When I caught up with Julio Macat, ASC, a few days ago I explained to him that one of the goals of this blog is to give readers a glimpse into the personal life of ASC members. Suffice to say that it sparked a very generous and open conversation.
He said that he is at a transition point in his career. See, Julio started out on the crews of masters like John Alcott, Chris Menges, Alan Hume and Lajos Koltai. He worked at Warner Bros. for second unit DP/director Peter Macdonald and, thanks to a twist of luck, shot Home Alone as his first feature. That started him down the path of comedy, and with three young sons and a step-daughter to support, he was glad for the work.
“A couple of times in my career, I had the chance to do more dramatic films had I turned down work, but I wanted to have a bread and butter way of paying the bills on my own as much as I could, to raise my family,” he said. “Also, there was a divorce, in part because of being on location so much. I had to start from scratch, and I was the usual suspect to shoot comedies because Home Alone was different from your standard comedy at the time.”
Along the way, Julio shot 16 movies with first-time directors. “I found a niche with comedy, and I stuck with it as a way to support my family,” he said. “This month, my twin sons Alex and Andy are graduating from college, and I made the last payment on the student loans – so they will graduate debt-free. That was an important goal of mine, and along with the help of my wife, I achieved it in part due to the longevity I’ve had shooting comedy. But looking forward, I’m really planning to shift gears and do some stuff that makes my soul happy. I’m proud of and thankful for the work I’ve done – I never shot anything bright or flat because it was comedic, but seeing all the jokes sometimes means lighting more than one would like. I’m ready for a meatier, more dramatic project that challenges me to tell a story in a way that is more innovative, and darker in tone. I’m ready to follow my heart.”
In order to finish off his sons’ tuition payments to NYU, DePaul and UCSB, Julio chose to spend 13 months of the past two years in Atlanta. So another project he’s committed to going forward is his marriage.
“Being away creates tremendous pressure,” he said. “It’s impossible to maintain any kind of normalcy. It’s a contemporary version of the old traveling salesman.
“As a director of photography, the only way I can do my job is to immerse in it 100 percent. While we’re on the set, we never stop. I’m trying to force myself to take more breaks, but I’ve been on movies lately where we don’t even break for lunch. You feel a responsibility. I call it being the gatekeeper. There’s the literal gate in the camera, and all of everyone’s effort and talent filters down to that gate. The work is so hard that I feel irresponsible if any flaws are recorded. I take it very personally, and consequently, I never stop because I’m always looking for details to correct and trying to anticipate what’s needed so that we can be more efficient,” he said.
One of Julio’s sons, Max, is an NYU graduate who often joins his father’s camera crew. But ties to the family back home can become strained.
“At night, you usually grab a quick bite to eat,” Julio said. “You get to the hotel at around 10 p.m. and make a call to your loved one to see to see how they're doing. But really what you want is just to wind down, sometimes not talk, and finally relax. What happens is that after about two weeks of the same phone call, it's difficult to speak or Skype and say anything different or meaningful. Your loved one tries to be understanding, but our work setting is so foreign that it inevitably creates a distance. My wife, for instance, has no idea of what really happened on the set that day -- our battles with producers or the time restraints we struggled with -- and the stories are always so similar. We’re very busy on the set, but the ones left at home also have to find ways of coping with that disconnect and the loneliness.
“Two or three months go by, and when you get home, you almost don’t know each other anymore, and there’s a whole period of readjustment,” he said. “It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s what happens. We need time to download, and to leave that intensity back on the set. We have a neighbor in Massachusetts who is an astronaut named Cady Coleman. She’s been on the Space Station for six months, and she and her husband described a program that NASA has developed to help astronauts with the emotional and psychological re-entry and reconnection with their families. And my wife was saying, ‘Oh my god, that is exactly what cinematographers need! When he’s on the set, he might as well be on the Space Station, because while he's working, it's hard for him to be present in our life.’
“We laughed about it, but there is a correlation,” said Julio. “I highly recommend that people talk about their time apart, and pay attention to it, and make it a priority, and hopefully not be apart more than three weeks at a time, because otherwise, a relationship doesn’t make it. I want to keep my marriage! My wife is one of the coolest people I know, I love her, and we’ve been together for 22 years . . . it would be a shame to let our work and passion break relationships with out loved ones apart.”
Julio is hoping that the final tuition payments will finally ease the financial pressures, and allow him to be more selective, and make taking that next out-of-town gig optional or unnecessary. And I’m sure his ASC colleagues are excited to see what he’ll do on that meaty, innovative drama he’s hoping to shoot.
In the meantime, here’s his favorite quote, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci:
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”