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Meet Carlos R. Diaz-Munoz

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carlos R. Diaz-Munoz.

Carlos, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up in the film and advertising industry as my late father was a Director/Cinematographer/Producer and my mother was a model in advertising and she also worked in runway shows in Mexico City. I started acting in theater when my father’s older brother directed and wrote plays in Mexico City, my younger brother Martin was also right at my side acting as we are only 359 days apart. At age six, I started acting in a feature film narrative that my uncle Ricardo directed and wrote, my father Carlos was the Cinematographer and my uncle Eduardo Diazmunoz was the music composer who now holds a Latin Grammy for best classical music album with the symphony of Bogota that he directed in the early start of the century. My close family is full of artists yet my father never pushed me to follow in his footsteps. From age 6 to 12, I started acting in national television commercials and the kids in grade school would make fun of me, but Martin and myself did it for fun and not for money so we kept on working no matter what. Our mother left us when we were very young, so being with my father in the production company named Candiani Films were he worked in house, was part of our everyday lives after grade school to be with my single father. My brother and myself also did voice over work for commercials so we kept very busy as little kids.

My father remarried another American woman, my mother Susan being the first, and then we moved to sunny Tucson, Arizona in 1972 where I graduated from high school in 1982. My dream was to be a pilot in the US Air Force as I had a close friend whose dad and brother were pilots and veterans. I started studying Aeronautical Engineering in Tucson, Arizona and later on, I moved to Los Angeles with two friends in 1984 and my plan was to continue my studies in engineering in LA. On my way to work one day, I drove by a huge film shoot and decided on a split second to change my career to film making and to become a Cinematographer. Out of the blue, my father called me the next day and asked me if I wanted to study film in Mexico City and that he would pay for all my living expenses so I did not have to work through college. My father taught my brother Martin and myself to be very independent and the idea of going back to live with him seemed very appealing to stop my struggle of putting myself through college. After film school, I started as first Assistant Cameraman working on national 35mm productions and in five years, I accumulated experience in over 500 productions assisting my late father and other international Cinematographers taking advantage of my second acquired English language.

I meet my ex-wife Katherine in Mexico City in an advertising campaign where she was a model and she became friends with my stepmother Stephanie, a casting director who would cast models out of Houston where her sister lived. I married Katherine after I moved to Houston and made the change to Cinematographer and started working in house for Meyer Productions from 1990-1992. I was referred by Texcam to a music video Producer and started shooting rap music videos for the “Geto Boys” when gangster rap started. Meyer Productions had lost their main Amoco Corp. client so the music videos came at a perfect time for me. Geto Boys’ late Bushwick Bill’s “Ever So Clear” music video climbed to number one on MTV’s show Yo’ Raps and I was back to the freelancing world once again with a number one music video behind me. Needless to say, my father and potential clients did not find the music video appealing at all due to its content nature but I had other work that complimented my demo reel when I traveled the world with Meyer Productions.

My ex-wife Katherine became a web page designer back in 1993 and I hired her to make my first web page when the web was barely starting commercially. I am proud to say that I was one of the first Cinematographers to have a site in the world. Her company was a beta tester for Microsoft with their new video streaming software, so I had my demo with ten commercials streaming on the web at a resolution of 320 x 240 which now seems ridiculous in size. Microsoft listed me as the page of the day and I had over 6 thousand hits that day. It was incredible as the next page of the day was a huge United States government agency and I was right next to them in the Microsoft calendar.

I currently work in the USA and Mexico shooting feature film narrative, feature-length documentaries, television shows, music videos and advertising campaigns as well. My last feature film “Una Great Movie” directed by Jennifer Sharp, won numerous awards in film festivals in the USA and one in Europe. The Butterfly Trees, directed by Kay Milam, is a beautiful feature-length documentary about the migration of the monarch butterflies that also got its share of awards in the USA and Mexico. Its message is of utmost importance to raise awareness of the dangers that are surrounding their environments now in their journey from Canada to Mexico and back. What amassed me the most is that it was discovered back in the 70’s that one single monarch butterfly can make the lengthy journey from Canada to Mexico. This knowledge was acquired by placing very light tags or stickers on their wings from various universities and it does not harm their ability to fly and they can recollect the data of where the butterflies were initially tagged. I can truly say that one of the hardest shots in my 35 years career was when we walked more than 3 hours uphill carrying heavy camera equipment. The Director Kay Milam mentioned that a connection is made with the monarch as she truly has throughout the years. It may seem hard to believe, as I found myself in the beginning of this project and when it was first mentioned to me by her.

As an example of this, I was thinking of the unfinished project and the years it had taken Kay to finish due to private investors and the security issues in Mexico at that time. I was thinking of emailing her when I looked to my backlit window and a huge moth had entered my office. I got a plastic container to let it out as I had a bad experience with a moth in junior high and the darn thing landed on my back and it would not fly off. As I got closer and I could see better due to the backlit window, it was monarch butterfly. I got chills thinking about Kay and her monarch connection and I was just thinking of her and the documentary. I could not believe my eyes as I slowly approached it and she just stood still. I placed the clear container on top of it, released it out the window and it just flew off. The next day I received an email from Kay that she wanted to finish the documentary and that she did not want to travel to Mexico because of all the bad press. I never wrote Kay the email I was thinking about and she beat me to it. She also wanted me to take over 100% as the Director of the last phase of this amazing project. Producer Yadir Sanchez got us the best permit ever to shoot in the sanctuary and we sent Kay Milam our footage glowing with pride.

