Lisa Wiegand, Cinematographer

Lisa Wiegand, Cinematographer

Lisa Wiegand, self proclaimed “Mother of Dragons” and professional Cinematographer, has worked in film for the past three decades. Her eccentric aesthetic, paired with edgy wit, depth of knowledge and leadership skills, have taken her on gigs all over the world. Her resume represents a broad spectrum of film, ranging from action and sci-fi, to drama and documentaries. Lisa’s work on popular television shows like, “Dollhouse”, “Mayans MC”, “Chicago Fire”, “Chicago Justice” and John Ridley’s “American Crime” are just a handful of the credits that populate her repertoire.

Being from the Midwest, Lisa adopted an intense work ethic at the ripe age of 12, attributing this characteristic to her great grandmother who lived to be 100 years old. “Nana grew up on a potato farm with a third grade education. She raised my grandfather on her own and worked until she was 86. She taught me to have strength, humility and faith in myself.” 

It was only three years later that Lisa decided she needed to be a cinematographer; cutting against the societal grain as a woman pursuing a career dominated by men. With no idea how to bring that dream to reality, she started saving. Babysitting money, paper routes, pet photography, fast food - Lisa worked odd jobs and channeled Nana’s intuition to take herself from Michigan to Showbiz. “My parents didn’t believe I was going to be able to achieve my career dreams. My mom recently said, ‘We thought you’d grow out of it and steer towards something more sensible.’ But I knew I was meant to prove myself. Not only to them, but to the world.” Today, Lisa has her own corporation, aptly named “Just Lisa, Inc.” to remind herself that she had to climb every rung on the ladder through hard work and persistence.

After completing nine years of film school at UCLA and AFI, Lisa finally felt qualified to give it a go in the industry. She shot any project she could get her camera on - low budget films, shorts, documentaries, reality shows, experimental projects. Lisa admits, “After grad school I was working on anything related to my goal of getting onto bigger, more widely seen material. I even shot weddings.” Her graduate degree enabled Lisa to work part-time as a cinematography professor to supplement her shooting schedule. She used these opportunities to grow her skillset, finding every connection she made invaluable. “I had no idea how much I would be sought after by marginalized filmmakers in the community.” 

Lisa spent the next ten years working with directors who were women, part of the LGBTQ+ community, and non-caucasians with a similar goal: make a mark in the industry. She was no different. She got continuous work because everyone she worked with felt more comfortable working with her as opposed to a cis-white male DP. To them, she was a unicorn that was capable and highly effective. She believed that her time in grad school was well spent - she learned everything she needed to know about cinematography and paired it with her “nose to the grindstone” work ethic, making her an asset on every set. 

“My biggest fear was returning to Michigan with my tail between my legs. I didn’t want to fail at something that I’d worked so hard for. I thought that I made it. I was working in LA, making a living off my cinematography knowledge for rent and food. I struggled, but I loved it.” Then she got her big break. Rodney Charters hired her to shoot second unit on Fox’s hit show, “24.” It was that persistence, midwestern grit and passionate curiosity for the craft that finally paid off, but she owes her first gig in network television to the many connections she made during her years of struggling. 

From early on, Lisa was a tomboy with interests that were generally considered masculine. It’s no surprise that she was attracted to cinematography where women make up less than 5% of the profession. Lisa was not initially bothered by the fact that there were so few female DPs. “Honestly, I didn’t spend time dwelling on the gender gap issue. I knew that showbiz was a competitive field in general, but I never considered my gender a big deal.” She heard a horror story from a cinematographer that only sent out her demo reel labeled with her first initial and full last name, so that she could at least get in the door for interviews. “That story shocked and saddened me. But my next thought was if they see my name on my resume and they don’t want to hire or even interview a female Cinematographer, then I save time and don’t have to work with jerks. Perfect.”

“I knew I had to acquire and master a TON of technical and managerial knowledge. I didn’t want to get out into the professional world and make an ass of myself. If I did, it would affect the reputation of the entire puddle of female cinematographers existing in the business.” Even now, Lisa doesn’t enjoy being recognized for her gender or referred to as a female cinematographer, she’d rather be known simply as a cinematographer. Lisa notes, “No one ever says ‘we hired Tom, that male cinematographer.’ Now that the lack of women in my job category is being reluctantly acknowledged by studios and networks, I’m getting interviews because of my genitalia. And I am really bummed out by that. I have a diverse, decades-long resume and I’m doing great work. I prefer to be considered for a gig because the producers have seen my work, or heard positive things about me from folks I’ve worked with. Interviewing me because I have a vagina is ridiculous - it’s literally the ONE part of me that I guarantee you’ll NEVER encounter at work.”

