Boubkar Benzabat – Cinematographer


When I was 11, I decided I wanted to make movies. At 15 I knew I wanted to become a cinematographer. That was the first important choice of my life, and with determination, I made that dream come true. With that same determination, I try to accomplish all the projects I work on. Making choices is an important part of the cinematographer’s job: every movie, every sequence, every shot, every light, every camera position needs to come from a strong intention, in accordance to the vision of the director.


I adore my job. It can be hard, difficult, intense… but I keep considering it as a vocation. We spend a third of our lifetime in our working place, so I believe that it is important to love the work you do, that it must never be a constraint, but a real pleasure. And it is with that enthusiasm that I try to bring ideas and propositions to projects I work on, and to always give my best. Ideally, I love to work with a smile on my face.


I love challenges. Every new project comes with one or several challenges that you have to overcome, and it always gives me a goal to reach. I don’t believe in simple projects: they do not exist. Every project, when you want to do it the best possible way, contains some difficulties that you must identify and solve. Routine, in this work, doesn’t exist. I never think, when I start a new project, that I have already done something similar: no project is similar to another. I always try not to be surprised when a problem occurs: I must always anticipate it, and prepare the solution even before the problem happens.

At your service

In my work, I love being at the service of a director and his/her vision, of a production, of a project. I don’t make propositions in order to create shots to put in my demoreel: I make propositions if I consider that it serves the project, and the director’s vision. I consider that my work starts early in the production of a project, and ends only once the movie is screened: I try to be as involved as possible, because my expertise is necessary at every step of a project. Besides, I believe that most of the work is and has to be done in the preparation time: you can improvise on the set only if you prepared every detail of your project.

Concerning the post-production, I have a lot of experience as an editor, conformist, and color grading artist. This experience helps me to control the workflow, in order to be sure that until the very last moment, the images correspond to the vision of the director, and that nothing in the process deteriorates that vision: problems in post-production, in this digital era, are very frequent, and the cinematographer is the only one who can guarantee the preservation of the work, parameters, esthetic and technical aspects of the image from the beginning to the end. This is why I think it is very important, as a cinematographer, for any project, to be involved very deeply in the post-production process.

Team work

This is not a work that I can do alone: the whole purpose is to work with a team. I love to exchange knowledge with other technicians, I love to learn from them.

I also think that communication is the key to solve anything: most of the problems on a shooting always come from a lack of communication. So I always communicate with every member of the crew about what I plan to do priori to the day of shooting, and I expect other members of the crew to be as transparent with me as I am with them. For this, I always create an « image notebook » where I put all the info concerning the shooting, that I distribute to everyone.

It creates a flow that is more pleasant, it helps to avoid many issues, and I also believe that only incompetent people hide what they do, because they are afraid that others realize how incompetent they are. There is also a reality, that cinematographers would not like to say: A « BEAUTIFUL » IMAGE FIRST COMES FROM THE SET DESIGN, THE COSTUME DESIGN, THE MAKE-UP, AND THE ACTORS/ACTRESSES’ TALENT. Try to light badly directed actors/actresses sitting on an ugly set, dressed with ugly costumes and with ugly make-up on them: no matter what you do as a cinematographer, you cannot save the film: it will look terrible. But when you work with a good production designer, a good costume designer, a good make-up artist and good actors/actresses, suddenly, your work as a cinematographer becomes much easier, and better accomplished. So it is important to work closely with them, and to always communicate with them: the project will only look better. One last important thing: I don’t like to do other people’s jobs. And I don’t like when other people try to do my job. And I strongly believe in hierarchy, I think it is the only way for a shooting to be smooth, and not messy: a shooting is a space where everyone has a PRECISE task in order to serve the project of the DIRECTOR, and everyone must follow the instructions given to them so we can all go together in the same direction.


In order to achieve a good communication on set, I expect from the director and the producers a total trust, the same trust that I will give them. I strongly believe trust is the key of the team work. We should be able to talk about everything, good or bad, exchange any ideas, explore every field together.
There is no way to make a good movie without that trust. I like to be honest, to really tell what I think, and even if it can be tough, it always comes from a desire to be direct, frank, and benevolent. I believe honesty is a rare quality in a field that is full of hypocrisy, and where flattery is the rule in order to get a job. I expect from directors that same honesty towards me, and I totally accept if they don’t like something I do or propose: it is a way for me to progress.


