MEET DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: GARRETT SHANNON / by Conor Bettendorf

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When we think of a camera purist, Garrett Shannon comes to mind. Garrett's life's trajectory never strayed from the course of cinematography and it's clear to see in his work the passion he has for it.

At 10 years old, our dear friend Garrett was gifted a camera on Christmas morning. While other kids were unwrapping bicycles and action figures that they would grow out of in a couple years, Garrett was unwrapping what would soon become a full-fledged career. 

Coming from a line of passionate photographers, that gene was passed onto Garrett in spades. With the passion there, the camera there, the DARK ROOM IN THE GARAGE there... He began to hone in on his skills. Taking classes through middle school, high school, and into college, Garrett began to realize that his dreams were becoming a reality. 

After a move from the City of Angels, to the BBQ and Music Capital of Texas, Garrett found his new home in Austin. Living and working in Austin, TX, Garrett is our go to guy for all things cinematic. Not only is he capable and hard-working, Garrett is a hoot and a holler to have on set. Spend just one day working with the guy and you'll never want to join a set without him. Please check out his NEW website and give some love to our DP on the ground... Garrett Shannon.

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Tell us about how you got involved with motion?

What started as an interest in photography grew into the career I have today. My father was an amateur photographer as was his father who bought me my first camera for Christmas when I was maybe 10? It was a fixed lens Voigtlander Vitomatic II rangefinder which I still own today and use occasionally when I travel. We had a darkroom setup in our garage where I learned to develop and print B&W 35mm; it was great. I took photography classes in middle school and high school where I also started dabbling in video. That grew into the realization that filmmaking was a career and something you could study in college which I was thrilled about. That set me down the path of attending film school at LMU and starting my career in Los Angeles. 

What was a pivotal moment in your career?

I think directing my thesis film (too cliche?) in college was a pivotal moment which started my career. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my career and although I was pretty sure I wanted it to be cinematography I couldn’t deny the value in directing a short film, especially when the stakes were so low (and the equipment free). That experience cemented in my mind that I was not interested in being a career director. I have so much admiration for directors and their ability to do what they do and work with actors and be needed in a million places at once but that’s just not how my brain works. Joining the International Cinematographer’s Guild Local 600 as a Director of Photography was a big moment for me during my career and both affirmed my commitment to the craft as well as gave me the confidence to continue pursuing my career here in Austin and Los Angeles. 

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What has been your favorite set to work on? Why?

Too many to choose from; I’m vetoing this question as too complicated =) but in all seriousness any set where I’m fortunate enough to be working alongside friends and creative collaborators is my favorite set to work on. I’m so grateful that throughout my career this accounts for 99.9% of my experience. I love what I do. 

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What is one of your proudest moments in your career?

Transitioning from Los Angeles to Austin has been an extremely positive experience and makes me not only grateful to be accepted into the filmmaking community here but also proud to have made that transition so easily. My wife and I moved here not knowing anyone and I’m proud that I’ve been able to work on so many local projects in such a short amount of time. We love our life here and the goal is absolutely to be working locally as much as possible.   

What are some other things you enjoy when you aren’t on set?

Any and all water activities including but not limited to greenbelt hikes, barton springs trips, lake Austin boating, lake & river floating, etc. We can’t get enough; we’re definitely lake people now. Lakes > oceans. Sorry west coast friends.

What is your favorite part about being on set?

When I can get to a place with my crew that we’re communicating in effortless shorthand, verging on telepathy, that is my absolute favorite thing about working on set. It happens on long form projects after working with the same people day-in-and-day-out but also on short term stuff like commercials after building up a network of trusted collaborators. Work on set doesn’t happen in a vacuum so it’s absolutely essential to establish a network of people you can work with who will challenge you creatively.

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What does #ponyup mean to you?

I’m not one for hashtags (I’m still working on my social media game) but to me it means showing up to work ready to put your best effort forward and serve the script and the director with a positive attitude and collaborative spirit. How’d I do?

What does #createmoments mean to you?

More hashtags?!?! Again, I read this as attitude above all else. With the amount of time we all spend on set together between early mornings and late nights it’s so so so important to come with a positive attitude. There’s no room for egos or drama. #create(positive)moments by coming to set and creating a working environment you’ll want to remember. 

How would you describe your skill and how is it has evolved over the years?

If left to my own devices I’ll usually fall back on what I think I’m the best at and also what I enjoy watching the most. Naturalistic lighting and subtle but effective camera work all with the goal of serving and propelling the story. Ideally I’m doing it without detracting from the story or calling undue attention to myself. I don’t do much super stylized lighting or VFX work but I think it would be fun to try. Ultimately I see my job as serving the director and the story above all else. As my career has evolved I think stylistically I’ve stayed in a very similar world but I’ve grown and evolved the way I work and the way I problem solve to achieve a specific look. 

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What is one thing people may not know about you?

I like to ride my bike (although I’m still adjusting to Texas weather). One time I rode it from Florida to California. 

What advice can you provide for aspiring DP's or Cinematographers? 

Be patient; nothing happens quickly when you’re trying to build a career. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try new things especially early on in your career when the stakes are lower and less costly. Don’t get caught up worrying about what gear you’re using; try to remember the camera is just a tool. Instead you should worry about using the best tool for the job; there is no “best” camera. 

What current projects are you working on? 

I’ve got a Lexus commercial coming up I’m excited about with a director I love working with. Can’t say much more than that but maybe I can add a link when it’s released.

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Check out Garrett in action:

Website: Garrett Shannon

Instagram: @garrettshannon

Email: garrett.shannon@gmail.com

Phone: 310.880.6155