FROM S.H.I.E.L.D HQ TO SOU
Hollywood Cinematographer Chris Nibley Connects Student Filmmakers with On-Set Learning at Southern Oregon University
If you’ve ever wanted to learn the art of cinematography from an industry professional, the Digital Cinema program at Southern Oregon University has the course for you.
Christopher Nibley is a director of photography and cinematographer whose work includes prominent films and television such as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Addams Family (1991) and Mars Attacks.
In Spring 2023, Nibley and co-instructor Chris Lucas are teaching DCIN 321: Cinematography, an immersive course focused on teaching cinematography from a technical, aesthetic, and craftsmanship perspective. As an established professional in the film industry, Nibley’s experience and knowledge of cinematography offer an invaluable resource for Digital Cinema students.
“The fact is, anyone can succeed in the film industry no matter where you come from,” said Nibley. “Students I know are getting jobs in the film industry. I know people that have done ten-minute Netflix TV shows and then have gotten jobs out of those things, real jobs. So if there’s something you really want to do, you can make a living at doing this. Some people think it’s just not possible, but it is possible.”
Nibley was initially drawn to the mainstream film industry due to his technical and aesthetic skills in motion picture and digital filmmaking. Nowadays, Nibley focuses on shooting and editing his own nature documentaries. His documentary work brought him to SOU’s Digital Media Center, where he crossed paths with Lucas, the Program Coordinator for Digital Cinema at SOU.
“Chris first visited my cinematography class in 2021 and started co-teaching it with me in 2022,” said Lucas. “He’s been an amazing addition because he has such deep knowledge of the art of cinema, the technologies we need to make it, and the hard work of moviemaking. He has fantastic stories about the movie business going back forty years or more! I think he really inspires the students with his down-to-earth approach to the craft of cinematography.”
In DCIN 321, students are tasked with creating a lookbook of photographs each week, which instructors then evaluate and provide feedback. Students will also watch films to study past and emerging styles, techniques, and innovations in the field of cinematography. The films selected for DCIN 321 span a wide range of genres, decades, and sensibilities, from period films to science fiction. Last year, Nibley screened 5–6 minutes of each film nominated for the 2022 Academy Awards.
“Students start looking at these (films) and realizing what they like about different film techniques,” Nibley said. “When you watch Elvis and when you watch some of the other movies, it’s just they’re so different from each other that it’s really interesting.”
Nibley, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences himself, looks forward to repeating the tradition with this year’s nominees.
While DCIN 321 is a required course for Digital Cinema majors, Nibley hopes that students of all disciplines will benefit from what the course has to offer.
“The way we teach is not just for cinematographers,” said Nibley. “Anybody in any kind of art career can use this. When you start to understand everything involved in learning to examine the world, the first thing you have to learn to do is to see. Whether you’re a painter or a sculptor or a cinematographer, you have to learn to see and be aware of the world.”
Story by Ripley Pierotti, Community Manager for the Communication, Media & Cinema Program at Southern Oregon University.