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Meet Adriana Serrato

Today we’d like to introduce you to Adriana Serrato.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Adriana. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Somewhere in my father’s archive of photos and videos, there is a video of young me extending my arms towards my father’s camcorder yelling, “Can I see, Can I see,” and this is where my story begins. My father was always obsessed with documenting and photographing our holidays and life. He enjoyed it and still does to this day.

Ever so often I’ll get a phone call from him asking me what the next new camera is and what camera he should invest in for his next holiday. Although he now comes to me for advice about cameras, he was the first to introduce me to this world of photography and video. I still remember my brothers and I as kids stealing Dad’s camcorder during the holidays and filling up one cassette at a time of us acting silly. And the day they invented the zoom for camcorders was a glorious mighty day for the Serrato children. I’ll never forget the extreme details of my parents’ faces as it was hilariously entertaining for us to zoom up close and personal.

Needless to say, there was always a camera somewhere around us or near us growing up, but I would have never guessed these subtle introductions to film would lead me to where I am today. Growing up, I always had an interest in the arts. I was always drawing and filling up sketchbooks, and I still do today. I attended an incredible art school, The Corcoran College of Art and Design, where I received a broad education in the visual arts. During my time there, I spent most of it drawing portraits. I was forever drawing when one day a professor of mine, Lynn Sures, very honestly asked me what my drawings meant to me. I still remember her telling me that my drawings looked like storyboards and that I should consider exploring film. So as advised, I grabbed an old camcorder and made one of my first films, a film of my friends drinking wine. Needless to say, it wasn’t my best work but it got me curious.

I knew I had an interest in cameras but didn’t fancy myself a still photographer so I decided that if I was going to learn about motion picture cameras and film I needed to start with the basics. The summer of 2012, I enrolled in a course with the New York Film Academy in Paris and learned how to shoot on black&white 16mm film. Soon after I realized that I wanted to go into film and leave the gallery art world behind.

After graduating from the Corcoran College of Art, I applied to a few film schools in the US and debated about going to the UK or pursue a Masters in Film. I started to receive acceptance letters including one from USC. It took one visit to the campus and learning about the program for me to know that I wanted to spend the next three years at USC in the Master’s film program. While I was there, I decided very quickly that my passion was cinematography. I was really excited to explore that medium and learn more. During the program, I focused myself on developing a career in cinematography — it’s been an interesting ride.

From an excited little girl asking to handle a camcorder to USC to a career as a Director of Photography, I finally get to play with as many cameras as I like. If you had asked me five years ago if I would have been where I am today, I would have never believed you or even thought I would be working in the film industry, it seemed so unattainable at that time. Working as a Director of Photography is an extremely fulfilling job. I get to meet the most extraordinary artists and get to work and share my visual talents with them. Not only does my job include being a part of the visual elements of a film, music video or branded content, I get the pleasure of managing a team which is personally rewarding. What people may not know about working in the camera department in film is that the Director of Photography needs the support of many people to be successful and to help create visuals, without a team of professionals around me I could not perform my job well.

Throughout my four years, climbing the career ladder, working as a camera assistant or gaffer to reach my final goal as a Director of Photography, I’ve met many incredible and talented individuals, both during my time at USC and in the freelance world. I had the opportunity to work on some very professional sets and I am extremely grateful for those experiences. I’m an also thankful to all my professors at USC but particularly to Skye Borgman who has always given me great advice and supported me in and outside of school. I also wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the support of my great friends and co-workers, Camila Prisco Paraiso, Enrico Targetti, Jake Harbour and Sevag Chahinian. As a professional in the film industry, it is key to surround yourself with supportive and talented friends who work in and out of your industry as they serve as a great source of inspiration but also as good friends to help you through the difficult times.

It’s never easy working in this industry but with perseverance, like my story, you can also reach your dream career.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Working in the arts is never a smooth ride. It’s probably one of the most competitive industries I have encountered in my life. There is the ongoing challenge of having to prove your skills in order for people to take you seriously and believe in you — more so that in any other industry given the highly creative nature of the arts and film.

I have had my share of struggles and I still struggle today, making this job a realistic full-time career is not always easy. As a Director of Photography you are your own boss, making your own schedules, constantly applying to new gigs and networking or more appropriately schmoozing! You have to be working 24/7 either on jobs or on trying to get jobs.

Although the industry is struggle in itself, I think my biggest obstacle was myself. I am my harshest critic. I think most people can relate to this and understand this challenge or struggle. I was constantly telling myself that my work could be better or doubting whether I was good enough for the job or even talented enough. I have had to learn to manage these feelings as they can destroy personal confidence and create discord with my team, which translate on screen in the final product.

As a Director of Photography you truly need to show confidence on set because you are the one running a department and in order for those people to trust you and feel confident in their jobs, you need to display confidence! Having had experience as a camera assistant I was able to watch other Directors of Photography lead their teams and I learned a lot from observing and working with them. Now with a wide variety of film projects under my belt and by seeking advice and guidance from my mentors and other professionals, I can truly say I have built great confidence in my skills and my decision-making capabilities. Of course, I will still question myself and have doubts but not like I did early in my career. I know that every new job or project is an opportunity for me to push myself to do better as everything can always be better!

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am a freelance Director of Photography which basically means I am responsible for capturing the visual elements of any video content. In my case, I shoot a lot of short films, music videos, and branded content.

The fun part of this job is you get to be a part of the making of a film from beginning to end. Typically the Director of Photography is brought on during pre-production and becomes part of the visual discussion of a project and is responsible for providing the director or producer with a realistic idea of what is visually possible lighting wise and camera wise. You become really close to the director and work hand in hand to help the director or producer bring their scripts and ideas to life.

The best part about this job is its collaborative nature. In film, without the other departments, I cannot do my job successfully. I can light and shoot anything but without the production designer, there is no space to shoot, without the actors, there is no story to shoot and without the director there would be no guidance and vision. In the film making process we all need each other to create a successful result. I truly appreciate and adore this collaborative type of work.

What were you like growing up?
Well, I grew up overseas and attended a very academically focused French school, which never really suited me. I was always very artistically oriented, sketching in my books during class time, always drawing or doing something that I found creative. My mother has kept most of my books from those years as they are covered head to toe with thousands of drawings. On a family vacation one year we visited the Picasso Museum in Barcelona and that was the beginning of the end, I no longer wanted to be in school but wanted, like Picasso, to pursue a career in the arts. I was passionate about my interest in the arts and strong-minded about following passion.

I became a little careless about my other classes and spent hours concentrating on anything related to the arts. Having grown up in a strict academic environment, there was a strong desire to rebel. I constantly challenged the structure of classes and refused to believe everything I was always told. Like most kids, I was a bit stubborn and naive but I always pushed to achieve what I wanted.

I always wanted to prove myself to others and I always wanted to entertain my friends. My brothers and I used to film short skits that would crack us up and we loved sharing our silly stories with our family and friends. We were always stealing my father’s camcorder to go on secret adventures around Switzerland and to share our creations with everyone we knew.

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