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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Director of Photography Ross Riege for RUTHERFORD FALLS (2021)

Interview with Director of Photography Ross Riege for RUTHERFORD FALLS (2021)

Cinematographer Ross Riege’s latest work can be viewed on TV series Rutherford Falls (2021), a comedy about best friends, played by Helms and Jana Schmieding, both of whom care deeply about the culture and history of their small town.

With a BA from NYU, award winning Director of Photography Ross Riege is known for his work on films and series such as The Kings of Summer (2013), Youth in Oregon (2016), Kong: Skull Island (2017), You're the Worst (2014-2015), The Catch (2016-2017), Grey's Anatomy (2018), The Walking Dead (2020).

Rare for a comedy series, Riege films cinematically in large format with ARRI Alexa Mini LF. The series is co-created by actor Ed Helms, producer Michael Schur and Navajo writer Sierra Teller Ornelas.

Rutherford Falls debuted on Peacock on April 22.

Check out a sneak peek of the series here:

When did you realize you wanted to be a cinematographer and how did you go about realizing your dream?

ROSS: I went to film school for college being interested in film & television as a whole- I didn’t have a particular direction in mind but being around my fellow students and their passions really helped me find my path. I quickly discovered I was not a good writer and I wasn’t entirely interested in directing. I had filled my electives with still photography classes and, through a process of elimination, the clouds sort of parted and I saw that my passion was storytelling through image-making. I latched on to shooting anything I could get my hands on, and continued shooting stills for personal edification. As I got my footing I could start being more selective in the projects that were interesting to me.

What were some of the films and series you first saw that were your greatest inspiration?

ROSS: I grew up as many kids of my generation, on Star Wars. But I was never a film aficionado. Really, I was the opposite- I was obsessed with comedies like Dumb & Dumber, Tommy Boy, Happy Gilmore, and Austin Powers. In high school I started becoming very interested in stop-motion animation and puppetry. I began a sort of deep-dive into Jim Henson and everything Muppets. That was the first point I became interested in production as an extension of visual arts that I had always been interested in - painting, drawing, sculpture, photography.

Can you tell us about the work you have done leading up to Rutherford Falls?

ROSS: I did very little camera assistant work and PA work in college, and went straight to shooting. So early on I was doing a lot of low and no-budget music videos, short films, a couple of documentaries, and a couple of tiny features. I shot everything I could, which demanded exploring many different styles with the omnipresent restrictions of having no money and no clout to leverage big deals and favors. I continued embracing opportunities as I’ve grown up and never stopped learning. I’ve done a little bit of everything at this point!

Can you tell us about your work on set with Rutherford Falls?

ROSS: This was my first project in the ‘covid era.’ We began prep in early 2020, were shut down by the pandemic, and then started back up in early August while everyone was still at the very beginning of figuring out how to get back to work safely amidst everything. Setting up the show had a giant new element to it when it came to considering how to do the work we normally do, but under safe conditions relative to Covid. Our business is very close-knit and collaborative so adjusting to a shorter work schedule, spacing between crew members and wearing PPE along with so many other new protocols made it quite an adjustment. All things said though, we were able to settle into a process that enabled us to make the show without limiting the original creative intent, which I’m proud of.

Can you tell us a bit about the series and what audiences can look forward to?

ROSS: Rutherford Falls is a very funny show as many would expect. But something I really appreciate about it is it is smart and topical as well. This could very easily skew into a drama, and that really attracted me to the project - that we could shoot a comedy that is more complex and sheds light on important issues that I don’t think the public considers nearly enough. The series was created by Native American Sierra Teller Ornelas, and many of the writers and cast are also Native, which is obviously important. I am honored to be a creative contributor on the project and I continue to learn a lot about Native culture and our history that I had never considered.

Do you have a project you have worked on thus far you are most proud of?

ROSS: It’s a difficult question. If I would attach the word ‘pride’ to anything I’ve made, I suppose I would say ‘Kings of Summer’ because it was such a defining step for me. Even though it was a small indie film, it was a culmination at the time of years of work I had done grinding on tiny and no-budget projects with the director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. We were so close as friends and collaborators through it all, and going through the experience of our first feature together was so formative. It was so difficult to make, and I remember being simultaneously exhausted and delighted throughout the process. We used the words ‘battle’ and ‘war’ often to describe the challenges in bringing that film to life. To see it come together after so much work on everyone’s part was so rewarding and really gave me that first strong feeling of satisfaction that I think is that thing that keeps filmmakers coming back for more, every project.

What have been your biggest challenges so far in your career? What have been some of the biggest rewards?

ROSS: ‘Kings of Summer’ was a huge challenge- I felt like an underdog going into that situation- it was the most pressure I had ever felt going into a project. It felt like my entire career was staked on it’s outcome. Ironically, I’ve come to learn that this feeling continues to happen all the time, which now helps me recognize that I’m doing the right projects. I think if I don’t feel this strong amount of pressure to do justice to the project in my work, then I’m not doing the right project.

Do you have a technique in your filming (like an artistic signature) where people can detect it's your work?

ROSS: Nothing in particular that I can point to- although I think this is a much better question for the people who watch the work. I’d be really curious to hear others’ takes on it. There isn’t one stylistic thing or signature I try to consciously inject into my work. I just look at each project and interpret it.

How has life since Covid changed your career for better or for worse?

ROSS: It has created many new challenges to our workplace but it’s been fascinating to see how the potential problems are addressed and mitigated- filmmakers are such resourceful people. I’m proud to be part of a community that has been at the front of meeting this challenge head-on and largely has been quite successful at ‘getting back to work’ in a safe and productive manner. I can also confidently say almost everyone I work with, including myself, appreciate just being on set again. I’ve never felt such a level of gratitude for being able to do what we do and make a living doing it!

What will you be working on next?

ROSS: I’m currently shooting season two of ‘Walking Dead: World Beyond,’ in Richmond, VA.


Interview by Vanessa McMahon

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