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Spotlight: Reed Smoot, Cinematographer

This series of posts highlights some of our local industry talent: on-screen and behind-the-scenes, established and up-and-coming. We asked Reed Smoot to provide insight into his work as a Cinematographer, how he got started, and what advice he has for people trying to get into the film industry. 

After receiving a KODAK Brownie Hawkeye snapshot camera for my 9th birthday, I quickly developed an early interest in photography which resulted in an even greater interest in the moving image. I made 8mm movies thru my teens with neighborhood friends. While I was attending college at BYU, I served an apprenticeship at the BYU Motion Picture Studio. Following graduation and prior to my first move to LA, I worked (for free) with BYU grad and native Utahn, Kieth Merrill on a two-man documentary film in Europe. After that summer, I moved to LA, and worked at a commercial production house and began networking. This was probably the most important step at that point of my career. I was eventually offered a full-time job as an assistant cameraman at the BYU Studio and returned to Provo, this job (with proper permission) was frequently interrupted by breaks to work on outside productions. One of these projects was filming with Kieth Merrill on his Academy Award Winning Documentary Feature film, “The Great American Cowboy”. Returning to the BYU Studio and being promoted to be a full-fledged cinematographer, my learning curve advanced quickly. As Kieth’s career took off, I was frequently invited to join him on narrative feature films as a Director of Photography and following several feature productions, was invited to join him shooting an IMAX film. That was a pivotal moment and I fell in love with the large format as the ultimate sharing instrument. I recently read that photographers record images as a validation of one’s existence. This I believe.

Ultimately, having to leave the BYU Studio for more growth and following signing with an agent in LA, I started shooting bigger budget films for Disney, Paramount, Fox and other LA-based production companies. Now, nearly fifty years later I’m keeping as busy as I want mixing both IMAX large format films and narrative film work and participating in teaching Master Classes. The latest completed IMAX film of this last year opens at the Clark IMAX theater on March 30th — it’s called “Super Power Dogs 3D”. Several Utah filmmakers worked on this production and those friendships that I’ve been lucky enough to make have been the most satisfying part of the process. In the summer of 2018, I was fortunate to reunite with a long time friend who directed the Disney feature “Homeward Bound” that I photographed, to shoot his current feature in Utah! An ideal combination to be able to work back home with a crew primarily from Utah.

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Left: Reed Smoot worked with Kieth Merrill on ‘The Great American Cowboy’ in 1973.  Right: Reed’s upcoming IMAX film ‘Superpower Dogs 3D’ is in theatres March 30, 2019.

From Producers and directors to every technical position, the depth of Utah filmmakers has achieved great success — but we need even more depth. There is no one way to enter the industry and no guarantee for success but young filmmakers need to learn and grow and become eligible for work any way they can. With just the technology of a cell phone, you can make a movie and showcase ability much easier than back in the 8mm film days. While preparation for each project differs with various demands of time and budget, the same equation of hard work and discipline is constant. Figure out what you and your collaborators are trying to accomplish and what you can bring to the process.

While my work has taken me to nearly every corner of the globe, Utah has always been my home and working here always preferable. I was lucky growing up — I knew what I wanted to do and got lots of help and support along the way. That first film job that I did with Kieth Merrill (for free) was the smartest investment of my career. The best advice to give one desiring to be a filmmaker — figure out what you want to do as early as possible on your path — don’t hesitate to network at every opportunity, be determined and don’t give up. And, always try to work with people who know more than you.

Reed Smoot, ASC
Cinematographer

Syd Smoot is the Film Office Coordinator at the Utah Film Commission. She’s a Utah native and studied cinema studies at Northeastern University. For any press and media inquiries, contact the Utah Film Commission at filmpress@utah.gov.

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