Things you do not know about him!
João Atala discovered his passion in life very early, while still in the 8th grade. Together with two other friends he came upon a movie camera and started to develop film projects. At first, the projects were all short films. A short film is a movie with no longer than 15 minutes; it can also vary in genre, such as fiction or documentary. A short is also cheaper to make than a 2 hour long movie, and it’s good practice for the more demanding and longer projects. Back then, things weren't as simple as they are today. In other words, cameras still used film! Digital was very new and very expensive. Developing film was expensive too, but João always managed to get some film stock in order to shoot his stuff. A lot of thought had to be put into the shot before rolling the camera, since film was so hard to get. That way, Atala did a lot of brainstorming before shooting. He was laying the foundation for his professional life, in a way: a foundation that took, among other things, his instinct into consideration. Since you can only see the footage you shot after developing the film, you have to do a lot of thinking and be very sure of all your moves. It takes discipline. It takes time.
The small film projects soon got big and by the time João graduated OLM – in 2005 -, one of his short films was showing in the Gramado film festival, and João attended. Going to Gramado was very enlightening. There he got to see other short films that people sent from all over the country, and for the first time in his career he felt proud of what he had shot.
Working as a camera assistant was as important as attending a university, since you get to see other directors of photography working their craft first-hand, which is the kind of thing they don't teach you at universities. The variables are almost infinite, but you can learn a little bit every time. It's a privilege to get to work for talented directors of photography, since you get to learn a lot besides getting to be their friends. Don't think you're going to graduate college and go straight into photographing films. It's a long ladder that one must climb, and during that climb you learn a lot and it may even have to take a few steps back in order to keep going. It's a constant progress and sometimes you may even be blessed with the advent of a mentor, as João did. A very talented director of photography liked the way João worked and adopted him as his camera assistant. Working next to him, João traveled the world and shot various projects and learned a lot. Personal relationships are a key piece for the job, and communication is the key. They call it networking but some call it friendship. Nevertheless, if you don't know anybody you will not get work.
Aside from the camera assistant work, João always kept his own director of photography work on the side with people his age. Filmmaking is much like music: if you're a guitar player you must study your craft just as much as you need to gather with others in order to make music. Of course you can be a solist forever, but most of the good music is made from a group of musicians: a band. Filmmaking is the same: if you don't team up, chances are you will not leave home, and teaming up starts early. Young directors with the desire to become professional directors are very interesting people, and friendship with these folks is paramount. You get to work on their films and you get to grow together in the profession and above all, you get to make friends. Today, João has been working with close friends for over ten years, and the films they shoot today are the result of a partnership that was founded back then. It all starts with the short film and the sky is the limit! Teaming up with people in the same age group as you is just as important as looking for work with people older than you. Administer your time and make sure to make both things happen. In the beginning it's just a camera, a few people, and an idea.
As a director of photography, you can shoot any type of project: from documentaries to music videos to fiction cinema. Each project has its own script and its own crew. The coolest thing of it all is that you can chose where in the world you can go to next. You can choose to shoot a TV show in a studio or a documentary in China or a soccer game in a stadium. The profession keeps you constantly moving, which is something that really fits with João's personality. Traveling is always nice. Wearing a suit and tie and going to the same office for the rest of his life was not in his plans.
He was 17 and things were looking good. The passion for cameras was bigger every day, and João decided to take some photography courses in the USA and upon returning home, attend PUC RIO for film studies. After returning from America, João started to work as a camera assistant for directors of photography parallel to his studies at PUC. A director of photography is the professional who is in charge of the image of any film, music video, or TV show. This is the professional who lights it and makes it look cool. The director of photography is the second most important person in a film set, and many say that he's the one that works the most. Any film needs a good director of photography in order to translate the words from the script into beautiful images. There! João had found his future profession and it was very cool!
front row: Walter Salles, Carlos Diegues, Flora Diegues, Ana Murgel
back row: Pedro Saldanha, Lourenço Parente and João Atala
Being a filmmaker is demanding as well; it's not for the weak. You work for 11 hours and you get only one break in the week. It's very physical and at the same time it drains your mind, but it also keeps you going. It's that demanding when you're shooting a project, of course. In between projects you're free to have meetings and enjoy life. The profession pays very well too, money is something you do not have to worry about. Hard work and passionate professionals are rare. After all of the hard work you put into a film, sometimes it pays back in the form of a prize or some type of recognition. Film festivals are extremely interesting and chic events to attend. You get to meet filmmakers from around the world and make friends with them. Some festivals take place in beautiful towns in the south of France (like Cannes) and some in the mountains of the United States (like Telluride). The filmmakers are gods at film festivals. People want to talk to you and you get to tell them how it was to shoot your movie and all the troubles you've been through in order to bring it to them. They will listen.
Filmmaking is something more demanding than a career: it's a way of life, and you either live it or not. It involves passion, discipline, leadership, patience, humbleness, and above all love for the craft.
João nos conta que o longa documentário "A Morte Diária" que foi filmado com seu amigo Daniel Lentini em Minas Gerais terá sua estréia no festival Visions du Réel, na Suíça.