Give a man a camera, he'll take a selfie. Give Steve Annis an anamorphic lens, he'll show you the world. The kind of maverick you always dream of being, Mr Annis has eschewed a devout following of admirers from all spectrums of the medium.

He is not a director, he is a director of photography. More and more, the role of a DOP is being recognised as a key force in the creation of the best content making its way onto our screens. By and large, they are responsible for the 'look' of a video - the way the light flares into a camera (or doesn't), the way a figure is silhouetted against the moon (or is lit from the side to give an ominous profile). Interestingly, Mr Annis credits a chance encounter with a roll of 100ASA ILFORD film as being the beginning of his "second life".

Having worked with artists as diverse as Calvin Harris, Florence & The Machine, U2 & Arthur Beatrice, and directors including Vincent Haycock, George Belfield, Aoife McArdle and Ninian Doff, we're proud to present our latest Loud Visionary: Steve Annis.

What were your influences growing up?

Besides my mum and dad influencing me... Sesame Street played a huge part in my early years. The sheer energy of the sketches, the variance from an animation to location film to studio video cameras blew me away, all held together by Jim Henson. Even the end credits kept me mesmerised. I have a young daughter now and I love showing her all the old songs and sketches via YouTube

In terms of films and moving image culture, I remember my mum recorded American Graffiti on VHS. I watched it multiple times back in 1985-86. For me it was fascinating seeing Han Solo (Harrison Ford plays Bob Falfa) and Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard from Happy Days) in this youthful world where music powered you through multiple narratives. When you see modern films like Magnolia and Crash that have those multiple narratives... that kind of all started with that film.

I also used to read 2000AD comics and let my imagination run wild. As a child you run all these departments. You do the voice over, you embellish small camera movements alongside edits and imagine what the world is like outside each frame of each page.

Without sounding too pretentious, my 'second childhood' as a DOP began at film school in 1997-2000. The internet was an infant but it allowed me to explore music videos and commercials in greater details. Before then it was almost impossible to watch a promo or a commercial over and over and over again. At Farnham (where I studied) they had an enormous VHS library and I'd sit there all day with a stack of tapes discovering unknown directors. Our film history tutor Andy Smalls had a huge influence on me, introducing me to unheard of directors (cue obligatory list of cool names from '60s/'70s Europe / USA).

He showed me Frederick Wiseman and a film Titicut Follies. Blew me away this capture of rawness and reality. I think you can circle back to documentaries in most of the work I do and this guy was the king.

Ridley and Tony Scott also must be mentioned. My Dad used to take me to the cinema lots as a child and I remember when the trailer for Days of Thunder was saturating cinemas. The moody skies, backlit interiors, shafts of light all made me smile as a 13-year-old.

And Blade Runner is the best looking film of all time.

DOP's generally have the best stories for their origins. Where did the interest in "sculpting light" come from?

The light part came quite late... for me it started with framing and composition. I was studying a shitty media course in Edinburgh, mostly theory, that luckily had a photography module. The first day the tutor gave all 15-20 of us a Pentax K1000, a single roll of 24 film at 100ASA ILFORD black and white and said "just go out anywhere and take some snaps and be back in an hour." We then processed in a dark room under her supervision, printed the 3 best on A4 Sheets and put all those photos on a table.

I'll never forget, she comes along and looks at this huge pile of snaps. After a while she chooses one and says "who shot this" and I sheepishly put my hand up. She repeats the process again, very slowly and deliberately... picks another one and says "and this one"... I couldn't believe she'd chosen another one of mine out of 60 photos... so something clicked inside. She spoke to me about my composition and framing saying how good it was. I'd never picked a stills camera up before that point and I was 18, 19 years old. I'd used an S-VHS at GCSE level media studies but never ever considered how to make a frame compositionally beautiful.

I guess I came to the table quite late in terms of my age.

That love of cameras and framing evolved when I dropped out of that course and bummed around Edinburgh working shit jobs for 2 years, but they had a place there called the FILM VIDEO ACCESS CENTRE. You could hire S-VHS cameras for peanuts. I'd walk around the city filming... things... I'd then edit them to music on a two machine edit bay. Also there they had a 16mm Aaton LTR... that thing fascinated me the hell out of me. I didn't know what 16mm was but once a year they had a guy come a train a group of you on that Aaton and shoot 16mm. That was a huge, huge deal to me.

I used to love and adore the look and feel and smell of 35mm and 16mm cameras. They'd fascinate me, they're miracles of engineering pushing and pulling that film through a gate 24 times each second. I did 2 trainee stints at rental houses and would just put old 35mm cameras together, load dud film stock, lace it up, rinse and repeat. So the initial hook was the tools and cameras that I loved combined with my love of composition. Having to learn about lights and lighting to me was a pain up the ass. Knowing I was pretty good at framing at composition, I got into the film school at the Surrey institute of art and design.

