Dana Romanoff on joining the roster at Stept and the importance of always learning
Dana Romanoff is a world-renowned photographer, film director and cinematographer who has earned a host of prestigious awards including Telly, W3, Communicator Awards, runner up for Pulitzer Prize, a special jury award at The Crested Butte Film Festival and Director’s Award at Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival.
She began her career as a photojournalist tackling significant social issues and has since gone on to telling stories through motion while working on commercial, branded content, editorial, and humanitarian aid projects. She commonly refers to herself as a visual anthropologist, for good reason. She excels at crafting authentic, character and issue-driven stories that connect people, break down barriers and build bridges whether they are across oceans or between backyards.
Whether hunting with tribes in the jungles of West Papua or summiting 19,000-foot peaks with adaptive climbers, her work is intimate, layered and soulful. Recent clients include Budweiser, National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, Facebook, Conservation International and Columbia Sportswear.
A recent signing with Stept Studios in LA, you can get to know Dana better below.
LBB> Why did you decide to make the move to Stept?
Dana> I’ve been working closely with Stept for a few years and am constantly impressed by what they are creating. I want to push myself to do edgier work that gets widely seen and has an impact. They are the team to support that goal.
LBB> What is it about the team there that clicks for you?
Dana> Stept is a fearless and forward-thinking company that respects story. They are also just nice, good people who I enjoy being around. I really admire and am inspired by the other rostered directors and am honoured to be in their company.
LBB> How did you first get into the industry?
Dana> My first job was at National Geographic Magazine as an assistant to a photo editor. It was there that I was introduced to visual storytelling. I went on to work as photographer at magazines and as a staff photojournalist at newspapers. Since then I’ve always worked for myself - running my own small production house and being an independent director.
LBB> Where did you learn your craft?
Dana> I received a Masters in visual communication with an emphasis in photojournalism from Ohio University. The transition from photography to motion was pretty natural since I had been directing/shooting/producing my own still photography projects which often included in-depth interviews. To learn the technical craft of shooting and editing video I worked alongside DPs and editors and shadowed a director. Storytelling is still one of the most challenging things I do and I am always learning.
LBB> Before doing what you do now, did you work in any other field / have any different career path?
Dana> I’ve always worked in visual storytelling. I worked as a staff photojournalist at The FreeLance Star, The Oregonian and The Charlotte Observer. From 2013-2018 I was the co-director and DP for National Park Experience, an independent film series celebrating diversity and youth in our outdoors.
LBB> And which creative talents in your field have inspired you in your own career?
Dana> I’m really inspired by Reed Morano, Rachel Morrison and Ava DuVernay - these women are excelling at telling important stories of our culture and society while also shaping the way we view our world.
LBB> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of?
Dana> My 2017 short documentary ‘NOAH’ telling the story of Noah Patton, a young man from Flint, Michigan is a project that I am proud of. I directed, shot and produced this film (on an extremely small budget) and worked with an amazing editor. Not only did this film get widely distributed (The Atlantic, The Guardian, RYOT, Upworthy, National Geographic Showcase) and win many awards, most importantly the film helped propel Noah forward on his path and opened up doors for his community.
LBB> And what recent projects are you proudest of and why?
Dana> For me the Father’s Day spot for Budweiser had it all: it was meaningful, I got to work with great people, it was widely seen and it pushed me as a director and storyteller. There were a lot of creative challenges with casting and capturing an authentic surprise but it was successful and really a heartfelt story.
LBB> Do you have any personal or side projects on the go? What is it, what inspired it and why is it important to you?
Dana> I am working on a commercial honouring women and childbirth based on an idea I had when I was in labour with my son. It’s highly dramatic (as childbirth is) with a witty twist at the end. I’m also in development on a documentary about female Andean porters in Peru. Told from the perspective of the porters, the strength of the women is mirrored not only in the weight of the packs, but in the indigenous wisdom they carry within, the challenges faced in their community, and their paving a new way to work equally alongside men.
LBB> What really drives you creatively?
Dana> When I am really excited about a project I can almost see the finished product before we even begin. It’s like an instinctual knowing. I love getting close to people and inviting others to feel what it’s like to see and experience the world through their perspective. I am driven by stories of social justice but ones that may be a bit unexpected and that have a beauty to them. I like to play with metaphor and layers and create or intimate settings. When in a scenic location or a place with amazing lighting I like to play creatively and not just follow a shot list but to explore the area visually.
LBB> What are the aspects of your work that you really obsess over?
Dana> I put a lot of importance in creating a connection with the subjects, finding the story and creating compelling visuals. In post I obsess over the written narrative making sure we bring viewers in and hit on emotional moments.
LBB> How would you describe your approach to your work?
Dana> I really put importance in creating a connection with my subjects and learning their story. I like to have a vision for the big picture and then am really detail oriented. I love collaborating with my team building on ideas collectively. I also put a lot of value in the magic of spontaneity and being open to exploring ideas and angles when filming.
LBB> When it comes to enjoying the creativity of others, what sort of thing excites and inspires you?
Dana> I am inspired by artists who are taking risks, who are assertive with their vision, who provide a voice to those that are often overlooked or misrepresented, who create work about a topic many would prefer to turn away from, who help make a change in the world, and do so in a cinematically beautiful way. Two gold standards for me are Ava DuVerney’s ‘When They See Us’ and Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’.
LBB> Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
Dana> I’m really passionate about social justice issues such as inequality, women’s reproductive health and protecting our environment. I love travelling and experiencing other cultures (especially through food), making sure my young sons are kind and curious beings and getting off the grid and into nature.