An interview with Daniel Stanislawski ("Frank Little")
Daniel Stanislawski is a Polish filmmaker, cinematographer and editor, who has been working as a camera operator and editor in multiple TV stations for over 12 years.
After working on music videos, concerts, advertising spots and promotional films, including being the official photographer and filmmaker of "Lady Pank", a legend of Polish rock, Daniel decided to move to the next stage in his life and follow his big passion: Feature films and documentaries.
Recently, he created "Frank Little, a documentary about a photographer whose photos have been presented at exhibitions in Spain and in the lobby of the famous Empire State Building skyscraper.
After the film won Best Documentary at the New York Film Awards, we invited Daniel to join us for an interview. Here's his story.
Tell us about your background. Did you always know you want to be a cinematographer?
I graduated from the MASTERSHOT Film School in Wroclaw as a Cinematographer in 2006. For over 12 years I have been working as a camera operator and editor in television stations: local and national. I am currently an ENG cameraman on TVN (Discovery) in Poland.
In addition to working in television, for many years I have executed various projects, including: music videos, concerts, commercials, promotional films. But truth being said, feature and documentary films are the love of my life. So the next stage in my life was making my own film projects. While in the United States, I completed two documentaries.
A big and important part of my life was working with Lady Pank, a legendary Polish rock band that I am a fan of. For several years I was the group’s official photographer and filmmaker by passion. Among other things, this cooperation resulted in an album released on June 16, 2015 LADY PANK UNPLUGGED. I shot the photos for the cover and CD booklet.
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to become a filmmaker, work behind the camera. After many years of hard work and dedication, I managed to fulfil my dream.
What made you decide to go into film?
I have been fascinated by feature and documentary films since I was a child. I see directing, light in film, cinematography and editing as a never-ending learning experience and a great adventure. After years of observing great filmmakers, inspired by their ideas for the shot composition and editing, I decided to try my hand at this beautiful, yet demanding craft and art. At university I had the pleasure of working on a film set. Today, after several years of working in TV, I have decided to spend my free time working as an independent filmmaker and, perhaps, create some documentaries and fictional short forms in the future.
Do you have a filmmaking role model? Who is your biggest influence?
I was most influenced and inspired by, among others, Orson Welles for his innovative method of execution, innovation in the structure of non-linear narration, editing and shots. Another of my heroes is Alfred Hitchcock, one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, referred to as the "master of suspense". However, when it comes to a documentary film, I look up to Polish filmmakers: Krzysztof Kieslowski and Kazimierz Karabasz.When it comes to contemporary directors I really like Christopher Nolan’s films. However in terms of cinematography Roger Deakins is my role model.
Your award-winning documentary short “Frank Little” is titled after its main character. Frank Little is a passionate still photographer, known especially for his photos of moonrises and moonsets over the cityscapes of NYC. Why did you choose to make a documentary about him?
For my entire life I have been a big fan of New York and I have followed events in the city. Being a member of NYC lovers on Facebook groups, I came across some beautiful and amazing photos of New York. Frank was their author. When I was going to the United States, I wanted to make a documentary about a man with a great passion for New York City. And that's how it turned out. I wrote to Frank offering to make a Documentary Short Film about him and his work and passion. Frank was very happy and expressed his willingness to cooperate with me on the project. Above all, Frank is a talented, hard-working photographer with dreams that he dares to fulfil. He is a very nice person with a beautiful artistic soul. He loves New York as much as I do. It shows in his beautiful pictures.
When talking about your documentary you said that “the city is the second hero of the film”. Tell us about your relationship with New York.
I have been fascinated with New York since I was a child. At the beginning, I only knew Big Apple from movies, postcards and music videos. My fascination deepened and I started buying books, guides and maps. I started to read a lot about the history of the city, about skyscrapers and follow daily events in NYC. I had dreamt of going to New York for many years. I first flew to NYC in May 2013. Then more trips followed. I have a strong bond with this city. I wanted to convey my fascination with the city through the film about “Frank Little”.
Do you have a favorite building in New York city? A favorite place? Tell us about a “New York Moment” that you had.
My favorite building is undoubtedly the Empire State Building, the king of New York's skyscrapers. In my opinion, none of the modern skyscrapers in New York can match it. The Empire State Building is the history and magic of cinema. He was a protagonist in the "King Kong" films (1933, 2005) and "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993). When it comes to my favorite place in New York, there are several of them, such as Central Park. As for the “New York Moment”, I had it in Times Square where thousands of people pass through the streets. You can really feel this city’s energy and that New York is a true "Capital of the World".
Were there any challenges in making “Frank Little”? Were there any exciting moments? What was the shooting experience like for you?
"Frank Little" was a documentary to the core, where as a director / cinematographer I did not interfere with reality. Frank asked me what to do to which I responded: "Do your job, I'm gone, I'm only a shadow". So in this situation I had to adapt everywhere, to every situation. I worked only with prime lenses of high brightness. The exciting moment was certainly the moment Frank enjoyed the sophisticated frame and the photo taken afterwards, which was really amazing. Then I was glad that I could accompany him during his work and experience it with him.
What would you like your viewers to take from your film?
First of all, it is worth pursuing dreams and passions, although at times it might be challenging. Never give up.
Your cinematography work is superb in this documentary. Do you have any tips for young cinematographers and documentarians? How do you approach filming a scene without being able to direct it or intervene?
You must always keep your eyes open and observe the surroundings all the time after looking into the camera viewfinder. It is more of a reportage job and reflex is what really matters. You have to learn to more or less predict the next moves of the protagonist, although it is more difficult. And patience. Above all, be patient.
Can you give a word of advice to aspiring filmmakers around the world?
Make your dreams come true, work hard and show your effects as often as possible, wherever you can. Certainly, someone will notice and appreciate you someday. Filming is one of the most beautiful passions in the world and it deserves every minute of your life.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Last year, I filmed in South Carolina for my documentary about the inhabitants of the beautiful town Beaufort, who cultivate the "Forrest Gump" film. Taking shots for the project and meeting the residents was a great experience for me. Fantastic people, the beautiful, historic Beaufort and locations from "Forrest Gump". I shot not only in Beaufort, also at Bluff Plantation, Twickenham Road, southeast of Yemassee, and at Chippewa Square in Savannach, Georgia. The film is currently in the editing phase. I think that at the end of the year I will start promoting it at film festivals.
Another project that is currently being filmed will be a documentary about Mr. Adam Laboga, the legendary Polish creator of guitar amplifiers. His company is known all over the world. Several famous guitarists use his guitar amps.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What are your plans for the foreseeable future?
In five years I would love to see myself as a cameraman / cinematographer in the United States. I have always dreamt about it. In the near future, I intend to continue working hard, making more film projects.
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?
I think that would be the excellent director Woody Allen. I would be honoured to be his cinematographer on a new film in the streets of New York.
Please share with us where people can find you on social media, so I readers could keep track of your career!