Lighting and lights scared the hell out of me and no one taught you backlight vs. 3/4 key v.s fill vs. rim light. That all came with 8 years of focus pulling and watching other DOPs light and seeing where they'd place a light in relation to the actor and the emotion needed from a scene. It all comes very subliminally and subconsciously. Then I started to shoot music videos and gently putting these theories to the test. With each job you learn something new and when I pass away after my last ever job I hope I've still learnt a something huge to take with me.

You've worked with most digital camera systems as well as film. Budget constraints aside, what goes into the decision making process?

Not everything should be shot on film. Each script and job should be looked at with merit and a decision needs to made as to whether film is possible and needed. It's usually the director who has the biggest sway but it's also a feeling.

After the success of the Calvin Harris videos for 'Bounce' and 'Feel So Close' and 'Let's Go' - which were all shot on 16mm - a few directors would call me for jobs wanting the same aesthetic. Those Calvin jobs deserved that 16mm feel because of the way Vincent Haycock wrote the treatments and the setting and the narrative. It's almost like we both said "LETS SHOOT 16MM" at the same time. After the success of those videos a director wanted to me shoot a female singer on 16mm. I looked at the script and thought there's zero reason why 16mm should be used. In fact to me it would look and feel out of place on a beauty shoot. After much disagreement I dropped out.

Other jobs demand and must be shot on 35mm or 16mm. My promo with Aoife for Bryan Ferry was, I think, 20k budget but we pushed and pushed for 35mm because of the rawness and beauty of the settings. In both our heads no other format would do justice to this dark and beautifully wafer thin narrative.

Cut to my new Kwabs video and George Bellfield wanted 35mm. We had another tiny budget but after much debate the elements of cold and wind were too extreme and the Alexa with anamorphics was deemed perfect. I don't think that job could have been shot any other way, and likewise, all jobs I use 35mm or 16mm couldn't have been shot any other way.

I guess what I'm saying is the budget is irrelevant. I shot a lovely documentary for Zak Razvi called Jordanne on 35mm and that was a £1500 budget. The new Clark video for Chris Hewitt will be shot 35mm on a minuscule budget. With a director and producer on your side anything is possible. The most important thing is that gut feeling you get as the script is read.

Lens wise, do you have a favourite set or company?

I think again, every script should be assessed and the look should then be decided. I love anamorphics but not every job should go that way. Often the budget will dictate you get what you are given so you won't be able to afford that nice rare old set of lenses from the '70s.

My favourite spherical lenses are old Panavision lenses called ultra speed mark 2. They have a very unique, soft and rich quality that works so well on 35mm. If I'm forced to shoot with the Alexa and spherical lenses then the old canon K35s are stunning. On 16mm the Zeiss T1.3 sets are great as they are fast and have great close focus allowing you to work fast and free.

But through all that, anamorphics from Panavision are incredible. There's some magic going on inside that glass.

Although recently on a few jobs I've been forced to use the new Arri Master anamorphics and they've really impressed me. The flat horizons and lack of lens flare is quite refreshing. The colours and contrast are stunning. We used them for Kwabs and they lifted that whole video. No other lens would have suitable for that video I think.

I'm also fortunate to own my own set of Kowa anamorphics which are very special. The smallest anamorphics around. I have them only for low budget jobs so if a producer puts me in a corner and says we can't afford expensive anamorphics, I can take them out the bag. That said, I'd be silly to use them on every job. For me it's vital to have relationships with rental houses and if I used only my own lenses then I'd be digging my own grave in terms of different looks for different jobs

Formal education vs. school of hard knocks?

I had both and thank god I had both. In fact you've got to have both. Life lessons stay with you. Living poor stays with you and in turn affects the way you look at life. Film school gave me relationships with directors who took me with them when they achieved success in the real world. I'm eternally grateful to Tom Haines who once he got signed to a production company allowed me my first big breaks on videos for Tunng and White Denim. Since then I've shot some of my best work for Tom with promos for Temper Trap, UNKLE, Jon Hopkins and many others projects. We both graduated film school 2000 and all those breakout promos weren't till 2008 so what did I do in those 8 years?

I lived in London wondering if my rent was going to get paid going from job to job until they fired me, and I would only get fired because an unpaid camera assist job would arise and I'd have to take it because that's where my future was. Eventually I became a mildly successful focus puller working on TV dramas, features, commercials the lot and my financial woes decreased a little. Then of course the same thing happened with the DOPs I was focus pulling for. I needed to be a DOP and one by one I lost those relationships because I wasn't available.

