Cinematographers, described by Levy as coordinating all things photographic in a film, consider the composition, light, and motion within a shot, and work with the director to bring the vision of the script vividly to life.
Levy, who first gained recognition for his work on the 2008 film Wendy and Lucy and who has since worked on projects such as Lady Bird (2017), Frances Ha (2012), While We’re Young (2014), and Mistress America (2015), began his journey at Brown University. There he studied French literature and French cinema. After graduating, he studied with French New Wave director Eric Rohmer at the University of Paris-Michelet.
Lady Bird, a 2017 film about a high school senior and her mother, was written and directed by Greta Gerwig and starred Saoirse Ronan. It won Best Motion Picture at the Golden Globe Awards.
Professor of English and Cinema Studies Aviva Briefel, Levy’s contemporary at Brown University, described herself as “blown away by [Levy’s] aesthetic” and the “sense of wonder” that, even as a student, his films conveyed. Still, Levy described his career trajectory as “slow.” He jumped around in the film industry working jobs such as film loader before graduating to overseeing the artisty of movies.
Levy spoke to the audience of students about the more technical side of cinematography and explained how certain scenes from Ladybird and Frances Ha were composed. By drawing diagrams of where cameras, lighting, and actors stood, he showed the careful choices made to ensure the success of every shot.
While a career in the movies might seem glamorous, Levy stressed the “backbreaking, difficult insanity of work” that comes with being part of a projection. However, Levy said he’s found strength in his liberal arts education. “I feel comfortable doing this thing because of my background,” Levy said. “It allowed me to be not afraid to deconstruct self, or create a thesis.” Essays, for example, allowed Levy to break things down, before reconstituting them, an integral part of cinematography. And he said classes in French translation helped accustom him to the process of translating a script into shots and images.
Levy also urged students in the audience to pursue creative fields and remain optimistic even after failure. “So much of creating an aesthetic is confidence,” he said. “If you’re interested in something creative, just try to explore it…You have to make mistakes, feel terrible, and keep on going.”