Interview with Santiago Rajag, director of photography,

“Magical Girl” has been one of the most striking phenomena of the Spanish cinema on 2014. This film has received numerous awards and recognition like the Golden Shell Award of the San Sebastián International Film Festival, and it was among the favorite films for the Goya Awards, including Best Film nomination. Santiago Racaj is the director of photography of “Magical Girl”, among many other projects, and he has not finally been nominated losing out in the fight against “El Niño”, “Marshland”, “Autómata” and “Spanish Affair”. Many people today believe this absence of nomination is one of the biggest forgotten at this Goya Awards (as well as in the category of Best Film Editing). We will discuss these themes and much more on this interview with Santiago Racaj.
  • Is it true that the Best Film nomination includes a group work where photography is really important, but, did you expect also the Best Photography nomination?
I didn't really expect it. It is very difficult being among those chosen works by the Academy. A lot of films are filmed every year and you need to make an exceptional work to be nominated in any category. At least it should be like that.
  • From which part of the films are you the proudest? What aspect of your work in this film would you highlight?
Maybe I would not select “proud” as a description of a film’s moment. There are many sequences which are better than others, but I think that “Magical Girl” has a coherent and consistent work in consonance with the film’s requirements. I'm more satisfied with some parts of the movie, but this is because we bring them forward despite the means and the time availables.
  • What do you think about this 29th Goya Awards? Was it in line, better, or worse than you expected?
I haven't spoken with the film team, but I don’t think that we expected to receive more or less awards. Any award you receive is a real “gift” for the work and the effort spent on the film.
  • At what point of the film starts the director of photography working? What kind of labor did you performance at the pre production process?
Usually, the sooner you join in the film process the more fulfilling will be the work you can do. The exact point to start to work doesn’t exist; it depends on many factors, from the availability to the level of collaboration that the film director wants. In the ideal case you could start to work as soon as the script is finished, but this is an exceptional case.  
  • How influences the director of photography at the final result of the film? What criteria have you followed to choose the aesthetic line in films so different such as “The Wishful Thinkers”, “Every Song Is About Me” or “Magical Girl”?
The director of photography is one of the most important parts for this final aesthetic result of the film, but it is not the only one. The film’s director wants to coordinate all the necessary elements to achieve the visual style on the screen that he had imagined. He transmits his imaginary references to the art director, to the production manager, to the location responsible, to the set designers, to the dress designers and naturally, to the director of photography and to the sound responsible. What we photographed is the result of a previous work of many dedicated professionals.
  • Throughout your career you have repeated with film directors as Jonás Trueba or Javier Rebollo. Is it a better experience when you already know the director? In respect of assistants, auxiliaries, etc. Do you work with the same professional team?
I like a lot to repeat a collaboration with directors whom I admire. With each new film I learn a lot from them. In this specifics cases (Trueba and Rebollo) links us a friendship which makes that we really enjoy the process. There are also cases where you work for the first time with somebody and it could be a very enriching experience, which is what happened to me with Fernando Franco, Pere Vilà, Virginia del Pino or María Pérez. In respect to my professional team I have always tried to work with the same partners, as far as possible. I have had, and still have the advantage of working with exceptional assistants and electric responsibles, so good as professionals such as persons. I have been very lucky.
  • How did you learn this profession? Did you remember the moment when you decide to become a photographer?
This may sound like a jaded cliché, but there isn’t just one way to learn a job. In a profession that mixes technique and artistic expression one never stops learning, and this is the beautiful part of it. Each day there is something new, there are new successes but also new mistakes. You can now work in a more professional way, but this professionalism doesn’t give you your personal style, which is the most important part about the photography direction: to express and understand the light in a single and personal mode.
  • Your last works have been for hard/crude movies like “Wounded” or “Magical Girl”, did you expected this good reception? What has been the biggest challenge as a photography director?
I think both are two good films and that has nothing to do with how crude may they become. They are films without a big esthetical sophistication, but they have an important aesthetic line, determined, to a certain extent, for this rawness. To help to the movie’s process it is necessary to give it an aesthetic line coherent with the film’s concept. There is a growing public who doesn’t expect a standard aesthetic with a kind pattern. They want to watch an interesting movie, an elaborated cinema.

I have been working on this for many years, I have even worked in advertising, the equivalent of filming a lot of small and different movies. In this area you have the opportunity to learn from very different genres. The work is really complex and I have dealt whit many different problems over the years. The photography work is a central element in the production, through which other film’s element pass. The director of photography is, with the film’s director, the responsible for the final result, for the movie’s narration. For that reason it’s easy to imagine the variety of problems that we can find.
  • What films would you recommend to a photography fan?
I don't have a straightforward answer. Through all ages of the cinema’s history there are films with an impressive photograph work. So I recommend watching movies, without exception.
  • What new projects are you developing? Which artists would you like to work with?
I just finished the color grading of “L’Arteria Invisible”, Pere Vilà last movie, and now I’m filming a fiction motion picture directed by Martín Costa. I’m also preparing a documentary film for April and we are on the postproduction process of Jonás Trueba newest film. Finally I’m working in the preproduction of the Óscar Pérez last film. I can't complain because all them are really interesting projects and I am very happy to work in them. I never thought of working with anyone specifically, I like to enjoy the present project.
Thank you very much for the interview and we wish you great success in the awards that lie before you, but mainly we wish you all the best for keeping this level of work, specially for movies like “Magical Girl”, that vindicate on this way the importance of the Spanish cinema.
Review: Pilar Colomo