In the bigger picture I'm not a massively successful DOP just yet. I'm no Jordan Crownenweth or Roberto Schaffer or Robbie Ryan as I've yet to shoot a feature film. Why haven't I shot a feature film yet... because I haven't shot a feature yet!

You've been known to insist on operating the camera on set (à la Roger Deakins). Can you speak to this in regards to how this came about?

I'm good at handheld. I have no idea why. I just am. Why is John McEnroe so good at hitting a yellow ball over a net with a large round paddle?

It's very instinctive and without sounding like an arse, it's a gift I have. Some DOPs I truly admire, that can frame well, can light a subject in ways that make me weep, but when they put a camera on their shoulders it all goes to pot! Thankfully I can light ok and frame ok and operate a camera ok.

Your ongoing collaborations with Director Aoife McArdle are outright events when they're released. How did you first connect?

I first worked with Aoife on a promo for Anna Calvi. I've no idea why she asked me but it was back in June 2011. I had such a good time on that video but it never really took off in ways her videos take off now. After that video I remember being wowed by her Little Comets videos but I never wondered why she didn't ask me to shoot them. More often than not you shoot a single job for a director and that's it, no repeat business, just one amazing experience so that's it. You can't take offence.

Anyway cut to 2013 and I was asked to meet her and her producer at the office to talk about a short film called Italy Texas. I read the script in the office and it touched my heart with such strength. The budget was tiny, the pay was zero but I had to shoot this film in this amazing part of the USA. The shoot went very well and we just clicked on set. Since then her reputation has grown and grown and the projects have become weirder and wiser and more powerful and braver and soulful. The tiny nuances she allows me to capture like a girl in a bathroom full of flapping fish. Or an old lady in high heels walking home through a landscape of oil derricks, or a male drifter passing on his precious medals to a lost boy... all these things stun me and make me smirk and smile at how lucky I am.

I remember on set for the 'Glacier' video. We were shooting in a place called Maricopa in between LA and San Francisco. It was dawn, the sky was turning pink and red and orange, tiny lights were twinkling out of focus miles and miles away, the horizon was shimmering as the heat slowly rose with the approaching sun, and amongst this that same old lady in high heels walking slowly, her face soft and barely visible. We were in a pick up truck tracking alongside her. I had very a wide Anamorphic lens on with a diopter so her face was right in the camera about 2ft away. And as she walked she began to cry and the overall effect on me was so overwhelming I began to cry as we filmed. Such a privilege to be allowed to shoot that.

Describe the relationship you share on set.

Sometimes she let's me lose, sometime she wants something very specific and I'm there to serve her as best I can. My style and the way I light things pleases her greatly and we connect on a love of film and culture and other things. She often likes to shoot 360, giving her actors freedom, no stopping to relight and I'm good at giving her this without compromise of image quality. It's very hard to and sometimes I'm not quite sure how I do it. When we shot the bar scene in the 'Cavalier' video I lit the entire bar as a set. I allowed her to point the camera anywhere so we shot her actors with absolute freedom.

'Every Breaking Wave' was a powerhouse piece. What was the shoot like?

U2 have such a great history of music videos that it was an honour to be part of that chain. When I read the script we both agreed on 35mm due to the time period. The budget was huge for modern music videos but we both wanted to spend every penny on screen with explosions and riot scenes and crane work. A lot of it was very personal character study with single camera in a room trying to get inside the head of human, nice and simple, but other scenes demanded 2 cameras and that was tough to mange whilst still keeping the cinematography natural and effective. We had an amazing crew with one of the best producers I've ever worked with called Nick Goldsmith who somehow kept it all together and gave his heart and soul to the project every day. I'm very proud of this music video.

Were emotions high regarding the content given the increasingly polarising political arena in Ireland and the fact the events took place no more than a generation ago?

Don't want to comment except to say we were shooting a love story.

DOP's are increasingly being recognised as key creative contributors to productions - it's fantastic to see the likes of Hoyte Van Hoytema, Robert Yeoman, and Robert Elswit all getting their day in the sun. Where do you believe the DOP should stand in the creative process?

With directors like Tom and Vince and Aoife and George, whom I've been working with for a while, it's a perfect balance. It's when you see how they are with actors and emotions that you realise how hard a job it is to direct and how I'd be so useless at it. But I have a gift that allows me help them realise their visions. Occasionally there a differences of opinion but as long as you realise the main point, which is they are the director, you'll be ok. It's their film, their vision, their words, their interpretation of emotion and you are just along for the ride. You can be meek and quiet and say nothing or you can gain trust and have an input into certain moments as it feels appropriate.

When can we expect you to take on a feature?

When the powers that be decide it's right.

Token Quick Questions:

Favourite MV of all time:

It's a tough question and many might be recent videos that have stuck in the mind, just the way the mind works. Here's a few instead of one (I may have mentioned some in other interviews and others I may have not !).