Lisa recounts the time she spent on “24” back in 2007: 

“The first time I stepped on set, it was immediately obvious that there were no other females in the camera, lighting or grip departments. I was actually told by several dudes on the crew, ‘new camera ops get fired quickly from this show, so don’t feel bad when it happens to you’. Guess what? HAHA It didn’t happen to me! Directors and producers appreciated how hard I worked and the fact I knew the technical aspects of the job. But, sadly, one day I had the displeasure of walking in on a fellow camera department member speaking to a number of male crew. He was loudly talking shit about me to this crowd of dudes. He didn’t notice me walk in, but the guys who did tried their best to signal him to stop his tirade. I was embarrassed and infuriated. I felt my face turning a deep shade of red and my heart about to pound through my ribcage. I could have run and told the producers, or gone to HR [Human Resources], but I decided to handle it my own way. I made it a point to find him when he was alone and I said to him, ‘Dude, we both know you were talking shit about me over there. That was DICK MOVE’. Of course, coward that he was, denied it all. I replied, ‘We both know that’s total bullshit. If you are too much of a coward to admit your fuck-up, you SUCK as a human! Don’t EVER do it again, or I’ll go straight over your head to people who have the power to spank you.” 

15 years later, Lisa gets messages from that loudmouthed crew member hitting her up for work. She chooses to be cordial, but has not hired or referred him for any jobs.

When speaking about the #MeToo movement, Lisa has mixed feelings and often asks, “Can you name one woman whose career has benefitted from bringing forward a MeToo allegation? I can’t.” To her, the movement often feels like an illusion designed to deflect attention from the networks’ real concerns - their image. Moving along the trajectory of getting MeToo’d, Lisa’s extremely heated by the topic of Alec Baldwin’s responsibility for killing Halyna Hutchins. It was a tragic death that involved one of the industry’s embarrassingly limited number of female Directors of Photography on set, where he literally pointed a gun at her and fired. If you bring this up within earshot of Lisa, you are in for an earful of rage. You may even see her temples start to throb.

It goes without saying that Lisa Wiegand is an odd bird in network television. She likes to consider herself a secret weapon to be deployed by directors and producers. “I want to be of maximum creative and logistical support to each director I work with. I love collaboration and translating great ideas into powerful visuals.” Lisa shies away from awards and accolades, commenting, “I leave that kind of attention to other folks. I find it illogical and somewhat insulting to put creative work into a judgmental system of awards, trophies and medals. I would rather be lauded by the crew who’ve toiled next to me, and by the directors and producers I’ve collaborated with.”

In terms of advice, Lisa says that the two most important qualities in any cinematographer are loyalty and courage. She feels so strongly about them that she has LOYALTY and COURAGE tattooed down her forearms. Stay loyal to those who’ve worked hard with and for you. Be courageous in your creativity. An important part of the courage Lisa preaches is admitting your own vulnerabilities. “When you allow your vulnerabilities to be exposed, it gives people the opportunity to help you. It creates invitations for collaboration and allows for ideas to be shared in a more meaningful and supportive environment,” she states.

With that advice in mind, Lisa admits the need and desire to “be better than any guy DP is expected to be. Being indecisive and showing a lack of confidence and knowledge, affects how crew, cast and big-wigs feel about ALL female DPs.” Since every Director of Photography’s day is filled with unimaginable amounts of questions and inquiries, Lisa suggests, “Know the technical aspects of cinematography like the back of your hand. You need to speak the language as if it’s your native tongue. If too much of your mental energy is eaten up by technical calculations, you won’t have enough to solve the moment-to-moment issues that closely resemble politics and babysitting. It’s a huge plus if you can bring humor and levity to the set. Try to foster an environment of freely exchanged ideas and mutual respect. Promote from within. Become a coach - observe your team so that you can help them display their strengths while working to help improve their areas of weakness. When the crew realizes you truly SEE their integral contribution to the process, you gain immense loyalty and appreciation.”

Lisa’s main mantra is, “If you are outwardly making cinematography appear difficult, it usually means you aren’t good at it. You must be so good that you’re a calm, technical and creative athlete. When it appears effortless and enjoyable, you’ve achieved greatness.” 

Stewart Bounds

Stewart was born and raised in Saipan before moving to Charlotte, NC when he was 8. He has 2 years of professional writing experience and an avid fascination with screenwriting. He loves entwining life experiences with characters and stories for development. His skills focus on narrative and tone crafting for stylized content. Stewart earned his Bachelor’s in English at the University of Mississippi.

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