Going fishing on a boat in the night with her father as a kid, Olympia learned how to navigate in the middle of nowhere using her sight. Amazed by the parallax of light and shadow of the mountain Olympus, she got attracted to the world of art and photography.
Winner of the prestigious award for cinematography “Gianni di Venanzo” and director of photography of “Strella” (2009) and “Miss Violence” (2013) Olympia Mytilinaiou shares her thoughts with greektv.com.
Interview by Michael Klioumis
The problem with films in Greece..
OM: There’s no real promotion of Greek actors and films in Greece. Apart from commercial movies and those with famous TV actors, the rest never actually reach the audience.
Also it’s an education matter, that originates from school. It’s unbelievable that people in Greece still don’t know what is the job of a director of photography. In the rest of Europe every school has two film screenings per week but not in Greece. The audience should know how to choose which film to watch.
MK: So would you say that there is a clear relationship between the quality of films produced in a country with its cinematic education?
OM: Of course, and funding as well. It is a vicious circle. No one will fund a movie with no audience. At the same time with no proper advertising the film theatres remain empty. So it is a vicious circle.
MK: Do you think there are any screen actors in Greece?
Cinema is teamwork, clearly.
OM: There are theatre actors who want to become screen actors. Actors that love cinema and want to work in cinema films. But there’s no room, they can’t survive only from that, and when someone works and doesn’t get paid from that then that’s a hobby not a job.
MK: Most Greek actors have a theatrical background and they don’t actually ever learn how to stand in front of a camera.
OM: It’s pretty difficult for an actor to stand in front of a camera and act. It is a skill to be conquered and fully understood as there are great differences between the two art forms. It takes the appropriate education and hard work, to really study how to act for a film. They have to understand the medium. I remember some years ago when the director would shout out action and the actor was distracted from hearing the camera working. Most of the actors do not have the education to act in a film so they go and act without being paid in the beginning because that’s like a lesson for them. And one week after the shooting has began you see this actor completely transformed because he starts to understand the camera. So it’s like a seminar for them.
MK: Elia kazan said that no one can lie in front of the camera, especially on close ups.
OM: That’s true, no one can lie in front of a camera, but now the actor doesn’t have to overreact, even on stage. Acting has changed, there’s more need of ‘natural’ acting. It’s not everything like ancient Greek drama anymore. Inspiration for actors should come from other forms of art as well. They should approach acting in an open and holistic way. They should get exposed to painting and notice the painter’s framing. For instance Joconda. This painting is a great lesson for an artist, for the actor, for the director and the director of photography.
MK: How important is the sound for a film?
OM: Cinema utilizes two senses, the eyes and ears of the viewer. So the image of a film and the sound have the same importance and value. For instance “Miss Violence”. We worked a lot on sounds for that film, actually a great part of the film is made of sounds !
MK: What is your first priority when you have limited budget?
OM: Depends on the script. I never worked in a production that I could have all I asked for, all the lights I asked for. For instance in Hollywood they make films with few lights and they call it experimentation, but for me it’s something usual since I don’t have the luxury to have all the lighting I need.
MK: How about the rushes? Do you watch them while shooting?
OM: No, I never had that privilege with the rushes. Still don’t. I don’t get to see the negative during shooting since i haven’t worked with a DIT.
MK: That must cause you a great deal of insecurity..
OM: You can’t imagine how much..
MK: And when do you get to see what you filmed?
OM: During editing !!
MK: Do you agree that it’ s important for the DP and the director to have chemistry in their collaboration?
Chemistry in moviemaking is seeing things from the same angle. Being on the same page.
OM: Well, we don’t have to be best friends, we just need to communicate efficiently. Chemistry in moviemaking is seeing things from the same angle. Being on the same page. Cinema is teamwork, clearly. You just have to know your craft well. Generally you got to have life experience as an artist in order to understand and identify with a script. In that way you portray the story better and the film is complete when the message is successfully conveyed to the audience. As a DP you always have to try new things or else you will never progress. You got to be innovative.
MK: Different lenses tell different stories, Lumet said. Do you agree with that?
OM: Of course I agree! For example Kubrick was building his own lenses to tell his stories. He created lenses that never existed before and had a unique voice. Direction of photography is about telling a story. Personally I am mostly influenced by painters when it comes to deciding the lighting and the mood of a film.
MK: Do you prefer film or digital?
OM: I think film is irreplaceable but technology will soon catch up and achieve the same aesthetic result. I prefer film though.
MK: Can you compare the Greek cinema to the international scene? Where do you think it stands in quality, performances, production…?
OM: There is a big difference in budgets. That immediately marks a huge difference, but there is quality in Greek cinema. However, think about how many movies are made abroad compared to the 20 films made in Greece annually. Not all 20 will be that good.
MK: Famous Greek painter Dimitris Mytaras once said that without talent you cannot create art. His example stated that exquisite poetry doesn’t need superb knowledge of words. What’s your view on that?
OM: I agree. It helps to have both talent and skill. You can train yourself to become better but in the end vision is all that matters.
MK: Tell me more about growing up and learning about light.
You can train yourself to become better but in the end vision is all that matters.
OM: I guess my sense of seeing was enhanced while I was with my father fishing. We would go with our boat at night and in complete darkness. I would say to my dad ‘we are in the middle of nowhere’ and he would respond by showing me things in the dark, which then I could also see for myself. The shore, a small light here and there would become visible. After a while I could navigate in complete darkness and things made more sense; black was not completely black. While I was being trained on how to make it back to the shore safe, my eyesight was also trained. It was necessary I guess, almost like a survival test.
MK: Was it a childhood dream of yours to become a DP?
OM: I wasn’t born into cinema, I sort of fell into it on the way to becoming an artist as I firstly got influenced by painting and sculpture. It was around my 20s when I started in photography and the cinema.
MK: Have you experience discrimination in the industry, like sexism because you are a woman?
The magic is gone and especially in cinema, money has become the moving power.
OM: Very much so. But the industry is competitive so you will experience discrimination anyway. You want your work to be good and noticeable. As a woman I unfortunately hold the same position every other woman does within Greek society. Being a DP doesn’t make a lot of difference. I remember when I started people were telling me to do make up or wardrobe, and forget about photography. Being a woman would make it difficult for me to get a job in advertising because the clients don’t trust easily a female professional. Nowadays it is even worse as the crisis hit everyone hard and the female population harder. I am not an exception.
MK: You are saying then that the women’s position even nowadays is still in the back seat, even in cinema?
OM: Definitely yes. The phenomenon is global. Imagine that only 3% of DPs in the world is female and in Greece there is only 3 of us working! On top of that we get paid less than men. I cannot get angry on the set or say what is on my mind because it will cost me my job.
MK: So you cannot express yourself even if you are right about something?
Imagine that only 3% of DPs in the world is female and in Greece there is only 3 of us working!
OM: No I can’t. This line of work is dominated by men. Also, keep in mind that the female unemployment rate has reached 60%. If you speak your mind you will get in trouble. Unlike Sweden where equality is a reality and laws exist even in the respective film centre. The number of women working is equal to men. In Greece if you take a year out to have a baby you lose your position.
MK: Are you saying that if you have a baby you basically lose your job?
OM: In Greece if you leave your job it is gone. Who’s next. Nothing is forgiven, you have to be the perfect individual with the perfect behaviour and the perfect result. It is tough.
MK: Famous film critic Rafaelidis said “the seventh art (filmmaking) is superior to any other artform”. You have worked in theatre and in other art fields as you mentioned before. Also, your work in cinematography has been recognized internationally. What do you think about Rafaelides’ statement?
OM: It’s got everything. It certainly encompasses all the other art forms under its wings. That is why it has taken over the world. It is new and still young and there’s still a lot to expect and see.
MK: Yes, science is going forward, so does technology. Does this necessarily happen with art or not, as it seems that cinema merely shifts on the quality axon rather than developing along with the film technology. For instance back in the 50s the technology was not as developed as today but pieces of art were produced.
I think there is a political agenda behind all award committees.
OM: We live in miserable times and the people are humiliated. Art used to have a stronger meaning, but now it’s marginalized for the sake of profit. The magic is gone and especially in cinema, money has become the moving power.
MK: Multiplex cinemas attract loads of people who are looking for a ‘holistic’ type of socializing and entertainment. So they visit the shopping malls where they can get a coffee, food and while they are there maybe watch a movie.
OM: Yes but multiplex cinemas attract big audiences in the States, because they have film education and watching films is part of their culture. Hollywood is America after all- there’s no America without Hollywood.
MK: It is a huge industry…
OM: Not only huge but very influential. The idea we get for America comes from Hollywood movies, even if it is not very realistic.
MK: So you agree with what is often said, that the Oscars are awarded according to a specific political agenda?
OM: Always, I think there is a political agenda behind all award committees.
MK: We have come to the last question. How would you describe the ideal collaboration with a film director? Have you ever experienced it?
OM: I have rarely had a problem with that and also I have learnt to work with people I can communicate better. I don’t mind if the workplace is not pleasant, it is the communication I am mostly interested in. If you work on a violence-themed film you expect the mood to be bleak. But in the end what matters is the professionalism and the efficiency of the collaboration.