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Meet Leo Purman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leo Purman.

Leo, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in Milwaukee Wisconsin. I got my start in film making through photography as a kid there. What started as mostly ski and skateboard photos, turned into portraits of friends, and ultimately abstract landscapes. My high school arts teacher was very encouraging and through contests and scholarships I went to NYU’s photography program for my undergraduate degree. While in College, I started collaborating with a variety of film students at NYU on music video’s, short films, and documentaries. I enjoyed the film set experience and found myself consistently drawn to the lighting that would happen on set. From how practically it all got there and worked, to how creatively it looked and functioned for a character, a scene, or an emotion. I started working regularly on lighting teams for commercials and features in New York.

At the same time, I started a lighting equipment rental company as well, that provided gear for many of the shoots I worked on, as well as for friends on their passion projects. The idea behind the rental business was to facilitate my own and others creative endeavors while providing a self-sufficient income, but as NYU ended, it began growing and becoming a full-time commitment. I decided to apply to AFI, sell off the rental business and move to LA to try and reestablish myself, both creatively and in the film industry. After getting into AFI, I was humbled to shoot a cross country promotional campaign for the film Mother!, that got me to the west coast in a little over a month. Two years later, I’m here in LA! I just graduated from AFI, and have begun work with former students, and outside collaborators. I have always believed that the camera has been a guiding teacher in my life, pointing me in new directions, and teaching me about spaces I have not yet seen. I am eager to see where the camera will take me next and hopeful to live a life of learning through the lens.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It certainly has not been a silky smooth road, but I have always had the support of friends, family, and great creative collaborators. I also feel very much in the middle of my road, if not at its very beginning. I can for-see many obstacles in front of me, and I am sure many more will arise, as I go further down this road. My hope is to remain excited and open to new opportunities, even if that might be beyond the scopes of cinematography and photography. I feel that creativity comes from a willingness to learn and to give. My goal is to learn through creative endeavors, and give back that learning through work that others can experience, enjoy, and critique.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Today I am my own business, as a freelance cinematographer and photographer. I specialize in incorporating abstract and expressive visuals with narrative and commercial contexts for both photo and video. I am known for work with a heightened sense of perspective, giving the audience a more subjective engagement with what they are watching. What I am most proud of as a cinematographer, is also the same thing I am constantly trying to improve upon. Creative problem-solving. No matter the budget, or the time, or the demand of a shot, what stands out to me, is the ability to pivot, adapt, and change to what the situation needs. So much of what draws me into film making is the fact that there is always a creative way to solve a problem. From fixing a cameras placement to re-blocking a scene so it tells the story, or reframing a shot so it can say what a character is thinking. Blending what has been premeditated with what’s in front of you, and creatively working with the two to tell the intended story is what I like most about my job. I think this skill is what has allowed me the successes I have had so far, and the speed with which I can do it sets me apart from others.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
YES! So many amazing people have helped me get to where I am today, and once more, film making is always a team endeavor. In many ways it was the collaborative team aspect of film making that made me first fall in love with the craft. As I mentioned in two previous questions, the corner stones of my growth as a cinematographer are my high school art teacher and my family. Patricia Leeson, my high school art teacher, taught me to value creative and artistic work in high school and she provided me with recognition of my efforts at a young age which was a necessary catalyst in resolving my confidence to pursue photography as my career. My parents were equally involved in cultivating my aspirations, consistently letting me spend my Saturdays and Sundays shooting photos for hours until the water drops were just right, or the pair of loose pants stood up in just the right angle. My mom once waited beside me for an hour and a half on vacation for a street lamp to turn off because I wanted the light to be just right for a doc project. They were supportive of my choices, but have always been an inspiring place of critique. They are honest to me about my work, often it is very discouraging in the moment, but aggressively inspiring thereafter.

When coming up in New York, I worked as a gaffer (head lighting technician onset) many times for two cinematographers who taught me a tremendous amount about working on set, creative choices as a cinematographer and being a leader on and off the job. To this day, I recall anecdotes and memories from times past with them, and still will call or reach out to them with questions or concerns I may have about an upcoming shoot. Cory Fraiman-Lott and Connor Murphy are the two cinematographers, and I consider them mentors, and also close friends.

Finally, a bit more recent in my career I have gotten the opportunity to work under Matthew Libatique, both shooting 2nd unit, and as a camera operator. The experiences have been invaluable to me, as I love aesthetically what he does, and seeing his work ethic, and leadership behind creating that aesthetic is nothing shy of jaw-dropping. Through his mentorship, I have learned a great deal about working with multiple cameras, limited time, and VFX/green screen elements. It is safe to say that without the help of the folks listed above, as well as countless others not mentioned here, I wouldn’t be half the cinematographer I am today, if not a cinematographer at all.

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