I am currently the President of the world-renowned AMC which is the Mexican Cinematographer Society. I am on my second four years term as President. My participation in the society started in 2004 as Vice President, continued for 12 years and the society has grown like never before. Some of our prestigious members include three-time academy award winner Emmanuel “chivo” Lubezki AMC, ASC, academy nominee Rodrigo Prieto AMC, ASC, Gabriel Beristain AMC, ASC, BSC, Xavier Grobet AMC, ASC, Alexis Zabé AMC, ASC, our first President Henner Hoffman AMC, ASC and 80 more members listed in our web page at www.cinefotografo.com.

Due to our ever-changing technology nowadays, I have aggregated to my profession of cinematography in being a nonlinear editor as it was also my passion when I learned to edit back in film school with super 8mm film. I am also working on my a second screenplay as I feel my true calling is to write but my path in life has taken me on another road.

Even though my time is consumed by my work and the AMC, I find time to train in swimming and cycling. I have always been an athlete since I started playing soccer when I was a child and was an Arizona State select soccer player before I moved to LA when I was 20. I have completed one Olympic distance triathlon and also competed in an open water 10K race in the Caribbean.

I have moved back to Los Angeles since 2016 and my 35 years career in the film industry gives me a whole different outlook from when I first moved to the city of angels as an engineering student and with 120 dollars in my pocket.

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?
I feel the biggest professional challenge has been the change of film into the digital cinema. I did not suffer at all as I had already moved into shooting digital in NTSC way before digital cinema started so the change was not a challenge at all and I adapted very fast and welcomed the change. I was tired of dealing with the outcome of third world film labs and the surprises that came after each film shoot. What I find now is that it has become a marketing race with products and what cameras should be bought. The true cinematography trade has now become very technical and the artistry has been put into second place at times. The camera does not make a Cinematographer ever and some colleagues lose that thought. Also, the perspective of digital being cheaper is a myth as we have more crew on set now as when I first started in the industry. The takes are much longer as there is no discipline on ending the shot and the camera keeps rolling. There are advantages to this and disadvantages. One advantage is that the actors do not lose their momentum on the resets but the disadvantage is that huge amounts of disk space are required and sometimes there is not a good log on what take is the keeper or the print as we said it in the film days. Many hours are spent by editors looking at the footage and that is where the budget goes overboard at times. Another challenge is that a surge of new colleagues has flourished and we are not unique anymore. Marketing has come down to what images you post on Instagram and our images now are one in a million.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
My business is all about moving image capture in whatever format is chosen. It’s just different canvases we can work with if its digital or film.

It is hard to say I specialize in one thing only as I have covered so much in my 35 years of my cinematography experience. I can say that I really enjoy shooting music videos as it is very creative and the projects are very short in time. I feed my soul with documentaries that leave a good message such as the ten year documentary about the monarch butterfly.

I am known for my professionalism and respect to others on set and not being a diva. I do not lose my footing no matter what project I am working in or what my trajectory has been.

I am very proud of my trade as it has been handed down by my late father and he never pushed me at all to become a Cinematographer. It was my own decision and I respect that a lot about him being so liberal. What I also feel pride is that no matter what technology changes are thrown at me, I stay on top of whatever comes up and welcome any new challenge. I can also say that traveling around the world visiting different cultures has given me an outlook of respect and has only made me a better human being. It is so important to learn from different cultures and not be shallow in our way of thinking.

What truly sets me apart from others is the fact that I am a very easy going person but very dedicated to my passion in cinematography. I also believe that one has to be a healthy human being spiritually and physically in order to be the best reliable person on set. I have always been very respectful to others and specially the Director and Executive Producers. A ship is commanded by one person who acknowledges his crew and makes good decisions being humble yet firm and respectful. As I mentioned before, it is extremely important to stay grounded and not lose yourself no matter what your surroundings are including fame and misfortune.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
What the future holds is always unknown, especially now that our plans can change on a dime and that has been shown to us in an extreme manner. My outlook on what is important and what is not have become very clear as our health is the number one priority. We get lost with a one track mind due to our work and its demands. Sadly, leisure and peace of mind come in second place and I need to change that in my life urgently as life is too short. I am planning a cycling trip to Spain when the current COVID situation settles down. I have never traveled to Europe on a vacation as I have only visited for work to the Netherlands and Germany beside other countries in my working trip working round the word in 21 days back in the 90´s including Egypt, Myanmar and Australia. The time will come and I need to be patient for the trip to Spain. I am part Spanish and I am looking forward to visiting my grandmother’s country without worrying about time and how long I can stay there.

Professionally, I will keep on working on my screenplays as that feeds my soul. I will also try to leave the Mexican Cinematographer Society to a new generation as a path has been more than developed in 16 years as a board member and two four year terms in the presidency which will end in 2024.

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Image Credit:

Una Great Movie narrative feature film Crew in Holbox Island, Mexico. Photo by Pablo Grillo, Guadalajara Tourism. Image from advertising campaign (theater), Guadalajara Tourism image from advertising campaign (horse carriage), Game of Heroes feature length narrative. Image for the project. (Soccer), The Butterfly Trees documentary. Image from the project, Everybody Love Somebody feature film narrative aerial cinematographer selfie., Working and advertising campaign with my late father. Image by Jorge Osorio 1st Assistant Cameraman, Recuperating My Ex narrative feature film.

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