Use Your Talent: Interview with Cinematographer and Director Devin Schiro

Cinematographer and director Devin Schiro embarked on a near decade-long journey switching majors throughout college and moving from city to city before discovering his passion for film. Today he lives in a beautiful historic mansion, making gorgeous films for international clients. Click to read more about how he made his passion for film into a career. - THE BALLER ON A BUDGET

Cinematographer and director Devin Schiro embarked on a near decade-long journey switching majors throughout college and moving from city to city before discovering his passion for film. Today he lives in a beautiful historic mansion, making gorgeous films for international clients. Click to read more about how he made his passion for film into a career.It was Christmas time of 2014, and one of my closest friends Michelle Hébert invited me to an evening cocktail party at the beautiful Castle Green. Upon entering the historic mansion, there was an attractive bunch of people lounging on ornate sofas by the fireplace while another well-dressed crowd chatted amongst each other at the bar. The rain splashed against the windows and the mansion was dimly lit, making me feel like I had just walked into a dark lair full of ethereal and strikingly handsome vampires.

And just like a movie scene, Devin Schiro slowly made his way across the room towards me, introducing himself as our host with a cocktail in hand. He gave us a tour of the whole mansion and then brought Michelle and I up to the rooftop, showing us the most gorgeous view of the Pasadena skyline. Had it not been a social gathering, this whole moment could have easily been a scene out of a romance novel or movie. At that moment, I realized that everything about him and everything he surrounded himself with – the people, the home, the personality – was like viewing his life through a lens.

Fast-forward to the end of 2016, and I can still consider Schiro as one of the most creative, dedicated and inspiring people I know. Devin’s mannerisms, speech, and eye for beauty are things that can easily be seen within all of his films, and he is one of many individuals who decided to turn his passion for visual storytelling into a living.

Of course, his current accomplishments aren’t without history. Devin came from the town of Chatsworth, where he embarked on a near decade-long journey switching majors throughout college and moving from city to city. It wasn’t until after college that he landed a job editing video reels for wildlife where he found his passion for film.

Continue reading to learn more about the many obstacles Devin overcame as a freelance artist and how it molded him into the successful cinematographer he is today.

“Wonderland” by Kirsty Mitchell | Book Trailer from Devin Schiro on Vimeo.

I see you had the amazing opportunity to shoot a film for one of my favorite photographers, Kirsty Mitchell! You mentioned in a previous Instagram post how excited you were to form relationships with people whom you considered were your idols. How are you able to form these relationships with people, especially if they are oceans away?

I’m still reeling from the fact that Kirsty asked me, of all people, to do that for her.  I was sitting in Copenhagen airport on my way back to LA with not a lot lined up in December, when my phone buzzed in my pocket and lo and behold it was Kirsty herself, wondering if I’d be down to direct a short book trailer for the 2nd edition release of “Wonderland,” her photography book 10 years in the making.  

The first question I asked myself was “how the hell does this artist even know who I am, let alone want to work with me?”  And then she mentioned the pieces she saw that I had shot with my friends Brooke Shaden and Alex Stoddard that stood out in her mind.  Even though we hadn’t spoken much in year since, she knew exactly who I was and what I did, thanks to social media.  And this really just solidified all of it for me.  The fact that social media is connecting everyone together.  I know it’s addictive and invasive at some level, but I genuinely believe social media is a good thing, one that is opening doors for people and forming relationships that they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

Not just Kirsty, but some of my favorite artists in the world have become good friends of mine thanks to things like Facebook and Instagram.  When you start getting to know everyone within a particular social circle and they all see you online, it’s like you’re vouched for.  Personally, I think that if I had to go back and do it all over again, I would’ve spent more time just connecting with my heroes on social media and getting them to mentor me rather than go the traditional college route, which didn’t do nearly as much for me as learning through my artist friends, most of whom I met online.

KILLSTAR x RONIIT | Teaser from Devin Schiro on Vimeo.

Was attending college to study a creative field a conscious choice for you, or do you feel you were obligated to take a traditional approach to advance in your career?

I think my approach is highly unconventional.  I started my degree in 2004 with a Communications major in Cal State University Bakersfield, but after 2 years, I moved back to LA to study in Cal State University Northridge’s film education program.  After spending another 2 years in pre-requisites, I didn’t get in, as seats were limited, which meant having to shift my focus to “multimedia production.”

