For cinematographer and FREE THE WORK creator Bianca Cline, perspective is everything. Cline has enjoyed a career behind the lens working across commercial, theatrical, and television projects. Anchored by her belief in the power of the lens and its ability to convey subtext, Cline’s projects put audiences in the shoes of their protagonists. With Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Bianca collaborated with director Dean Fleischer-Camp and writer/actress Jenny Slate to bring the “true story” of the delightfully charming Marcel to life.
Your latest project, MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON from A24 arrives in theaters on June 24. What initially attracted you to working on this project?
Bianca Cline: I wanted to do this film because of Marcel. He made me laugh incredibly hard and then moments later he had me in tears. When deciding which films I want to dedicate myself to it’s the script and the director that pull me in. If it’s a story worth telling then I feel compelled to do it, I have no choice in the matter. Marcel is such a great story it would be a shame not to share it with the world.
A cinematographer’s lens (pun intended) on the world has such a profound influence on their work. What are some ways in which your lived experience has shaped your way of seeing the world, and how does that show up in your work?
Bianca Cline: I think there is no way for an artist’s view of the world not to seep into their work. I don’t believe filmmakers can be absolutely neutral in their portrayal of the world, so I try to lean into my own experiences and make them a part of the film. I approach every film by trying to relate it to my own experiences and I think that makes the film feel much more personal, not just for me, but for the audience.
If we as cinematographers don’t add a personal element to our photography then we are just technicians and painting by number. Marcel The Shell With Shoes On touches on themes I definitely understand, such as loneliness, rejection, fear while also having an optimistic view of life.
What creators / films have had the biggest impact on your development of your creative vision and practice?
Bianca Cline: I think this is a difficult question to answer because there are so many different artists that influence my work, but there are a few that have had very specific influences in my life.
When I was fifteen years old I saw the film Immortal Beloved(photographed by Peter Suschitzky) and I realized how powerful photography can be in telling a story. It’s a film about Beethoven and his relationship with music. Suschitzky photographed it in such a way that the imagery expressed what the composer was feeling when he wrote his music. Watching the relationship between music and photography opened my mind to how similar the two are. They both make their audience feel emotions without saying a word.
When I was sixteen years old I watched a film called Menace To Society and I was very impressed with the photography. I found out it was photographed by a woman named Lisa Rinzler and it changed the way I thought about myself because I saw her doing the thing I wanted to do. Knowing that another woman was accomplishing the thing I wanted to accomplish gave me so much confidence in myself. I think about what she did for me when I have the opportunity to influence younger cinematographers. It’s so simple, yet powerful, to see someone that is similar to you accomplishing the goals you want to accomplish.
I love artists that help us see the world differently. The power art has is to let us experience something we wouldn't normally experience, or to see the mundane in a new way. I love art from cultures outside my own. There is a Russian saying that says “Every language you speak, is another time you become human.” Languages exist as a way of communicating ideas and I think imagery helps us communicate all the feelings we don’t have words for yet.
What’s a past project that challenged you in a unique way? What’s a past project you’re most proud of? They can be the same one!
Bianca Cline: A couple of years ago, I was asked to photograph a short film/commercial about a young lesbian woman bringing her girlfriend home to meet her parents for the first time. It was an especially difficult project for me because it was very similar to my relationship with my own parents.
I put a lot of thought into how to best photograph a queer story. My first instinct was to photograph it the same way I would film a story about a hetero couple, in hopes of saying to the audience, “Hey hetero people, we are just like you.” My second thought was, “is it better to show the uniqueness of being queer and how special we are?” The visual language we created attempted to celebrate the queer aspect of the relationship – we just let the hetero characters in the film see how great the relationship was and waited for them to catch up. I don’t know if I photographed it the best way it could have been or not, but I am proud of the film.
A few years ago, I was filming a documentary about my friend Ava Shorr who is also a cinematographer and who also happens to be trangender. After a day of filming with Ava, Rachel (the director) told us that the most interesting thing for her was watching our friendship and she asked me to be in the documentary.
As an individual, I was petrified to be in front of the camera, but as a filmmaker, I knew that she was right. I decided to be in front of the camera because I hoped that seeing Ava and I on screen would have a similar effect on a young transkid as seeing Lisa Rinzler had for me.
Finally, what advice would you give a younger version of yourself, navigating through earlier parts of your career?
I would tell her I know it’s difficult, but you have to reach deep into your soul and find confidence. You have to find the confidence to be vulnerable and to know that you deserve to tell stories. I would tell my younger self that she is different, but that gives her a unique vision of the world. The best art comes from those with a unique understanding of life.
You can catch Marcel the Shell with Shoes On in theaters this weekend. To see more of Bianca Cline’s work, visit her profile on FREE THE WORK.