Bettina Campomanes started out as a young electro-pop artist calling herself Valiant Vermin and being featured in Pulp magazine to getting her MFA in Cinematography at American Film Institute. Now, the 26-year-old director of photography (DP) has gotten raves for the high-concept, stylized look she’s brought to videos such as Miel’s Call You Out and Su Lee’s Super Happy; more personal projects like short film Hiya (shot in the Philippines), a finalist in the New York Cinematography Awards; and she’s a student of the macabre, with her short film Muse a selection in the Best Horror Short at American Horror Film Festival.
Aesthetically, her vibe is all over the map. Based in Los Angeles, her clients include MAC Cosmetics, the NCAA (March Madness), and Twitter (Vine), as well as popular music videos by Demi Adejuyigbe (whose final 21st of September video ends with walking-up-the-wall camera tricks and a cameo from Earth, Wind and Fire) and indie acts such as Sure Sure and Dounia. (To these eyes, the goth vibe speaks quite loudly in many of the projects on her website.)
Getting the right visual look is key for any director. I mention how some DPs—Fil-Am Matthew Loboutique, Wong Kar-Wai’s Chris Doyle—are often thought of as the “secret weapons” behind a director, but she sees it otherwise: “I love implementing my style when I can, but only if it supports the narrative. Sure, something can look beautiful, but what is its purpose? If I respect the director’s vision, they’ll respect mine. Only then will I add some of my own flair.”
Some of her cinematic lighting vocabulary perhaps comes from shooting lots of music videos. Being a musician herself, it makes sense. “I love doing them,” she says of the form, because it “really caters to the DP’s expertise.” She hastens to add: “I like justifying the choices. I’m not gonna shoot fancy cars and women in bikinis—unless there’s a twist. It helps train my brain to solve the puzzle of how we can get people to watch and ponder over what just happened.”
A short film like Hiya—directed by Naomi Rantu, and focused on a young Filipino girl from a Catholic home fascinated by a religious painting of Mary Magdalene kissing the feet of Jesus—shows her attention to detail in its artful lighting that mimics Catholic iconography. “The film focuses on being comfortable in your own skin, even in the eyes of God,” Bettina says. Spirituality is a “singular experience,” and Hiya’s protagonist approaches in a physical way as well. Surreal details—like a floating Mary Magdalene floating through the girl’s bedroom—add to the mystery of the film. “I wanted to focus on the feeling of being free physically and how we shape that mindset,” she says of the shoot.
If it sounds like there’s an expanding Fil-Am community of female creatives in the US entertainment nexus, that’s about right. While Bettina has her own dream projects in mind (“I would like to direct a dance film. Yes, please!”), for now, she is thriving by zeroing in on what her directors need to achieve.
Another popular video she helped shoot was the conclusion to Demi Adejuyigbe’s 21st of September series, this one with an intro story featuring the singer/dancer that launches into head-turning visuals, like Demi dancing up the wall à la Lionel Ritchie or Fred Astaire. “He asked me how we could get him to walk on walls. We left thinking: ‘WE MUST BUILD A ROTATING SET.’” So they tracked down one of the last three existing rotating mechanisms on the West Coast. ”It was truly so much fun,” she says of that shoot, “and an honor to help raise money for charity.” The video raised some $330,000 from donations, this time for Imagine Water Works, a disaster relief organization helping with Hurricane Ida relief; the West Fund, a nonprofit for abortion access in Texas; and Sunrise Movement, a climate advocacy organization.
Campomanes grew up in Quezon City and left to study film in the US when she was 18. Now based in LA, it’s not surprising she has crossed paths with other Filipinos in the industry, such as Fil-Am director and sometime-AFI instructor Marie Jamora-MacLagan, who was teaching a workshop there while Campomanes was attending. “She’s also the reason I’m affiliated with Cinema Sala,” an LA-based forum that focuses on highlighting Filipino work in film. “I shoot for them sometimes and helped teach a workshop recently for my friend Chris Ungco at Panavision.”
If it sounds like there’s an expanding Fil-Am community of female creatives in the US entertainment nexus, that’s about right. While Bettina has her own dream projects in mind (“I would like to direct a dance film. Yes, please!”), for now, she is thriving by zeroing in on what her directors need to achieve. And part of that is following where the light takes her. “The challenge with film is planning how to keep the moment alive,” she says of being a cinematographer. “How do we keep the constant light going? How can we manipulate it in such a way that changes the tone? Where can we physically go to see something new? The possibilities are endless, and that makes it so exciting.”
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Visit bettscampo.com for a sampling of her work.