  • Glasvegas - 'Geraldine'
  • Glasvegas - 'Flowers and Football Tops'
  • Coldplay - 'Speed of Sound'
  • Linkin Park - 'Faint'
  • Richard Hawley - 'Don't Stare at the Sun'
  • Take That - 'Rule The World'
  • Starsailor - 'Good souls'
  • Last Night In Paris - 'Pure'
  • Talisco - 'Your Wish'
  • Dove and the Wolf - 'The words you Said'
  • The Shoes - 'Time to Dance'
  • The Shoes - 'Stay the Same'
  • Civil Wars - 'The one that got Away'
  • Feist - 'The Bad in each Other'

Why are Music Videos important ?

I think throughout the decades music has defined youth culture: from Elvis and Chuck berry in the '50s, the Beatles and the Stones in the '60s, punk and Madonna in the '80s, or today with Miley Cyrus scaring everyone while riding a large ball. The music and culture and visual presentation medium are now all interlinked by the power of the internet. So the music video is now seen by billions as opposed to the millions seen in the MTV days.

A music video is really just a commercial, selling a brand disguised as an singer-songwriter. But unlike a standard TV advert, these musical commercials must be as long as the song written (usually 3 or 4 minutes long). With the 3-4 mins, as opposed to 30 seconds, a better padded and more insightful story can be told and I think here lies the difference, and why they're so important. Plus the budgets are smaller and this has a huge affect on how much control is exerted over the project. When music video budgets used to be sky high I don't think much risk was taken, although they were certainly the arena to discover new visual ideas.

I mean has there ever been a time when with so many videos out there to not feature the actual artist? Often it's important to feature the singer or band, but unlike the '80s or '90s it's not a stipulation. Nowadays, with budgets so small the creativity is mind blowing because there's no one there to bother the director and tell him or her not to do something. I've been shooting full time since 2009 and back then the thought of doing a job without the band or commissioner being on set would have been laughed at.

Cut to now and the budget for Arthur Beatrice was 10-15k and no one from the label showed up. They trusted George Bellfield and because of that we weren't bothered or annoyed and the director was allowed to get on with his job. This environment allows for better direction, less pressure and more creativity.

Even On U2, which was a huge budget for today's standards, Aoife had a creative band manager on set for 2 days but then for the remaining 3 shoot days we were all left alone to do our job. The only downside is that with small budgets you have to beg the crew, borrow the equipment and the whole pre-production process is quite painful.

So right now, with budgets low, music videos are the most creative they've ever been and they're the best training ground for all crew, not just the directors, and it's this training ground that will give the industry its future stars and future crew. That's also why music videos are so important.

To date, what's been the best experience in the industry?

The entire 6 years I've been fortunate enough to earn a living as a DOP.

At the other end of the spectrum, what's been the worst?

Choosing a commercial job for money and then getting a call from a director asking me to shoot a music video script that blows me away. This happens lots and I've almost shed tears because of this.

Back to the money / budget thing... because commercials have good budgets they're better organised and can therefore book and confirm crew very early. I've had commercials ask for me to confirm a job 6 weeks in advance. If you say yes then god knows what you're gonna miss out on down the line. With music videos, the small budgets mean the opposite and you're more than likely get asked to confirm 3-5 days before the shoot day.

So if you were a DOP who chased only money jobs you'd end up booked up on commercials weeks and weeks in advance and the chances of you being available to shoot a music video would be slim to zero. To shoot a music video is a huge act of faith in many ways and often I've turned down lots of money for a commercial to shoot a video. Then something happens and the label change their minds and the job gets canned and you're left with nothing.

Anything learned from either experiences?

If you don't like or gel with a script then don't shoot it. Be patient, have faith and don't take the first jobs for money that come along. Wait for the good ones to arrive that at the end of the day will give you deeper creative satisfaction, Of course we all must start somewhere so that advice is useless for a a new DOP entering the industry. When you are new to the business, take and shoot anything you can.

If you could make a video for any piece of music through history, who would it have been for and what would it be?

'Surfin' Bird' by The Trashmen.

What are you reading at the moment?

Treatments and scripts.

Desert Island time - you're traveling on the worlds largest floating library. Every form of modern media in existence is cataloged and held on the ship. Suddenly, iceberg shimmies in. The onboard lasers can't melt it, mission control confirms you're now in the Bermuda Triangle, and you're going down fast. Question: Which Led Zeppelin song do you have in your head as you grab three films and three books to keep you intellectually stimulated?

'Hey Hey What Can I Do'.

  • Blade Runner
  • The Yards
  • Magnolia
  • Nightmares and
  • The Corrections
  • Vernon God Little

A catalogue of Mr Steve Annis' work can be found, here.