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Life & Work with Iliana Ipes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Iliana Ipes.

Iliana, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I’ve always been interested in the visuals of film, but when I was 14 I watched the movie Billy Elliot and until then, I had never seen a film that lit a fire in me like that. I realized the impact that film can have on an individual person and experiencing that for the first time changed me. I wanted to make movies – at that time, I didn’t yet know in what capacity, I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. I applied to FSU’s College of Motion Picture Arts and I still didn’t quite understand what position I wanted to fill on a film set. Through that program, we shuffled through all of the basic above and below the line crew positions. When it was my turn to fill the role of cinematographer, I knew that this was it – this is the crew position that made me feel inside what I felt when I watched Billy Elliot for the first time. I got this feeling of “belonging” that I hadn’t felt before.

From there, I decided to specialize in cinematography for the rest of my time at the film school. Once I graduated, I knew I had to go to LA to pursue my dreams. I met with some amazing FSU alumni who helped guide my way into the camera department and I very quickly started working as a camera assistant. I really loved this for the time I was doing it, but after a while I noticed I got way too comfortable in this position that wasn’t what I moved out to LA to do.

Interestingly enough, the COVID-19 pandemic was exactly what I needed to kick my own butt into high gear. Everything shut down and I was out of work for months; this gave me the time to reflect and really ask myself what I wanted to do. I decided to give myself permission to be a cinematographer, to call myself one, and to give myself permission to possibly fail as long as it meant pursuing what I feel I was meant to do. It was kind of like a switch – I just made a decision I had been scared of making.

I’ve started shooting a lot of narrative work as well as branded content. I honestly feel creatively reignited and I’m so looking forward to collaborating with new artists and continuing to learn.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It hasn’t been a smooth road. It’s been a road filled with a lot of self-doubt and anxiety. Self-doubting that I’m continuously unlearning for myself. With social media, it’s really easy to believe that everyone knows what they’re doing. When in reality, everyone is just trying to figure their lives and careers out – some people are just ahead of others. I was honestly really scared of transitioning into being a cinematographer because it’s a constant game of comparing yourself to others and feeling like it’s a race. With that kind of attitude, it feels difficult to reach out to other cinematographers to ask them questions and to learn from them because you don’t want to seem inexperienced or you’re trying to keep up this facade. But with that attitude, it’s impossible to grow and learn.

Being a Latinx cinematographer also contributes to that unhealthy mindset and it’s just another example of why representation is so important. By not seeing people who looked like me in the career path I wanted to follow, it made following my dreams seem impossible. There’s a lack of established black and brown female cinematographers in the film industry, but lately I’ve been seeing more and more that have given me the confidence to DP and who I can hopefully join in helping to pave the way for others who are interested.

I also work as a camera operator on A Little Late with Lilly Singh on NBC and in one of the interviews we did with the rapper Russ, he said, “What if things can turn out better than you imagine?”. I really took this to heart and I decided to dive full in because yes I may fail, but things can also turn out better than I imagined (which SPOILER is a huge possibility if you put your all into what you believe in).

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I’m a cinematographer, also referred to as a director of photography, and it’s my job to visually communicate what the script and director want to bring to life. I do this with dynamic lighting and camera movement but also use my empathy to really understand what the characters are feeling and bring that to the screen. I’m not just trying to make things look cool, I want to make the audience feel what these characters are feeling. I’m always most proud of my work when I feel that I’ve added dimension to the character through camera and lighting. I’m really interested in the human connection and I think that’s why I’m really drawn to narrative slice of life and documentary work. I feel the most fulfilled when I connect with another person and I try to bring that same feeling to the audience when they’re watching the characters or scene I’m lighting.

This goes hand in hand with on screen representation for women and people of color. I want to be a part of creating content with characters that reflect our real world. It’s so important for children – and adults – to see someone on screen who they feel represents them and to be able to connect with them. I want to be a part of bringing to life three-dimensional and complex POC characters. I remember the first time I saw America Ferrera on screen and I latched on to how she made me feel seen in a world where I otherwise didn’t. I want others to feel seen.

So, before we go, how can our readers or others connect or collaborate with you? How can they support you?
I would love to collaborate with new and thoughtful artists! All of my work can be found on my website. I interact a lot with filmmakers and artists on Instagram and Twitter. I’m also available to contact through email.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Robert Bevis Annie Shifflette

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