As a child growing up in Toronto, Canada, Dennis Grishnin was often glued to the television. He was always fascinated watching whatever was on, feeling the need to search for something new, wanting to see stories unfold. It was the first thing he was truly passionate about, but it took him until adulthood to fully realize that he could make that passion a career.
Now, Grishnin is an industry-leading cinematographer in Canada, with many prolific projects decorating his resume. Millions around the world have appreciated his work, perhaps while watching the 2020 VMAs and seeing Tate McCrae’s performance of her hit song “you broke me first” or scrolling through social media and viewing the Buick commercial for their Encore GX with Canadian icon Tessa Virtue, or watching popular musicians such as Johnny Orlando, renforshort, and Lute’s music videos on YouTube. No matter the project, Grishnin’s immense talent shines, creating success after success.
“The challenging thing about this role is maintaining organization of how all the elements will play out on the day of the shoot. It’s a highly demanding, multi-faceted position and you need to be able to coordinate with many different departments on set to achieve your look. It’s important to ensure everyone is on the same page with you on the strategy and to go over what kind of tools and support they need to achieve the goal. Understanding what creates their success, in turn, creates your own when it all comes together,” says Grishnin.
Grishnin has cultivated an ongoing professional relationship with Canadian songwriter, record producer, and rapper Night Lovell. Night Lovell initially gained fame after his song “Dark Light” went viral in 2014 and has since been streamed over 650 million times on Spotify alone. Grishnin and Night Lovell have collaborated on three music videos, “BAD KID”, “Counting Down the List” and “Alone”, the last of which has over 15 million views on YouTube. It is a career highlight for Grishnin, who was given a lot of creative freedom to help make the video the success it became.
“My biggest take away from all of this is understanding the power of stepping outside your comfort zone and really leaning into what’s in front of you. I think everything came out great, purely because we never second guessed ourselves on what we needed to do. We knew what it had to feel like, it was just a matter of finding unique ways to express that,” Grishnin recalls.
When working on “Alone” Grishnin had already worked on “BAD KID”, which had garnered over 14 million views online and amassed an incredible response. The director, Avery Steadman, had a good rapport, and they wanted to up the ante from the previous shoot, pushing the boundaries of what they could create for Lovell.
This time around the settings would play a huge role in this video. Shooting in British Columbia, the “Alone” music video was shot in the mountains on Kodak 16mm film and featured some in-camera gags such as car-mount rigs on an ATV and high-powered lasers. It was a chance to venture out and explore various parts of the Canadian wilderness and find interesting locations for him to interact with. There were scenes planned out deep in the woods, up high on a mountain, and inside a cold, lonely cabin.
“It was one of the most exciting projects I had the pleasure of being a part of that year. The creative freedom I felt on this shoot was a rarity for me. I had a lot of room for input and design, while keeping in accordance with the director’s vision for the video. It felt like we were finding the scenes organically as we were setting them up,” Grishnin describes.
Working outside in the wilderness, there were many unprecedented challenges when it came to shooting that are not present in a studio. Over the course of the shoot, Grishnin and his team had to hike through heavy terrain, and manage the exposure to accommodate the outdoor lighting and sunlight changing throughout the day. Especially when shooting on 16mm film, the color and light render differently on a film negative than digitally.
No one on set had the accessibility to see what the image would look like until the film lab developed the rolls, so Grishnin was constantly monitoring to ensure the colors were perfect, working continuously with the lighting team on how much output he needed on set. They also had scenes involving the camera being rigged onto an ATV that Night Lovell would ride.
There was no way for Grishnin to keep track of what areas he would be traveling through once he was sent off on the ATV, which meant having to consider all the different areas he would be riding in and figure out a safe exposure. Despite these unique challenges, creating “Alone” was extremely fun and rewarding for Grishnin. The extraordinary success of the video came secondary to the experience of making it, and being a fan of Night Lovell’s music made it that much better.
“The song as a whole has an overwhelmingly cold tone, invoking feelings of grit and isolation. It’s vengeful in a way. It complements the video by adding more layers of atmosphere to an already dark visual experience. The raw energy of the song allowed us to be bolder with our decisions on how we framed, lit, and moved our camera throughout the shoot,” he concludes.