I don’t believe in esthetism. I don’t think that doing pretty images, with instagram filters, and flares everywhere, makes an image beautiful. Pretty is not beautiful. A beautiful image is an image with a meaning, with a powerful content, that is underlined by the composition of the frame and the light. I also believe that what is outside of the frame is even more important than what is inside the frame: when you make an image, you create an illusion, and you try to work on the evocation more than on the showing. An image must contain an emotion, it must create a feeling for the audience, it must please their heart, not just their eyes.


I don’t like to be labeled. I don’t want to be locked in a certain style, a certain form, or a certain type of films. I love eclectism, I love to work with different directors, with different ways of seeing things, I love to explore new horizons. I try to do my work with a total open-minded spirit, I love to work as well on fiction, documentary, commercials, music videos, or even news for television, and I like to learn in every type of project I can work on, and to apply these lessons on other types of projects. This is how I learned, for example, many techniques in documentary that I apply in my fiction projects, and the other way around.


I believe that we can make progresses only if we are curious about everything, and if we stay open-minded. I love to work in other countries, with local crews, learn their techniques. When I work with a foreign team, I always try to learn the basics of their language so I can give them indications also in their language and be sure that my indications were understood, as well as being able to understand them. I worked in more than 20 countries (France, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, Israel, Poland, Kosovo, Greece, etc…), I speak fluently French and English, I can also speak Italian, a bit of Spanish, Arabic, Albanian, Armenian, I understand a bit Hungarian, Hebrew… Languages are a passion for me, because it is a way to understand other ways of thinking. Also, it allows me to shoot movies where characters speak other languages and still be able to understand their emotion and their culture.

I adore literature. It inspires me more than images in order to create images: as a cinematographer, I first receive a script, and then I need to imagine images from the words contained in the script. This is why literature is more inspiring to me than paintings or photography: I am not interested in copy-paste, I prefer to transform words, ideas and give them another shape. There is nothing more cliché than DPs saying how much they are inspired by Caravaggio or Rembrandt; it shows a lack of effort to find inspiration in other fields, the main one being LIFE itself, through constant observation of the world around us. I also adore music, which inspires me a lot. I love the interaction between the music and the images. I also love musicals, dance, and Fred Astaire. Music is an art that is mostly based on rhythm, and so is cinema. By listening to music, we can learn a lot about how to make movies: a film is always about the rhythm of the images, rhythm of the sounds, rhythm of the editing, rhythm of the dialogues, rhythm of the movement of the bodies in front of the camera, rhythm of the movement of the camera, and the interaction of all these rhythms together to create a general movement and progression that makes the difference between a good and a bad movie. « Cinematography », litterally, means « writing of the movement », and this is how I define myself: a writer of the movement. I strongly believe that in order to write the movement, you need to be yourself always in movement, which is why I am always doing something, thinking, traveling… because I think that movement creates movement. That same curiosity also pushes me to try to keep up to date about new techniques and evolution of technology. I regularly try to do trainings in order to learn new skills. I think trainings and learning are an important part of the job of the cinematographer, because it is a work in constant evolution.

Hard Work

I don’t really believe in talent, but I believe for sure in hard work. I think we can achieve anything if we work seriously, with regularity, and with passion. And I believe we can do more with hard work than just with talent. I also love to do sport, I try to go to gym regularly. It allows me to be in good condition, carry the camera and be endurant all day at work. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t take any drugs, and I try to be focused on my work as much as possible when I am on the set. For me, it is part of this process of hard work.


I don’t believe in competition or virality. I believe that all cinematographers can find their place, and I know I cannot make all the movies in the world, so I am happy that other people do the same job than me. As cinematographers, we are chosen for our sensitivity, and for who we are. And we are all unique, we all have a certain way of seeing the world around us. Sometimes, it fits with some directors and projects, and sometimes not.
I am just competing with myself, trying to make progresses every day, and to become better and better, as a cinematographer and as a human being. Competing with oneself is always a better way to progress than competing with others. I am always happy to meet other cinematographers and to exchange with them, as long as they are humble and curious.