FTM’s 21 for ’21: Reel Career Profiles Series presents – Stephan Recksiedler
Stephan Recksiedler is a long-time member of the Manitoba film and digital video community. He’s a director and cinematographer for commercials, music videos, shorts, and feature films. Currently, as Production Services Manager at Les Productions Midcan Productions, Stephan works with digital cinema cameras and cinematographers daily.
He has designed and instructed cinematography workshops through Film Training Manitoba, Winnipeg Film Group, National Screen Institute, and the University of Winnipeg. In addition to telling stories with cameras, Stephan also draws storyboards and has done illustration work for Marvel and DC Comics.
When and how did you start in the media production industry?
As a teenager, I wanted to be a comic book artist. I went to comic book conventions and the artists would say, “Comics aren’t just about drawing, you need to learn how to tell stories with pictures. Study filmmakers like Hitchcock and Spielberg. Watch how they manipulate the camera.”
So, when I was 15 years old, I took the Winnipeg Film Group’s Basic Film Workshop. I put my name on the film group’s volunteer list and got the call to do Shereen Jerrett’s “The Woman Upstairs” as a set production assistant.
Shareen was great. She agreed to let me watch the dailies with her and DOP Mike Marshall at the NFB screening room. That was the spark. I volunteered on many short films and music videos and later decided to go to Vancouver Film School.
After graduating, I went to Film Training Manitoba and they helped me get work on local film sets. Meanwhile, I applied for grants and started making my own films through Winnipeg Film Group and Manitoba Arts Council.
What area of the film industry do you work in now and why?
I am production services manager at Les Productions Midcan. We provide gear rentals for documentaries, sports, corporate videos, commercials, and films, as well as crewing and general production support. We have lighting, grip, drones, audio gear, and a vast variety of cinema cameras. Every month we are bringing in new toys, so I need to stay up to date on the latest technology.
I am also a cinematographer and director, mostly for commercials at this point in my career, and I’ve found that knowing the latest gear and technology can be advantageous on set. I’ve written and directed many short films and DOP’d several feature films over the years — I appreciate the language of dramatic cinema — so it’s rewarding when I’m able to still use that. Additionally, my skills as an illustrator have resurfaced and I’ve been hired to create storyboards for a variety of projects.
What’s a substantial change you’ve seen in the industry since you started?
The tools are much more accessible. Now cameras and lights are less expensive, easier to use and less intrusive. This allows filmmakers all sorts of possibilities that were unthinkable when I started out in the 90s.
I used to shoot film and every exposure came with a hope and a prayer. I recall watching dailies while sweating buckets, praying it was in focus and exposed right. With digital cameras, it’s all right there: you can see what you are getting and watch it back on set.
Of course, you still need to understand light, composition, colour theory, exposure and, most importantly, how those things tell the story. Just because you can move the camera on a gimbal, for example, does not make it the right shot for the scene. That’s why film theory, as well as practical training, is so important. Cinematography is more than the tools.
When you watch an experienced DOP on set, you see the skill of creating light from scratch, and also how they run a crew. Those skills take training and experience. So I’m not saying it’s easy to be a cinematographer now, but because of the advances of technology, a filmmaker has more options available to them. Technology has bridged made things that were once unattainable become attainable.
If you could give your past self some advice, what would it be?
Talent is a blessing, but it is not required. Work ethic and attitude will always be rewarded above talent.
What advice would you give to someone starting off in the media production industry?
One of my early mentors, Michael Drabot, said, “You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.” So my advice is to be a part of the community. Be kind. Have integrity. Be positive. Be respectful. Show up early. Work hard. Be reliable. And remember: trust is earned.
Your client needs to know they can trust you. Your crew needs to know they can trust you. Trust can only come with experience and training.
Why is learning and training important?
Training is key to earn trust within the industry but training courses like what FTM offers are key to meeting industry professionals. Learning the tech from a YouTube tutorial is helpful, but hearing stories from industry professionals and getting first-hand advice is where the real lessons are.
What are some of the films, TV series or even books that have inspired you? How about anything new you’ve been into?
The list of films ranges from Scorsese to Raimi to Kurosawa to Tarkovsky. However, I do recall the first time I saw Apocalypse Now. That was the first film where I noticed cinematography and became aware of cinematic choices. I noticed how shadows, light, editing and music all reflect the theme of the story or the internal struggle of a character.
All of these choices exist outside the script and operate on a subconscious level for the viewer. Apocalypse Now was the first time that I responded emotionally to cinematography. For all of its flaws, this was the film that made me want to become a filmmaker.
Is there something about you or an interesting past experience that you’d like to share ?
As I mentioned, I wanted to be a comic book artist, but chose to pursue film. I went 20 years without picking up a comic book or a pencil, until one day five years ago when I randomly drew a picture for my daughter.
All at once, the obsession came rushing back. I started posting my drawings on Instagram, and I caught the attention of Marvel who commissioned me to draw some of their Upper Deck trading cards.
I have had some cool moments in my film career — like working with U2 and working with Terry Gilliam for example — but the Marvel job was a childhood dream come true. I was paid to draw X-Men, Spider-Man and all the characters I grew up wishing I could draw professionally.
Who’s someone within the film industry you would like to work with and why?
Over the 30 years of being in the industry, I’ve worked with many talented people from gaffers to camera operators to directors, and consider many of them close friends. The best part of my job at Les Productions Midcan is the relationships I’ve formed with crews.
Winnipeg has a lot of talent and a great community, but I suppose if I were to name a celebrity I would like to work with in the film industry it would be Terrence Malick… but I would probably just watch him work and not say anything.
Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
I see myself creating more — more films, more scripts, and more comics. I also love being a father and a husband, so if I can continue to balance creativity and making a living, then that is the ultimate blessing.
FTM is a member of the Province of Manitoba’s sector council program funded through the Department of Economic Development and Training. FTM builds a highly skilled and adaptable film industry workforce to support the activities of Manitoba production companies. FTM collaborates and partners with members of the film and television industry to identify training needs to support workforce development output.