TheBrotographer.com is extremely excited and humbled to be able to bring to you an interview with a creative by the name of Axel Arzola. As you will hear from him, Axel and his family were able to gain refugee status from the United States by way of Cuba. We’re lucky to have him in America, and I hope that you’ll be inspired by his story. Please check out Axel’s amazing work as well. He’s a great artist, father, husband, and man, and we hope you enjoy.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Havana, Cuba, and for many people that sounds really cool and all, but for me was a mixed experience because we where really poor compared to my life now in the states. My mom was a doctor, but she only made $20 a month. In 2011 I was able to travel to a film festival in France, and that was my first experiences out of Cuba. At that festival they showed my first documentary “Hola Vs Hello”, and I was able to direct my first short film called “Silencio” in the same festival.
In 2012 I was able to travel to Quebec with my wife for a small film festival, and that was our opportunity to make a run to the US border where we were accepted into the states as refugees. Since then our lives have changed dramatically, and I believe that people can accomplish whatever they set their minds to do.
Where do you call home?
Today I have a mix of homes. I live in Chattanooga, TN, but all of m family lives in Havana, and I want to move to California as soon as possible. I guess I have never felt like I needed a home. I love to travel, and I love surprises and change. I think my home is wherever my wife Kretel and my 2 year old Abel are. We dream of traveling forever and having many houses, many friend everywhere and many homes. I got that travelers spirit from my mom.
How would you describe your style of photography and videography?
I don’t really know how to describe my style. Some people have said they can recognize my work even if they don’t know that I have worked on something, but I don’t know how they do it. I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what my style is.
What kind of work do you specialize in?
I have produced/directed many documentaries, music videos and commercials. My goal is to become a narrative director, and although I have several short films under my belt I still need to make my first narrative feature film. That and TV series is where I want to spend the bulk of my career, but all the other stuff I have produced is very interesting to me.
How did you get into photography and videography? What or who got you started?
When I was a kid I always loved movies, but I never thought you could actually be a movie maker. When I was 15 I started learning about computers and learning to work on photoshop and a little programming. I always loved photography, but I had no access to cameras or anything like that. I started helping with a small video project at church, and that became an obsession. I started to put in hundred of hours to learn how to edit, shoot etc. I started producing a small youth show in 2007, and since then I have lost count of how many music videos, commercials, films and documentaries I have worked on.
What’s it like to start your own business in this creative landscape?
My experience starting my own business was a little different, because I was coming from a totally different society and I had no idea how business works in the US. I had no knowledge and that made me less afraid to start, but it also meant that I had to learn and earn super quick. I officially started my LLC in January 2014, and now I have 2 different brands and about 4 people who work with me in different capacities.
I could not live working for someone else and I think that is the main reason I needed to take control of my own business. Not every creative person is good at business, and I don’t think everyone should have their own company. For me it was inevitable, so the sooner I got started the better.
I actually enjoy the business side of what I do a lot, because it feels really good to make good money doing what you love. For those people who enjoy being a starving artist I hope they do well too, but I love the power money gives you to have better experiences and control over what projects you pick.
What role does light, both natural and strobe, play in your photography and videography?
Natural light is my favorite, but I also recognize that I need to improve my lighting skills. I used to be obsessed with gear, and I still read/watch as much as possible to stay on top of tech, but my true passion is storytelling. Lately I’m more interested in good scripts and acting than in the latest gear. I feel like our field has so much information that is hard not to fall in the spiral of tech reviews and lenses shootout videos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a devoted gearhead, but I think we need to shoot more films or pictures with the gear we already have and worry less about the dynamic range or log profiles we can get on a camera.
How important is post processing to your final images/are you a fan of color grading your footage?
I dared to try out Davinci Resolve and since that day I cannot finish anything without retouching colors. I think every projects most be color graded to the best of your abilities, and I can guarantee you that learning Resolve and the basics of color grading will do a lot more for you than renting that Red camera and Zeiss glass.
Color grading is not a luxury or an after thought when you have a lot of time. Color grading must be in any project you do, no matter how small; otherwise you are building a pretty house and leaving the bare walls with no finishing, painting or decoration.
What’s your favorite photo you’ve taken? Favorite film you’ve made? And why?
I think my latest project is always the one I like the most because I’m always learning and trying new exciting things. Right now I feel really happy with my short film The Remembering. I had an awesome experience making that movie and the feedback from everyone has been incredible. I’m getting closer to having a film that I feel is as good as it can be, and that state won’t last much because I’m really hungry for improvement, so it is good to enjoy it while it last.
What gear do you shoot with?
I love shooting with Red cameras. I’m a little bias with them, but in my opinion they have done a great job making a pretty cool camera that delivers every time. Their community is pretty important too. They have a forum where everyone shares info, and the amount on content about their cameras in the internet is ridiculous.
For lenses I love working with Zeiss CP2, and during the summer I had the chance to try out a vintage Leica set rehoused for cine use and it was pretty sweet.
For post all my computers are Mac. That’s another area where I’m a little bias, but I suffered using Windows computers in Cuba for many years, so I’m not going back.
If you had to choose one body and lens, which one would it be and why?
Red Helium with a Canon Cine Zoom. The new 8K imagery from Red looks awesome and I love the 17-40mm from the Canon Cine series.
What would be your dream job/client/assignment?
I fantasize of directing the reboot for The Matrix in a decade or two. Short term goal is to finish writing a script I have in my head for my directorial debut. Hopefully I can write it this year and start production in the fall or next year. A bit ambitious, I know, but I believe you need big goals to move you to fast and massive action. Otherwise a couple years will pass by and you could be in the same place.
What’s the best piece of creative advice you’ve ever been given?
Skills developed with time lead more people to success than raw talent alone. The only thing you can control is your effort.
If you could give other creatives one piece of advice, what would it be?
Be yourself and make more stuff faster. Speed wins, plus you get to play more. Life is pretty short so watch less and do more.