The Holistic Approach of Cinematographer Leo Sfeir

Left to Right-Alaska De Luna, Leo Sfeir on the set of D for Daughter-photo by Christine Zivic
Left to Right-Alaska De Luna, Leo Sfeir on the set of D for Daughter-photo by Christine Zivic

If you want to be extraordinary in the medium of film and television, you’ve got to be diverse and talented. Knowing what’s required by all of the roles behind the camera has enabled Leo Sfeir to become known in the industry as one of the most exceptional young cinematographers around. From work on feature films to award-winning indie productions as well as with international music talents like Avril Lavigne, Big Sean, and others, Leo brings the kind of perspective and respect that is only obtained through working one’s way up the ladder and the wisdom that comes with it. Of course, the longevity of a career depends on not only skill but also a forward minded approach; by working with online talent like influencer Mars Wright and others in addition to creating his own new method of enabling digital filming to mimic the emotive qualities found in 16mm film, Leo continues to establish himself as one of the influential DPs of his generation. As producer Ivy Liao states, “Leo has a natural gift for cinematography and gaffing. He brings an artistic eye to every project and goes above and beyond. Leo’s dedication to his craft inspires me with every project.”

Leo Sfeir - photo by Monika Ivonne
Leo Sfeir – photo by Monika Ivonne

A cinematographer is the emotional conduit between the story being told and the audience who receives it. Any one of the number of films which has utilized Leo’s skill as its DP is ample proof of how extraordinary his gift is for establishing this emotive connection. From the Best Cinematography Award Winning (Toronto Independent Film Festival of Cift, Europe Film Festival U.K.) Abysse, the tale of a high school senior’s last few days as she suffers from depression, to D for Daughter which depicts the turbulence of one teen’s daily life, to the gripping Onshore which relates the effects of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, Sfeir has established a heightened ability to place the audience in the mindset of the characters of these films through skill and instinct. Leo is particularly fond of the film Onshore which began his professional relationship with award-winning writer/director Sara Lattis. The two are set to collaborate on an upcoming science fiction psychological thriller, further vetting the wide range of genres which benefit from this DP’s insight.

Leo Sfeir behind the camera
Leo Sfeir behind the camera

Leo maintains that experiencing the many positions and perspectives within the industry is an essential part of how he arrived at his own personal style. Gaffing, colorist, cinematography; these are all a means of creating a signature approach to storytelling. What might seem unorthodox is Sfeir’s affinity for work as a Key Grip on production’s like the Primetime Emmy Award-Winning The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. In Leo’s estimation, it’s all about creating a moment as he relates, “Working those sets was an incredible experience. The set itself was also great. In both situations, we had several hours to prep our lighting set up, which allowed us to create great visual effects. Being able to collaborate with such a big team to create great content is one of the main reason I love my job. Working as a gaffer and key grip allows me to be a better cinematographer. As a DP, I have to know about lights and cameras to be able to do my job properly. Working as a gaffer and a key grip allowed me to learn and perfect the craft of lighting. Thanks to that, it allows me, as a cinematographer, to be able to make educated decisions in both the preparation of a film, the work on set, and resolving problems that could occur. On top of that, knowing the job of someone else that you work with allows smoother communication and prevents misunderstanding each other.”

Perhaps to fastest growing area for professionals in the filmmaking community is not in film at all but rather in the arena of online productions. Leo’s work on this platform includes such famed names as Trans activist and artist Mars Wright and on David Shu’s (4 million+ followers on Instagram and TikTok) “How to be Photogenic in 30 Days.” The David Shu project displays the online personality as a number of different characters. Sfeir informs, “For this production my main goal was to accentuate the beauty of the different talents we were working with but only on a lighting level. David, who taught the class, was showing the students how to make themselves more confident and how to be able to get an endless supply of poses. For him, it’s all about how you feel about yourself and what you can easily do to change from one pose to the other. The posture that one holds will make all the difference in how someone photogenicness is perceived.”

Anyone who is successful in the modern era is diverse. The adage, “stay in your lane” does not apply. Leo Sfeir is a creative professional who is passionate about communication: communicating emotions, imagery, various human stories, and the enlightenment that is a product of all these. His ability to make his skillset malleable to the platform and often times the application of his abilities is a sizeable part of what makes him so desirable as a collaborator to so many other successful individuals.

Writer: Mike Winston

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