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Cinematographer James Ian Gray

With the world in lockdown, it's the perfect time to get writing, finish all of those edits and catch up with some much loved film professionals. Including the talented cinematographer and editor James Ian Gray, who has worked across some fantastic cinema releases such as "Yesterday" and productions across the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video.

Also as a key Cinalight Studios cinematographer James has worked on recent productions to include TV show "The Luna Squad" and feature "The Lady from the Sea" we wanted to pick his brain on questions that crop up all the time and share his feedback. So here we go....


1: What is your fav project you have worked on

It probably has to be Yesterday as a Lab op.

This project was lovely working with Danny Boyle. Even though a colleague of mine and myself ran the lab 24hrs, sometimes 5-6 days a week and everything about it was quite challenging, I learned a lot about Danny Boyle's discipline and shooting. I'd probably say every shot that was shot told a story nothing was a wasted shot. It gave the editor loads to mold the story together.

There was alot cut out of it from what was shot but if they added everything in it wouldn't have made sense storywise. 

Every job that I do I take it as a learning opportunity to learn more about my craft jumping up to Cinematographer.

2: Where do you see the UK film industry in over the next 3 years

This industry is changing so fast and what is shaping TV and Film are streaming services. I'm not too sure what will happen in the next 3 years, probably nothing much other than the same and getting bigger projects over to the UK.

I'd say the industry is at a stage now especially with this pandemic that it's stalled and a lot of lessons will be made, but it's going to be crazily busy when we get back to business.

3: How would you describe your approach to cinematography

At the moment I'd like to say that I'm very constructive. One thing that a lot of new Cinematographers do is that they don't look at the story they are telling the audience so you end up with a lot of coverage and not a lot of needed footage to tell the story.

I like to think about the edit points and the way the audience will watch it. I always think of the scene beforehand and after and how we go from one emotion to the next.

4: What are the advantages for independent film projects

Independent film projects or low budget filmmaking is always fun. Constraints are kit and sometimes people and experienced people.

Although saying that it's a great learning ground for people stepping up and trying to make it.

You get to find out what works and what doesn't work and without the expense of reshooting or trying to please producers and other people's egos.

5: How does the art of film making get over the hurdle of funding

Now, this is difficult as funding will only come if you show what you can do. It's that funny thing that people do in a business where they say please apply for this graduate job but you must have experience of working in the industry. Which makes no sense.

Essentially you need to go out and create your own story and keep it simple. Something that engages, is short and simple with possible little dialogue.

Then once you've shown it around at festivals, and got the interest of people who want to know more that's when you start to pitch for other projects. I know that is one way, other ways are knowing rich people to make films. Money is a funny one though and on top of that it then becomes trust with their investment.

6: Top tip for new actors on their first big set

Just don't over-act, respect everyone and be kind and remember like everyone else you are there for a reason. Cough cough.... You are also being paid to be there, but you are a cog in the machine and not the most important person there, just be humble with what you have and use it to go from there.

7: Your fav director

I have a few but Hitchcock by far is at the top of my list. He knew his craft inside and out, he knew the art of what shot to use and where.

His editing style and how he shot not wasting any film was incredible. His discipline was just amazing. 

8: Top tip to any director when working with a cinematographer 

A Cinematographer is there to help. They are there to show your vision and work with you to make it a good one.

If you have a good Cinematographer they will likely try and get the best look for the scene, the main thing is for the director and talent to be ready once everything has been set. The talent knows where they are what they are doing and ready to go.

Also if your Cinematographer is good the name of the game in this industry is just to trust that they know what they are doing.

9: What can the UK film landscape learn from Hollywood

Not much to be honest. France was the invention of film, Hollywood just molded it because of WW2.

The US loves the UK because we are cheap and non unionised but most of the scripts are written by Brits and the money is coming from China or streaming services.

Hollywood is good but the best films out there aren't really made in Hollywood. The best films come from people who are passionate about their craft, about those who have studied and studied hard. At the end of the day, Hollywood is just a place and some would see it as a place of money and talent but at the end of the day the whole world is making movies, it just takes trust of the audience to try something different and broaden the audiences viewing instead of just looking at what is advertised to you. I feel we are going to get quite a bit of that later this year because of the halt on all productions this year due to the pandemic, so watch out for some amazing movies that you never thought you'd ever watch.

10: What makes good storytelling: I'd say that good storytelling shouldn't be told through words. A good writer should show visual and directions for the director and the actor/actress.

It's the actors and actresses job to bring that body language to the screen and bring their character out without overacting but just being human, making the audience believe in sitting there with them and experiencing what is happening in their head.

A good story should tell you everything although not too much, just enough, people don't need to be told that they are human or about the human experience.

The shots that are chosen to show this should be thought carefully as I learned from Hitchcock that you should place the audience where you would likely for someone to listen in to the conversation or showing the full picture that carries the story on without wasting a shot.




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