If I had to do it all over again…I wouldn’t.  The first client I booked out of college laughed in my face when I tried to raise my rate because I was now “college educated.”  He straight up told me “That’s not how the real world works kid!”

Right out of college, I found a job through my mom’s best friend who runs a wild animal training company called Working Wildlife and ended up as an editor there, cutting animal show-reels and then later shooting them to use for their marketing.  I started to shift my career towards cinematography, which I then had to educate myself on from the ground up.

I do believe that education is important, but for those trying to work in this field, you can educate yourself.  I advise younger people to forego college education and try to find ways to make their own stuff, supplementing traditional classroom education with youtube tutorials, online courses, and just linking up with like-minded content creators. 

There are plenty of visual artists who use classical music in their work but have no musical background. I personally think your portfolio is more powerful than most due to your background and experience in classical music. In what ways does your interest in classical composers like Chopin fuel your work?

While I do have a love and appreciation for classical music, I don’t think that I am necessarily in love with the genre itself, but rather, the emotional nature of it.  I am drawn to highly emotional and evocative music, be it film scores, ambient music, classical, and some contemporary music if it hits me the right way.  For my purposes in film work though, I find that a lilting piano sonata often elicits much more emotion and inspires my work with much greater ease than say, an upbeat pop song that I found off some Top 40 chart.  

I want to evoke emotion and make people feel, be that joy, sadness, or anything in between.  Music is often the most critical part of that – it is the soul of film and what breathes life and emotion into it.  I happen to think that classical music does a wonderful job at that, and I also happen to think that Chopin’s pianistic romanticism pairs well with the images I create.

The Green Hotel from Devin Schiro on Vimeo.

I remember when I first met you at your dinner party, you’d told me you were paying a hefty rent to live in Castle Green. Why did you decide to live in a lavish apartment rather than get something more practical and affordable?

This is a question that really hits home for me because it is probably the biggest and riskiest move I’ve ever taken in my entire life that yielded the most profound results.  

When I first moved into Castle Green, I absolutely could not afford the rent.  I was searching on Craigslist for apartments with a maximum rent of $1500 and in my frustration that I couldn’t find anything, decided to increase it up to $2000 just to see what was out there if I was willing to pay a few hundred more dollars.  Lo and behold, a unit for rent popped up.  I didn’t think it was possible for me to pay that much per month, because I sure as hell wasn’t making that much at the time.

I talked it over with my mom who I expected to tell me that it was crazy to move into somewhere I couldn’t afford, but she did the opposite.  In her words, “You are a freelance artist.  You aren’t limited to a salary through a company, so you can make more money.  And if you really want to live here, you’ll figure out a way to do it.”  I wanted to live here more than I ever wanted anything.  And so in the month that followed, I quadrupled my income.  I don’t know how I did it, but I did.  I got on the phone that night and called every client I had and asked for referrals.  I followed up with everyone who ever expressed interest in working with me and said I was ready to take on their project.  I just about killed myself but in the 30 days from signing the application to signing the lease, I proved to myself that anything was possible if I was willing to hustle harder and not take no for an answer.

I wanted to live here [at Castle Green] more than I ever wanted anything.  And so in the month that followed, I quadrupled my income.  I don’t know how I did it, but I did.

I was shaking and trembling as I signed the lease that November, because I wasn’t just committing to live this way for the next calendar year, but really, I was signing a commitment to myself to live this way for the rest of my adult life.  Honestly, it changed me though.  The high cost of living made me ferociously disciplined with my time and work ethic.  I raised my rates, I took on bigger projects, and learned to manage myself with great efficacy.  By placing myself in a situation that forced me to work harder, I quickly shed many of the mental barriers that held me back in years prior.  I am 10 times the times the man today I was when I moved in 4 years ago, and it scares me to think how things might be different had I not taken the plunge.

Do I recommend everyone take a big risk like this?  I can’t advocate you all go out and sign a lease you can’t afford.  All I can say is that the higher stakes I gave myself forced me into a realm of higher performance, the results of which have been utterly life-changing. 

Celadon & Celery from Devin Schiro on Vimeo.

As a photographer, I’m well-aware of how much it costs to get gear for photography, but I’m sure it’s way more with shooting films. With things like food, housing costs and basic necessities, isn’t it tough to invest in your craft? How do you make this a feasible lifestyle and career?

