‘Stranger Things’ cameraman went from ‘wrestling’ in LA to shooting the biggest show on TV: ‘I was incredibly excited’

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Conquering the world of blockbuster television was never part of ‘Stranger Things’ cinematographer Caleb Heymann’s plan.

The filmmaker spent most of his twenties in South Africa, where he attended film school and later built a modest career making commercials and small films. But after winning a special jury award at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Heymann signed with an agency in Los Angeles and moved back to the United States.

“I had a hard time in LA for the first year and a half,” Heymann tells TBEN Make It. “I was 34 at the time and I felt like I was almost starting over.”

He describes a period when he took film work everywhere he went, but always tried to collaborate with other artists whose craft he admired.

“You’re Not Really in Control” [how much success you have]but you’re in control of who you work with,” he says. “Make sure you’re always working with people you respect and projects that talk to you personally on some level.”

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His foray into the Upside Down and the world of ‘Stranger Things’ came almost entirely by accident, and Heymann says his big break was ‘not a strategic move’.

I felt this huge scammer syndrome in the beginning because I had never been on such a big team with hundreds of people working on the production.

Caleb Heymann

Director of Photography, ‘Stranger Things’ Season 4

The Netflix hit was looking for directors for its third season, and creators Matt and Ross Duffer had seen a short film Heymann was working on that was directed by a writer on the show. The Duffer brothers contacted Heymann, who called the call “life-changing.”

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“When I got the call to come and do the second unit for season three, I was incredibly excited,” he says. “But I also felt this huge scammer syndrome at the beginning, because I’ve never been on such a big team with hundreds of people working on production.”

Heymann, who got his start in film making documentaries, was soon thrown into the deep end of large-scale productions. Despite working as a director of photography, he does not operate any of the cameras himself.

“[The job became] much more about how to coordinate the vision by working with the director and this massive army [of crew] that is at your disposal,” he says.

Still, Heymann impressed the Duffers so much that he was invited to season four, where he filmed seven of the season’s nine episodes. The popularity of this season, which Netflix announced this month has already had more than 1 billion hours of viewing, is something that Heymann says “baffles my mind.”

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The work has also opened more doors for him – he’s about to embark on another project for a hugely popular media property.

“I’m going to start a project for Marvel in a few weeks that I’m really excited about,” he says. “It’s all because of ‘Stranger Things’ and it’s all because the Duffer brothers jumped at an opportunity to get me on board.”

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