We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Cuartas and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, why did you pursue a creative career?
From a very young age, I was drawn to the arts. I must’ve been seven or eight years old when I started playing music. I remember seeing some of my elementary school classmates get together after school to play the bells, which are like mini xylophones, and for whatever reason, I was really intrigued. I asked my mom to help me sign up. Eventually she got me into the extra curricular activity and since that age I’ve been involved in the arts. Through high school and eventually into college, I continued playing music but eventually stopped studying it and let it be more of a hobby. I’d skateboard a lot with my brother and friends growing up and we’d film each other doing tricks. I think that and a combination of our parents taking us to the movies is what eventually brought me to film. My way into the arts happened organically, I suppose. It came from being genuinely intrigued. Playing music, skateboarding and filmmaking all have something in common, and that is that they are all forms of self expression.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am a director of photography and that entails many things: camera movement, camera placement, lighting, organization, crew management, equipment rentals, knowledge of cameras, lenses and technology, exposure, emotion, mood and atmosphere, etc. What’s so beautiful about cinematography is that it is not just one thing but many things. It is a mixture of tech, science, storytelling, psychology, logistics and much more. Staying focused and staying committed and staying passionate are what have got me to where I am today, and I’ll continue to push because I still have a lot to learn and plenty of room to grow. As far as brand goes, I don’t know if I have one. I mean, there are definitely creative tendencies and I feel there are things I’m drawn to on an emotional and aesthetic level, but I’m trying to evolve as an artist. There are things that make me who I am, of course, and although I’ll bring things from one project to the next, I also hope to try new things and learn from the past. I do notice that when it comes to choosing the projects I photograph, I tend to lean towards darker material (thematically, tonally and photographically), as well as stories that are slower in pace and that place a very strong focus on characters.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I live in Miami, which offers many things to do. I’d probably take a friend that’s visiting to Little Havana for some Cuban food and coffee. I’d show them the art house theater there, Tower Theater, which plays a great variety of cinema, including plenty of foreign films. I’d take them to Homestead to have some tacos at a great Mexican spot that’s down there. I’d take them to the beach, of course. I’d take them to the spots that aren’t as popular cause there are plenty of hidden gems here.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
That’s a difficult one because I feel very fortunate to have received immense support from so many people. My parents have always been there. I work with my brother and they’ve been extremely supportive of our careers as filmmakers. Ivanna Picon has been there from the very beginning of my career as a cinematographer and has supported in a great variety of ways, including but definitely not limited to working on sets of films and music videos. I grew alongside Kevin Guzman, who was the gaffer on many of the projects I’ve photographed. Kenny Riches, who produced our recent feature film, “My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To”, has been a mentor of sorts to me and is now a great friend. The local film scene in Miami has been very supportive of my brother and I. When I say “our” or “us”, I’m referring to my brother and I, because we work very closely together and my whole career is very closely tied to his. Of course I’m grateful for him as well! I mean, there are many people to name, so I’ll list a few: Amy Hoerler, Anthony Pedone, Patrick Fugit, Ingrid Sophie Schram, Owen Campbell, Carlos Andres Cuervo, Zachary Burgh, Carlos de Varona, Irving Mercado, Anthony Mediavilla, Tony Taylor, Joshua Harrison, Paul Tupek, Ryan Beharry, Bryan Benitez, Alex Taupier, Gosia Grzyb, Alexis Canovas, Timothy Wilcox, Larry Mondragon, Blake Studwell, Ian Lerch, Mark Ashworth, Thomas Alvarez, Oliver Alvarez, Francisco Jimenez, Jon Rhoads, Hector Martinez and Michael Valverde. The list goes on and on. I feel bad not naming everyone, but I am aware of how fortunate I am and am grateful for the support.