November 9, 2014 by Emma Lucas
Chances are you’ve heard about Caspar Arnhold before, maybe for his TV interventions as an actor in the late 90s or for his current job as a photographer. He is also a Film and Commercial director with an incredible trajectory together with a Lola in Gold award from the German Film Awards in 2004.
We wanted to ask Caspar a few questions to learn from one of the best and we were quite impressed by this talented professional and his story.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us how your passion for photography / Filming started?
I’m a Frankfurt based Photographer and Director and especially I’m a proud father of a 2 year old daughter. My name is Caspar Arnhold. As son of a novelist and a photographer I grew up pretty much in a studio surrounding. At least I spent a lot of time there, watching the models getting their make-up, saw sets beginning build, food being prepped, witnessed the passionate discussions with art directors and clients, chased the assistants around, helped to load 18×24 mags and listened to the orchestral sound of several high voltage flashes go off. So basically as long as I can think, there’s always been a camera within arm length. It was then when I started shooting my first Photo-Stories and it was then when I watched ‘The Sting’ directed by George Roy Hill, starring Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Robert Shaw for the first time. I was amazed by the genre, the costumes, the plot, the performance, the style and how film can take you places until you totally forget your sitting in a cinema chair. I began to understand the difference between stills and moving images and got curiouse. A friend of mine in the neighbourhood had access to a new Betamax camcorder as his mother bought it for her coaching job, we, a gang of boys (one was German commercial director Markus Bader, with whom I spend most of my childhood with) decided to borrow that camera when not in use to reshoot the ‘The Sting’ or at least something along the lines of a gangster flic with poker games, great chasing scenes, dead bodies and cool dialogue. So I started writing the script, raided the trunk of my grandpa for hats and jackets and we’d set up the poker scene at the dinner table with dramatic top light. Obviously we shot it all in chronological order as we didn’t have editing tools. I guess that’s how it all started. It was great fun, we were creative and it’s a real shame the tapes have somehow disappeared.
You have a varied portfolio: Photographer, Cinematographer, Director, Film Producer, Actor. Which of these are you focusing on currently?
Ever since I can think I was taking pictures. Photography has always been a great part in my life and intrigued by people in front of my lens. Even though I thought I ought to take a D-tour study acting and become an actor I’d have a camera on me and earned some money with it, shooting models set cards, editorials for life-style magazines, portraits of fellow acting students for their CV or just friends for fun. So basically I’m coming full circle now. I consider myself to be a photographer who knows to direct as he understands a bit of acting obviously. The production side of thing was just a necessity and is just inevitable if you a) want to do something no one else believes in or b) think the stuff of that one person no one else believes in should be made. That’s how I got into producing anyway. Currently I’m focusing on fashion photography and fashion films. Single rounds and 25 frames a second or more, depending of the client. I just got back from Milano shooting the new collection of Kökler, a young fashion label to be seen at the New York Fashion Week in February 2014.
You have been successful in front of the camera and now you are working behind the camera. Why did you decide to change and what difference does this make to you?
As I mentioned it seems like a detour to me. Acting does. I admit I enjoyed acting, the studying of it, the awareness of oneself both physically and psychologically. It is a most challenging job and I am very respectful of that art form. I threw myself into every play and every role I could get. I guess you have to do everything passionately or let it be in the first place. Anyway, after my graduation I was pretty broke. But creative. In order to have something on my showreel for agents and casting directors to see, I wrote a script for a short film called ‘Drinking & Bleeding’ and produced it. Basically ‘producing it’ meant asking favours and saving money. For example Len Whybrow the director and my flat mate at the time and I waited with the graded material in a pub in Soho until the editor was finished with his regular paying client. Then I spend him a couple of pints and we went up editing all night and leaving the Post House through the back door in the morning with a final cut. Beside Catarina Furtado with whom I had studied and I played the main part in this film. Len had found the cross-eyed, but brilliant swiss cameraman Martin Guggisberg to film it in a small Café in Brixton on 16mm. Apart from the fact that we sold the film to Portugal television for $ 800.- due to the fact that Catarina was already well known over there – it got me an agent in Germany. So I went back for my first job in a commercial for L’tur. For some years I made a living giving the bad guy in german television series and on stage. But not for long. Flavor of the session, adios. I had refused to take longer contracts in daily soaps and my agent kicked me out. I ended up as a Barkeeper and Rigger for some years until I decided to now write, produce and direct my ‘first’ short film ‘Full Stop’ in 2004. The german screenwriter Peter Zingler encouraged me to do it and my favorite DoP Volker May shot it helping me to gather crew and gear. As soon as we were shooting the film it reminded me on which side of the camera I have always had been. And it felt right. Later on it turned out that fate was even more generous and led us to receiving the German Film Award in Gold with this film. All was clear for me ever after; I belong here. No further question. Since that day I tell stories with pictures, again, professionally. Either I’m directing or I’m looking through the viewfinder myself.
