Renowned extreme sports camera operator, Anatoly Ivanov’s work spans many areas. He has worked as a director of photography for some of the most notable brands like Red Bull and covered major events in world of sports. Originally hailing from Russia, he is now based in Los Angeles.
As part of our interview series, Anatoly Ivanov, an award-winning cinematographer, talks about the world of extreme sports, Red Bull Campaigns, his work with Drake and Kanye West and much more.
Hi Anatoly, thank you for meeting with us, let’s talk about your background first. How did you get involved in the camera department?
Was raised in a small town next to Saint Petersburg, the Russian capital of culture. Murals were massive in this city, and so were street painters. On the weekend, I would walk around and admire their work. Was always a very visual person and thoroughly enjoyed museums and photography. Since childhood, I was into extreme sports. Consider myself lucky because I could snowboard, ski or kiteboard, depending on the season. I grew up thinking I would be an athlete. But then, one day, I saw a video of an athlete filmed during a competition. How the camera operator was able to follow the athlete fascinated me a lot! I realized that there was a world where I could be behind the camera but also use my athletic skills. It clicked for me. Many years later, my dream came true: I went on to work for ADWISE one of the bigger advertising agencies in Russia. I did a lot of campaigns for them including one for Toyota. It featured the Russian Olympic team.
Tell us more about your other notable works.
I worked for Red Bull or Rip Curl. It was really an honor to work for some of the biggest sports brands in Russia and for the number one advertising agency. Learned a lot and got to work with the best athletes in the country. Eventually, I became the go-to guy in the commercial and branded content world when it came to filming extreme sports. They weren’t many of us so I really got to hone my craft and keep challenging myself. I was invited to work as a camera operator for the blockbuster Viking. It was an action film and period drama. There were a lot of complicated action scenes; some had to be filmed while horse riding, others while running. I was called on because at the time I was the only camera operator who had this kind of experience. It was challenging but I had a blast nevertheless. I realized that I could also change my industry and contribute to advancing it by also working in the narrative world. Such opportunities were limited in my home country so I decided to move to Hollywood.
Could you talk about your life as a cinematographer and camera operator in Los Angeles, how has the transition been?
I love California and the countless opportunities to train outside physically. Completely feel at home here and have a solid network. I continue to develop my Body Training method:
Training for complex camera moves using extreme sports equipment. This could mean working on your core to practice filming while skiing for instance. No one is really offering this type of training. I am now offering masterclasses to my peers and they have been quickly selling out. In parallel to this, I have been filming one narrative project after the other and they have been doing well on the festival circuit.
I was the cinematographer of the short film Roger That. It has received the Florence Film Award for Best Cinematography, the Platinum Award for Best Cinematography at the Independent Short Awards, an Honorable Mention: Cinematography at Top Shorts Festival, and Honorable Mention for Best Cinematography at the Global Film Festival. It also recently received the Best Family Short Award at the Creation International Film Festival.
I also got to work on a thriller Courage directed by Nourah Al Hasawi. I really enjoyed working with Nourah. The film was challenging because it is set in one living room. We played with lights and Clair obscure a lot. It has received an Honourable Mention for Best Cinematography at the IndieX Film Festival 2021 and was also nominated for Best Cinematography at the Indie Short Fest. I also worked with director Eli Sundler on a dystopian sci-fi short called Hope…Another short that Anatoly worked on Hope directed by Eli Sundler, and received the Best Cinematography Award at the Sweden Film Festival. I really enjoy working for different genres, it helps me stretch my creative muscles.
Any favourite anecdote from set?
Actually, I have so many! Recently I was hired by Red Bull. They were going to partner with bronze medallist and skier Yulia Galysheva. I was excited because I have always admired Yulia and love working with Red Bull. We spent a lot of time prepping because it was a difficult and quick shot of Yulia doing her trick. Right before the shoot, Yulia hurt her knee badly. Her trainer told us we could proceed with the shoot but she could only do her jump once. It meant capturing it in one take. It’s hard enough to capture a simple scene in one take so imagine an intense and specific sports sequence like this one! I was terrified. Had 24 hours to review my plan and ensure nothing would go wrong.
In moments like you just have to trust that your decade-long experience will be able to help you. I felt a lot of pressure because we had all come all this way to Utah. Meditation has helped me a lot in stressful situations like these. At the end of the day, Yulia was also feeling this pressure. All I had to do was stay connected and be present with her. It was a dialogue between the two of us in a way.
It also helps me to remind myself that I am living my childhood dream. During the take, I stayed present and focused. We ended up getting the perfect take – so one will never know that Yulia was injured. I was in awe of her resilience. At the end of the day, this is why I do what I do.
Could you tell us how it felt working with Drake and Kanye West?
Well, I am quite proud of filming live the concert of Drake and Kanye West. It was produced by Amazon. It really was a historical concert for the fans. The energy was magical. Of course, there was a lot of pressure to film a live event of this prestige. There was no margin for error. As I was filming, I also had to pinch myself and remind myself how lucky I was to be doing this. There is no other feeling like it. Obviously, it was a lot of hard work. When I think back on it, I think it is one of the projects I am the proudest of.
What are your favourite films or documentaries? Any recommendations?
It’s important for me to watch a lot of content to keep my creative juices flowing. Sports documentaries about elite athletes who do the impossible interests me a lot. Would recommend Free Solo or The Alpinist. I also love intriguing plot-driven movies with interesting cinematography like Chasing Mavericks or The Imitation Game. I was also really impressed by the German indie film Victoria. It was all shot in one night and one take! It’s a masterpiece in my opinion. In general, I admire the work of filmmakers such Hoyte Van Hoytema, Roberto Benigni or Christopher Nolan. I look up to them and they are a constant source of inspiration.