Well to be honest, I don’t really invest that much in my craft in the realm of gear.  I have a modest package I’ve built up over a couple years, that cost maybe around $5000 all in, but I built it one small purchase at a time.  My Canon 7D was the most expensive of them all, and I built my portfolio with it for the first couple years which allowed me to slowly attract bigger and better clients.  Now I’m at the point where I very seldom shoot on my own gear.  If I’m being sent out to do a project, it’s almost expected that we are renting a higher end camera package.  I don’t even know that I would want to own gear at this point, because I am being hired for my vision and my eye, not necessarily for the tools I own.  Those can be rented.  

As for food and cost of living?  I live frugally.  I eat simple and healthy foods, drink mostly water, and my grocery bill is maybe 40-50 bucks a week.  My biggest indulgence is my daily coffee from the place across the street every morning.  I tend to try to buy high-quality clothes that will last a couple years and don’t give out.  In fact, I try to buy high-quality in whatever I own so that I only have to buy it once.  I’m a bit of a quality fanatic and will research every purchase until I’m certain I’m getting the best.  This is a way to *save* money, contrary to what it feels like at the time.  I have also painstakingly negotiated the price down on every service I own, be it my phone bill, insurances, Internet, etc.  I’m pretty much as low as I can go at the moment, and my monthly cost of living is approx $2500-$3000 per month.  I imagine this will go up, but my rates are also increasing as I progress in my career, so it all kind of balances out.  Bare in mind, I live in Los Angeles, where cost of living is less than San Francisco or New York City, but still rather high compared to the rest of the country.

Cinematographer and director Devin Schiro embarked on a near decade-long journey switching majors throughout college and moving from city to city before discovering his passion for film. Today he lives in a beautiful historic mansion, making gorgeous films for international clients. Click to read more about how he made his passion for film into a career.

Self Portrait – Faroe Islands

A lot of your finest work comes from collaborating with other creatives during your international trips. How are you able to comfortably afford traveling abroad so frequently? Don’t things like hotels and airfare add up?

It’s funny that you assume my travels are “comfortable”! Most of the time I’m sleeping on floors or couches. I haven’t been traveling that long, but I have found that choosing spots where I know other people who are willing to host me has been the biggest cost reducer. That means making international friends, which isn’t really as hard as you might think if you are leveraging social media, adding new people, and branching out. Nothing I’m doing is particularly tricky or challenging, I’m just posting my work every day and talking to people who live in other parts of the world over time. You’re bound to form bonds with them.  Asking then if you can crash on their couch for a day or two while passing through doesn’t feel as daunting.

As for airfare, I feel like there are many people who have covered this in greater detail than I have. I learned most of my airfare hacking from www.tynan.com and his book “Life Nomadic.” It’s a great resource, I strongly recommend it.

It’s scary though, to feel like you don’t have enough and the clock is counting down ’til the day rent is due and you’re waiting for those checks to come in and clients aren’t getting back to you.  Such is the nature of freelance.  You just have to keep moving forward.  At all costs.

Hereafter from Devin Schiro on Vimeo. 

I’m pretty sure that working for yourself can be scary since sometimes you probably encounter dry spells with no client work. How do you power through these bumps in the road?

I grit my teeth and bare it.  It feels horrible honestly, and anyone who has ever freelanced can relate.  No matter how hard I self-promote, there are always dry spells.  This summer I booked so much work I didn’t have to work for a couple months.  This December, I only have a couple meager jobs lined up.  Then come January, I’m back to being pretty slammed. The tides come and go.  

During the slow times, I try to fill up my time with as much productive energy as possible.  That’s time I can spend editing my backlog of projects.  Time I can spend going out and forming better relationships with people I want to work with.  Time I can use to get back to the gym and focus on my health which tends to fall by the wayside when I’m in an intense production schedule.  I do have some savings for a month or two of no work, but beyond that, I just keep hustling.  I’ll hit up new directors I want to shoot for, I’ll talk to friends who need help on projects and offer my assistance.  I try not to wait for the phone to ring but try to be proactive.  And when the phone does stop ringing, I’ll use that time to work on my personal projects which frequently end up getting me more work than anything else.

It’s scary though, to feel like you don’t have enough and the clock is counting down ’til the day rent is due and you’re waiting for those checks to come in and clients aren’t getting back to you.  Such is the nature of freelance.  You just have to keep moving forward.  At all costs.

Cinematographer and director Devin Schiro embarked on a near decade-long journey switching majors throughout college and moving from city to city before discovering his passion for film. Today he lives in a beautiful historic mansion, making gorgeous films for international clients. Click to read more about how he made his passion for film into a career.

