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Light & Motion: Captured moments in film

With cinematography for two feature films and countless other credits under his belt, UTA alumnus Bongani Mlambo is making a name for himself in the film industry.

By Amber Scott

Bongani Mlambo sets up a shot on the set of his second feature film, All Creatures Here Below.

Bongani Mlambo is standing in the light. His camera is set to capture it—but not just the light. It will also catch the shadow and softness and the way it all plays on the actor’s face as he walks into it.

“The varying properties of brightness and darkness can evoke different emotions and psychological responses in person or even when watching them on a screen,” he says. “In my work as a cinematographer, the goal is to create the right combination to direct one’s attention and achieve the desired effect.”

Mlambo, a 2010 film/video graduate, has made a steady rise in his career ever since graduation. In 2015, he worked on his first feature film, Three Days in August. His second feature film, All Creatures Here Below—starring David Dastmalchian and Karen Gillan—is now in post-production.

“Movies, specifically, I consider a unique art form because they incorporate the best of multiple disciplines, crafts, and talents to create an immersive experience and story,” he says. “The feat of creating memorable ones is challenging, and working on great projects can inspire.”

Still from Three Days in August

Three days in august

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“Shannon [Mollie Milligan] and Maggie [Meg Foster] look at the progress of the family portrait, a central part of the film. Many times, we tease letting the audience see the painting. In this shot, for a tender moment where Shannon and Maggie are getting to know each other, we almost break the fourth wall and have our characters observe and comment on the painting—but in effect also observe the audience.”

Three days in august was mlambo’s first job as cinematographer on a feature. his work has been praised for its “stunning artistry.”

He was driving through the mountains when the big call finally came. Johnathan Brownlee, Three Days' director, had heard about Mlambo’s work through a mutual friend and wanted to discuss the story behind the movie. They shared their initial thoughts and ideas for visuals, and quickly discovered they were on the same page. Mlambo was hired.

Still from Three Days in August

“For this church scene, we had to balance filling the church, but keeping a small family feel, creating an interesting composition, and keeping lights and stands out of the shot.”

“Since it was my first feature, I felt a lot of pressure to do it well,” Mlambo says. “I spent as much time as possible trying to understand the characters, the emotions, and the arc of the film. I wanted to be true to that in how we shot it.”

The film was shot in Mineral Wells, Texas, throughout October 2015. Mlambo found himself learning the managerial aspects of cinematography: hiring a crew, scheduling shoots, and keeping everything under budget, to name a few of his many responsibilities.

“Thankfully, we made all of our days on time and had fun doing it,” he says. “We are very happy with how it looks and how it has been received.”

Three Days premiered at the Dallas International Film Festival and opened the La Costa Film Festival in California. The movie will have a theatrical release in December.

Still from Three Days

“This is the family sitting in for a portrait session. Most of the crew lived on the ranch where we filmed, while the actors stayed in a nearby hotel. It created a real sense of family and camaraderie.”

Still from All Creatures Below

all creatures here below

“We were racing against time and eventual sunrise on an overnight shoot. Rain clouds approached in the distance, and we pivoted to take advantage of lightning and thunder to add to the drama. We rolled for minutes on end just to capture this one quick moment that is quite a bit darker if not for a lucky strike of lightning.”

You could say that facebook brought mlambo his next gig, all creatures here below.

“Many times, things seem to magically fall into place when the camera starts recording. You hope this happens all the time!”

“I ‘liked’ a friend’s post about an actor, David Dastmalchian, getting attached to a movie she was producing,” he explains. (That friend was Amy Greene, an Arlington native whose father, Richard Greene, is a professor in practice at UTA.) “Two days later, there was an email with the script in my inbox!”

The script was for the feature film All Creatures Here Below, which would star Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight) and Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy). After an hour-long Skype meeting with Collin Schiffli, the director, and another in-person meeting in Los Angeles, Mlambo got the job.

“It was a magical moment,” he says. “I really wanted to work on the film because the story was gripping, stirring, and emotional. I wanted the creative challenge to do it justice and bring it to life.”

“Puppies! As often as possible, to create the world of our characters and ground them, we would just take the camera and point it at anything that moved and was interesting in our environment. Collin [the director] and I wanted to build a library of textures, vistas, and creatures—some that were just pretty, and others that had a deeper symbolism and relevance to our two main characters.”

“Kansas City, Missouri, is the backdrop for a good chunk of All Creatures. During a location scout, we discovered this view from the side of a busy bridge, then returned there at the ‘golden hour’ to film a scene, trying to find the perfect light as the sun set.”