Interview: The Sex Lives of College Girls Cinematographer Chuck Ozeas

Chuck Ozeas is a Los Angeles-based, award-winning cinematographer. Ozeas began his career shooting iconic music videos for such varied artists as Smash Mouth, Nine Inch Nails, Dave Mathews, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Dr. Dre, Lil Jon, Wyclef Jean, and many more. Ozeas’ recent narrative work includes HBO Max and Mindy Kaling’s The Sex Lives of College Girls, Netflix’s The Upshaws starring Wanda Sykes, and episodes in Seasons 4 and 5 of Arrested Development on Netflix. His Emmy win came for his work lensing the show open for NBC’s Sunday Night Football, a spot he has been shooting for the last ten years.

ComingSoon spoke with Ozeas about cinematography and his work on The Sex Lives of College Girls.

Jeff Ames: What led you to become a cinematographer?

Chuck Ozeas: I grew up as a child actor in Pittsburgh, singing with the Pittsburgh Opera Chorus, hosting a local TV show, and even appearing on Mr. Rogers several times. I flew to LA to shoot The Mr Rogers Christmas Special and after observing all of the behind-the-scenes work, I became hooked on film production pretty quickly. I also ALWAYS had a camera in my hand, whether it was a 35mm or Super 8. Sometime during late high school, I had the “what do I do now?” question in the back of my head, and I happened to be watching Sophie’s Choice (on HBO funny enough), shot by Néstor Almendros. It hit me like a bolt of lightning and I thought “Wow this is beautiful photography! There must be someone who is in charge of this and I want to do that job!” I love my job and feel incredibly fortunate to be able to combine my love of photography with the little bit of the acting bug that I still have inside me. I’ve enjoyed shooting literally hundreds of commercials and hundreds of music videos. I feel there couldn’t be better training for creating varied looks from day to day and scene to scene, and I think that experience really pays off in our show.

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What was it about The Sex Lives of College Girls that made you want to work on it?

Filmmaking is an incredibly collaborative medium and the quality of the experience always comes down to the people you are working with. Here I got to work with an incredibly talented group of people from top to bottom on the call sheet. I have always enjoyed Mindy Kaling’s comedy and gained even more respect for her work on this show. That goes double for our showrunner, Justin Noble, whose vision and attention to detail was amazing.

Also, it was very refreshing to work with these four relatively new actresses — Pauline, Alyah, Amrit, and Reneé — and see their growth through the season. They are all stars in the making. I can’t wait to see how they grow during Season 2!

Finally, I’m very proud of our camera, grip, and lighting work. So a special thanks to our camera team led by Jon Purdy, our gaffer Carlos Torres, key grip Jack Nagle and the rest of our amazing crew both in LA and New York.

What was the most challenging aspect of The Sex Lives of College Girls and how did you overcome that?

The most challenging aspect of shooting television is balancing your creative desires with the schedule and budget. After seeing a quick rehearsal with the cast, you are tasked with coming up with a creative and visually interesting way to shoot the scene.

I look at each scene and consider the intent, which then informs the tone. In most of the group scenes there are comedic overtones. These are scenes where I go a little more broad and soft with the lighting and perhaps deeper with the stop so that we can read each character’s reactions to the comedy. For the more dramatic scenes, I love to shoot very shallow, many times around a 1.4. Thank goodness for our incredible 1st ACs, Yen, Dustin and Tom who made this possible! I feel like this look really puts the viewer inside the heads of our characters. It makes us care about them and root for them.

I really enjoyed shooting some of these more dramatic scenes since it gave me the opportunity to light more expressively…. Kim and Nico’s first kiss in the frat basement, Leighton coming out to Alicia, and another scene with Kim and Leighton from Episode 10 in which they really connect as friends, not just roommates.

Do you have any fun, behind-the-scenes stories about the making of The Sex Lives of College Girls?

As I mentioned before, it was incredibly fun working with Pauline, Allyah, Amrit and Reneé. They brought tons of energy to the set every day. Some people may not know this, but all four of them are very talented singers and would entertain us with bits of songs between takes. They joked that they were going to start an a cappella group and take it on the road!

They sang everything and anything on the set. After a while they even asked if they could even sing the slates! So before slates were clapped they would sing – Scene 203, Take 8 – in perfect harmony.

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What were some of the things you learned from The Sex Lives of College Girls that you’re excited to apply to future endeavors?

One of the reasons why I love my job is that I learn something new nearly every day on set.

At this point in my career, I’m obviously not learning the basics of cameras and lighting. Instead, I learn more nuanced things like how a certain camera move increases the dramatic or comedic impact of a scene, or how a certain combination of lighting color or diffusion creates a new look that I wasn’t expecting. My gaffers will tell you that I love to talk about lighting theory on set – all the “what if we…” ideas that we come up with on the spot. I’m always reaching to create something I haven’t done before. It’s incredibly satisfying on a creative level.

Do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?

I’m currently shooting Season 2 of The Upshaws for Netflix starring Wanda Sykes, Mike Epps, and Kim Fields. The show is a laugh a minute…or laugh a second! Also, I’m continuing to shoot spots on my off days and have a large visual effects heavy spot for NBC coming up in January. I truly love my job and feel incredibly fortunate to be able to work in multiple formats: single camera narrative, multicam sitcom, and commercials. My next goal is to expand into features. And going back to my childhood love, finding a musical feature to shoot would be a dream come true.


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