This February, we are featuring a series of discussions with some of today’s most influential cinematographers and gaffers of color. These artists talk about their journey into the industry, advice to young aspiring artists, and the art that has had an impact on their work. This edition features Gaffer Josh Davis (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Knives Out, and the upcoming Spider-Man 3.)
When did you become interested in working in film? What made you want to get into the industry?
After college, I had no idea that working in film was something I wanted to do. Like most people, I grew up with an appreciation and a connection to the Film and Television shows of my generation. But, I never really thought about it as a career. Fellow 728 member, Carlos Baker, was my roommate in college. I was searching for some direction after graduating and he and his family opened the door to the biz for me. It’s been quite the journey from then until now but I have no doubt that I’m in the right place.
Describe your journey in becoming a gaffer. Historically speaking, the camera & lighting community has not been very diverse. What was the process like for you?
For me becoming a gaffer has been a pretty classic “climb the ranks” journey. I started in the perms and now I’m here! From working in the rental house to being rigger. From condor duty to the pocket guy. From ACLT to CLT. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with and been mentored by some of what I consider to be the best in our craft. This path has helped to shape me both as a man and a gaffer. An understanding and appreciation for all of the positions that make our department work is a tool in my kit that I rely on heavily.
While there have been times that I have looked at the crew I was on or the sets we were working on and wondered about the lack of diversity, I have to say that my experience has been one that is based more firmly on character and quality of work than anything else. I think the hours are long enough and the work difficult enough that most people just want the right attitude and level of skill next to them to get the job done. It doesn’t mean there isn’t racism on our level of the business or people who will shut you out because of the color of your skin. But by and large, I feel like Hollywood is ahead of the curve in this area, especially at this time in history.
What advice would you like to give young African-American aspiring gaffers?
First and foremost, I’d say to work on and respect your craft. I think this applies to anyone who wants to be a Gaffer. As the head of the department, we have not only a responsibility to put the lights in the right place, but a responsibility to lead the men and women we’ve hired as efficiently as we can through the day’s work. This ultimately turns into more jobs and opportunities across the spectrum of ethnicity and gender. Secondly, say yes. Say yes to the job if the story lacks diversity. Say yes to the job if you may be the only minority on set. Say yes because the object is to build your skillset, your resume, and your reputation. I think diversity is a process of attrition. This process needs role models and examples. The only way into the room is to say yes and walk through the door when it cracks open.
What are some changes you believe the industry should make to help African-American filmmakers have their voices heard moving forward?
I think there is always more room for education and apprenticeship. Opportunities to show African-American filmmakers that this is an achievable dream and career. This business has a good track record of nepotism (parts of my own story included), which inevitably has led to a lack of diversity. I think more avenues for experience through apprenticeship would not only help us diversify, but also preserve the quality of our work.
Growing up, did you have any inspirational Directors, DP’s, Gaffers that have inspired you?
As I mentioned before, I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with some very amazing people. They have all had a hand in my growth and have been inspiring. Rigging Gaffer Gary Dahlquist broke me into the business, taught me to take pride in my work, and taught me the importance of leadership. Raffi Sanchez has been a stellar example of professionalism and talent. Ian Kincaid has shown me that we can have fun and still do great work. There’s been a host of others that have taken the time to teach me and open up doors of opportunity along the way. I’m very grateful for them all.
What are some of your favorite films? Have any of these films influenced your work?
There might be too many favorites films for me to narrow down. I can say however that Quentin Tarantino films, two, in particular, have probably been the most influential for me in regards to work. I was fortunate enough to work as a lamp operator on both Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. His method of filmmaking is driven by his love for the art film. Pure joy in the moment even when it’s tortured. While both of those jobs were pretty demanding they were fun and there was something about them that sparked a change in my approach. For a long time, I simply wanted to show up and do a good job at work. The experiences I had on those films made me want to be a part of the process and to contribute to the project. I found that even picking up cable and dropping doubles can lead to art. As a technician, I think that’s pretty cool.
Could you tell us about a show or project you are currently working on?
I’m currently working on the third installment of Spider-Man with actor Tom Holland, DP Mauro Fiore, and Director Jon Watts. It’s my largest job as a gaffer thus far, and wow– what a ride! Be careful what you ask for. Be thankful for the people that help you get there. Be grateful for the ones that help you get it done.
You can catch Josh Davis’s work on the upcoming Spider-Man in December of this year. Keep up with Josh on his Instagram @standinginthelite.