Karol Escobar shot by Devin Schiro

I saw your recent post on Instagram about how you shot a documentary for Playboy with @eskofilms that involved going undercover and interviewing a drug dealer and murderer that was fresh out of prison. How did you land this project, and have you done even riskier or dangerous assignments?

I met Karol Escobar through a girl I was dating a couple years ago and was blown away by her directorial debut.  We became good friends and have been trying to collab on something for the past year.  She called me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in doing some interviews with a former member of the Bloods who was recently released from a decade-long sentence for attempted murder.

I said yes.

I don’t know that I was ever in any danger on this shoot, as we were there to interview him and hear his life story.  But it was a bit sketchy the fact that we were doing this in an open park, that the guy had admitted to murdering people and was an active drug dealer.  This might’ve been one of the most dangerous people I’ve shot or worked with, but he was actually a pretty nice guy and I never felt my safety was at risk.  It kind of reminded me of my first job in high school where I was working as a reporter for a local news station and would get sent out to crime scenes on a fairly regular basis to get audio clips from the sheriffs and spokesmen.  I was 17 years old being sent out to see things most 17-year-olds shouldn’t have to see at that age, but in a way, it humanized me and forced an early maturation.  I don’t regret it one bit.  

Behind-the-scenes with Devin Schiro and crew

So you live in a beautiful haunted mansion with a beautiful cat, travel the world and see beautiful sights, and get paid to make beautiful videos. What are the ugly unexpected hurdles in your line of creative work that people don’t see? I’m sure it’s not always beautiful.

Other than the financial hardships that come from time to time, or the typical self-loathing that all artists with internet access go through, my biggest challenge has honestly been finding time for my relationships.  It’s incredibly hard to date and work in this field when the hours are as inconsistent as they are.  And as hard as I’ve tried, the passion I have for my craft has eroded some relationships I’ve had with some amazing women in the past, much to my dismay.  There’s only a certain amount of times that you can make a dinner plans with your girlfriend, and then have to reschedule last minute because you got a call to come shoot something and you really, really, really need the paycheck.  Like for instance, some months back, the first night this girl I was dating stayed over, I had to sneak out of bed at three in the morning to go finish an edit that had a deadline that morning.  Ask me if that was fun or pleasant.  But these things happen.

The shaky nature of my finances deeply affected my ability to have normal relationships the last couple years, and just this year has finally started to let up as I’ve begun to make more of a name for myself.  I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life and was my highest purpose, and everything else had to be prioritized.  Truth be told though, I’m looking forward to a time in my life when my projects are so lucrative that I can blow off a job once in a while to have a real life.  But the only way you get to that point is by working for it.  

Cinematographer and director Devin Schiro embarked on a near decade-long journey switching majors throughout college and moving from city to city before discovering his passion for film. Today he lives in a beautiful historic mansion, making gorgeous films for international clients. Click to read more about how he made his passion for film into a career.

Devin Schiro shot by Patrick Lawler

I saw not only a huge improvement on the quality of your work in 2016 compared to 2015, but the quantity of your work increased as well. I’m aware that this last month is giving you some extreme deadlines – are you intending to slow down for 2017 or speed things up? How are you going to streamline your productivity?

I wish I could say for sure what the future holds, but at the moment, all I know is I plan to continue doing the best work I can and hustling as hard as I can.  I’m working on delegating the things I am no longer the best at (such as turning around edits on a quick time frame, visual effects, and pre-production), and focusing on honing my skills on the things I want to actively improve at.  The rest remains to be seen.

Devin continues to travel the world, working for clients and collaborating with international friends. When he’s not globetrotting, he resides in the beautiful Castle Green with his cat Fumi, editing content and playing piano by the fireplace.

Catch Devin Schiro on social media:

Website: http://www.devinschiro.com/
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/devinschiro/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/devinschiro/

Email Inquiries: [email protected]

 

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2 Comments

  1. December 20, 2016 / 9:49 pm

    You did such a lovely job on this. It brought back many memories. And once again makes me think of how deeply I love Devin and how proud I am of him. Thank you for doing this .

    Devin’s mom

    • The Baller on a Budget
      December 23, 2016 / 2:26 pm

      Hey Mama Schiro, I’m so happy you liked the interview! Like I mentioned before, you raised a really hardworking and talented son. I’m very grateful to have met him as he’s helped my in plenty of my endeavors and given me so much inspiration. <3

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