As part of Cinelab London’s series of Cinematographers Behind the Camera, LBB meets Jake Gabbay. In these interviews we delve into the creative minds of some of the industry’s top talents to find out what inspires them, their greatest achievements and how they got to where they are.
Creating films with powerful visual impact, DoP Jake Gabbay has travelled all over the world to capture compelling narratives of unique cultures, people and landscapes. In 2019, his short doc Kamali which follows the story of a single mother in India fighting for her daughter's empowerment, won a Golden Frog at Camerimage and was nominated for a BAFTA.
His commercial work has seen him collaborate with brands such as adidas, Nike, Puma, Schuh, Carling and Hyundai. And his music reel includes artists such as Grace Carter, Black Saint, Melt Yourself Down and Daughter.
In this interview, Jake shares his most memorable moments, his advice for up and coming DoPs, and why he would shoot everything on film if he could.
Q> What do you enjoy most about being a cinematographer? What first sparked your interest in the field?
Jake Gabbay> It’s a great job in general. First, there’s the creative aspect and the satisfaction that comes with it when it turns out great. Then there’s the people you work with that make the process an even better experience. And I love being able to travel to so many different places and hear stories from all over the world.
My journey into the field was quite random. I was a personal trainer before and I was looking for something different to do. My mum’s a photojournalist and my dad’s a writer so they were leaning me towards that a little and it’s been a slow progression from there.
Q> You work across the genres of commercial, music and narrative - coming from a personal training background, do you generally gravitate towards sports shoots?
Jake> I do love shooting sports for the energy of it and I am a huge sports fan. The stuff I gravitate towards is very artsy, with slow beautiful camera movement, nuanced expressions and dramatic feeling. It’s completely opposite to my personality for some reason!
Q> What are some of your most memorable projects?
Jake> The biggest one that comes to mind right now would be the short film documentary I shot called Kamali which was three weeks in India and ended up doing really well at CAMERIMAGE and the BAFTAs. That was shot with a crew of just five people and the family in the film were unbelievable and inspiring.
I just went to Mongolia for a personal project to film traditional herders. Going into their homes in these beautiful landscapes was just amazing to see. I love experiencing the different cultures around the world.
Q> What sort of projects would you say are better suited to film over digital cameras?
Jake> If I could I would shoot everything on film. Because you can’t overshoot things on film and you really have to think and take care over it. I feel like film reel has a personality ingrained into it already and it comes out in the final look. It does things naturally that you can’t always predict but it sort of offers its own opinion onto a project and embeds its own character into a project. Everything blends together quite well whereas for digital filmmaking - as much as I do love it - I feel like it’s less easy to get emotionally attached to the image.
I also love not having a monitor on set that people can pick apart on set. There can be too many cooks in the kitchen which can be frustrating.
Q> In this digital age, do you think film still has a place in the industry?
Jake> Oh 100%. I used to solely shoot digital and only started using film around three years ago. I didn’t really know anything about film but when I first used it, it was like a eureka moment - like this is what it’s all about! The amount I learnt after shooting film in such a short period of time - after years of digital - is unbelievable.
You learn about real exposure and contrast ratio (how shadows would look underexposed by 1stop, 2 stops or 3 stops, etc). You really have to focus on building the image with a light meter and forget all about a monitor. With that in mind you have to be so much more aware of what every light in the shot is doing and to what degree. That thought process I find takes you down many more roads of experimentation as well. Everybody who does cinematography should learn on film because whether photography or motion, everything just suddenly makes sense when you start shooting film.
Q> How do you hope to develop your work in the next couple of years?
Jake> I would love to work on some more cinematic short films and meaningful projects. I love working with a narrative style.
Q> Do you have any advice for up and coming DoPs who are interested in exploring shooting on film?
Jake> The best thing to do is find a DP that also has the same style as how you would like to shoot on film and see if you can work with a rental house or save for a film camera and just go do it! If you’re working on a digital commercial project for example, find some down time or a few minutes at the end of the shoot to get some shots on film just for practise. If it’s good enough you can even implement it into your digital projects. But you just need to keep experimenting as and where you can and it’ll come to you.