Neil Lisk, Director of Photography
I was hired to direct “Soldier of God” in early 2003 and right from the start the pressure was intense. We knew we didn’t want to make a costume drama, we wanted the film to be real, dirty, imperfect, yet retain the beauty of the desert. We were doing the Crusades on less than $200k and, deep into pre-production, had still not hired a Director of Photography.
We went through nearly a hundred reels and submissions before the producer threw up his arms and said we’re shooting in five days, it’s now or never. We reluctantly threw in a DVD a guy had submitted from Craigslist and, lo and behold, witnessed a cinematographer’s reel painted with light and lens so beautifully that we were floored. This was our introduction to Neil Lisk.
He told me years later that when he saw the job offer, which must’ve read something like DP NEEDED FOR LOW-BUDGET CRUSADE MOVIE, he laughed.
He said with the money being offered and the shooting schedule being proposed, he already knew he couldn’t do it, despite his affinity for the script. But, like any curious artist, he took the meeting.
To hear Neil tell it, he walked into my living room prepared to graciously turn us down. But when he saw The Hallway, everything changed. The hallway stretched the length of the apartment and every scene of the movie was taped to the wall with corresponding storyboards, image references and color schemes. The palette we wanted to explore over the course of the narrative was laid out in its entirety. Right away, Neil knew he could contribute and committed to the film.
Neil Lisk was, far and away, a powerhouse of an artist to collaborate with.
He would always go beyond the first choice, explore every angle, challenge every notion of how things should look and feel. He was mindful of the visual narrative being told but never lost sight of how everything was in service of the story. What he accomplished on such limited funds and time is nothing short of remarkable.
He said “whatever your idea is, flip it on its ear” if for no other reason than to examine the possibilities. Our night scenes turned to day; our blacks turned to whites, our blues to red. Whenever we could flip something, we’d try it. Neil’s frame was patient and confident and allowed scenes and characters to unfold naturally.
It’s rare to work with someone in the film business who’s at once challenging and supportive. He was truly unlike any artist I’ve ever known. He was less afraid of failing than he was of being uninspired.
He was fearless in his creativity and courageous in his choices.
The experience of working with Neil Lisk will always be a highlight of my life. We lost him suddenly in 2010 to Cardiomyopathy. All that knew Neil, most importantly his wife and daughter, knew they had someone incredibly special in their lives, a man who was good to the core, an artist in his soul and someone who truly made the world a better place to be in.
After a particularly brutal day on “Soldier of God” shooting a real sandstorm, Neil and I literally stumbled into the trailer having been sand-blasted in the face for three hours. My inclination was to join the Grips at the seediest dive bar Baker, California had to offer. Neil announced, in front of everyone, that he was “snookered” and wanted to hurry back to have “a tea, a nice hot bath and call the Mrs.”
He loved his work. He loved his family.
And we all loved him.
To aid in the research of Cardiomyopathy, please donate to the Cardiomyopathy Association.
Neil Lisk wrote an essay on his approach to shooting “SOLDIER OF GOD” which can be read here: