women were doing, make it easier to hire said women and inspire the next generation, as well as create a private network where women cinematographers could help and support one another. I personally have found it so invaluable to be a part of this community – the support, the camaraderie, the mentorship, the friendship – it keeps you going in tough times and lets you give back in bountiful times. I’m so grateful for my fellow illuminatrices, and I truly don’t know where I’d be without them!

AFI: Are there any upcoming releases or projects that you have been working on that you’d like to share?

Catherine: I just wrapped filming the second season of HOUSE OF THE DRAGON. It was an amazing experience to come back to this wonderful show and work with director Geeta Patel again. There were so many familiar faces, but also a lot of new ones, which meant a great blend of the familiar with the unknown. I hope the audience thinks so too when they see the show!

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