You have worked together with big brands and made successful films. How have you develop your skills throughout the years? How did you come to the point where you are now?
I have never attended film school or studied photography, you know. But I have assisted a couple of photographers and worked with a couple of great directors either as an actor or as assistant director. However I won’t deny that a bit of talent and especially hard work and ambition got me were I am today. And still, there’s never a point were you have stopped learning and never a job that you are doing entirely on your own. It’s team work and you learn from the people you work with. I do that every day. Right now I even think that there’s a peaking of me learning new things and skills. The basic skill you have to learn is to learn looking. Maybe observing is better word. Whether you look at pictures, a painting or watching films you admire, you have to ask yourself how they do it and what keeps you watching. If you are inspired, then you have made the first step. The next step is to practice your own signiture. After that it just means never stop practicing and never stop being curious and never stop taking risks. – And yes, what also helps are connections, talking to as many people as possible, especially when you can not rely on a university network it’s tough. Some people who I have already mentioned here have strongly supported me. You need to find these people. Like Rafaela Bonato (Head of TV at Leo Burnett at the time) and the guys from Magna Mana Production in Frankfurt who took great risk and let me direct my first commercial.
Which project are you the most proud of? Which one was the most interesting?
Of course I’m pretty proud of ‘Full Stop’ and I still watch it once in a while. It’s a very important piece for me personally and I still think it’s a great film. It turned out to be exactly how I envisioned it in the first place. Currently I’m remastering it on HD, I never had the money and time before to do it. – The most interesting? That’s difficult. Every project has its challenges and surprises the way I see it. Maybe the few feature films I have worked on or helped to complete were the most interesting. It’s just the complexity of it and a great learning curve. After all feature length storytelling is a master class.
Are there any trends in photography/filming right now that every photographer should know about? Please share them with us!
There is photography and there is filmmaking. It’s a complete different philosophy. Although technology provides a fusion of the two in some areas, it’s still very different. But photographers called themselves directors and vice versa because DSLR are the four letters that ruled the last few years. But in film terms we are talking 4, 6 or 8K now. I mean, taking HiRes stills from 8K footage is not really new either, right? Both formats have changed since the digital age, which is still ‘young’ if you like. Analogue photography or filmmaking was an approved and reliable tool to tell stories. Now the scent of chemistry has almost vanished and we are talking codecs, resolution and chip size. A fact that keeps our attention on fast changing workflows and new developments almost everyday. I guess this has led us to a more accessible and affordable tool to tell stories. At the same time it may reduce greater budget projects. If that also reduces great quality I wouldn’t know. It is and always has been the story that counts and the way and the approach that makes it unique.
You are very successful with your work, what are your aims for future projects and which direction would you like to focus more on?
I plan to enjoy what I’m doing then I do it best. I have not yet managed to shoot my first feature film. That’s definitely something I’m aiming for. There’s a script I wrote last year based on a story I have acquired the rights for. I’m currently working on a trailer / teaser starring my mate Richard Van Weyden. He’s an incedible actor, his mere presence makes a movie. Maybe I shoot the entire film this year or the year after we’ll see. Also with another good friend of mine from my London times Thomas Rushforth, who’s a great writer and actor too, I’m constantly developing ideas. I’d love to do something with him again in the near future. Until then I’m very happy directing more commercials and shooting more fashion. – I even shoot cars or lobster, why not?
You were involved in the Reklamefilmpreis Award in Germany in one of the winning TV commercials. Can you tell us about the project?
There’s a misunderstanding maybe; I have not been involved in any of the winning films at the Reklamefilmpreis. What I have been involved in thanks to Markus Bader who ask me to join is the consulting of two of the three teams at the Reklamefilmpreis Werkstatt 2013. All three teams got a briefing by the Agency Ogilvy & Mather for the client Media Markt to write, shoot and post a facebook commercial within 36 hours. One of the two teams that I supported won the audience award at the Reklamefilmpreis 2013. They did a great job and apart from that they really fought for their idea as they didn’t manage to convince client and agency in the first place. Lesson learned: determination, confidence and fighting for ideas often leads to a unique if not winning result.
How do you promote your work to your potential clients? Who is your main target and where are they located?
Of course there’s the odd website. But that’s just a portofolio online. The same goes for an agent, if you have one and their website. You have to get people see your stuff. And these people are the art buyers, scouts and producers and/or even the client. So you can’t really stop connecting with people and you continuously have to take a tour saying ‘Hey, have a look at my new reel’. I’m on Production Paradise for the first year now which means an investment in my own advertising. There have been some people contacting me for future projects, nothing yet concrete but we’ll see what the new year keeps in store for me. I’m using these tools and its great to have them. They help you to be seen by the right people. From my experience there’s still a personal contact inevitable, because a lot of it in this business is based on trust and sympathy and nevertheless the unique selling point of your signature. After all it’s a people’s business.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
I’d like to thank you for having me on your blog! It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you and a Happy New Year!
Get in contact with Caspar Arnhold and have a closer look to his work by visiting his profile.