Cinematographer Donte Lee, 21, is breaking into the business. In a twist of fate, he became the first assistant cameraman for his first major film, "Jimmy." He plans to complete his studies at UNC School of the Arts, with his sights set on a career in New York. Along the way he shoots at locations around Charlotte. A native North Carolinian, Lee may bring his hometown flavor to the Big Apple.
Q. When did you start your cinematography career?
I was attending the Art Institute of Charlotte for Web design and I discovered a film program there. Ever since, I've been really passionate about it. I'm applying to North Carolina School of the Arts for fall 2012 to get a bachelor's degree. They have faculty who have worked in the industry. You have to put in a certain amount of hours in the field, like on sets. That's where you get a lot of your training.
Q. What was it like filming the "Smile" music video for (Egyptian artist) Tamer Hosny and Shaggy in New York?
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That's probably my favorite city. I worked with Zeus Morand (director of photography) as his assistant and second unit when he couldn't shoot. When we first got up there, we made sure we had the location locked down. We shot under the Brooklyn Bridge and filmed a Broadway dance team in a lower Manhattan club.
Q. How do you compare your experience with music videos and shooting films?
There's a lot more preparation for short films and feature films. I'm in charge of putting the images together to tell a story. The director tells me what he or she is looking for and I come up with ways to match his or her vision. "The Modest Truth" was a great process. I talked every day with the director (William Brooks) from the beginning. We filmed "The Modest Truth" in Charlotte off of Providence Road in a neighborhood called The Cloisters.
Q. What was it like making the feature film "Jimmy"?
"Jimmy" was shot in Concord and Charlotte. They started shooting while I was in New York filming "Smile." When I came back, the first director of photography's assistant was injured, so they needed me. The movie stars (were) Bob Gunton ("Shawshank Redemption"), Ted Levine ("Silence of the Lambs") and Kelly Carlson (TV's "Nip/Tuck"). We also have Jackson Pace from Showtime's "Homeland," which is shot in Charlotte.
Q. What are your future goals or projects?
Going back to New York. That's the place to get your start. I honestly have a blast just working. As long as I can continue to do what I love, I'm fine. You don't ever stop working or learning. Each time you can do it better than last time.