Editor’s Note: “The Sperm Bank” has just had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. This 14-minute, 40-second short film deals with the main subject’s awkward reckoning with his own mortality after a stage four testicular cancer diagnosis in a manner that is simultaneously heartfelt and comedic. We had a conversation with Director of Photography Jack Schurman about his work on this project, which was shot entirely on SIGMA CINE lenses.
SIGMA: Jack, first of all, congratulations to you and the entire team for the world premiere at Tribeca! How does it feel to have a film selected for such a high-profile festival out of so many entries, and how has the film been received by the audiences so far?
JACK SCHURMAN: Thank you! It feels tremendous to have this film premiere in a festival as storied as Tribeca. So many incredible films have debuted there. It’s just an honor to be in the club. So far we’ve had two screenings. We have one more on Saturday, June 17 at the 19th St. AMC in Manhattan. The response has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Big laughs, big tears, and smiles the whole time. This is such a special film because we’re all great friends as well as frequent collaborators. It’s been wonderful to experience the laughter and applause together on such a prominent stage with such a significant spotlight on the project. I think more than anything, people respond to Rob Scerbo’s (@robscerbo) performance. He wrote the film based on his real life experience with stage 4 cancer. The balance of humor and serious concern would never have worked without his insight and abilities.
This film handles some pretty awkward and uncomfortable situations in a way that is at times comedic, and at times poignant. As the DP, how do you handle these situations and the visual storytelling aspects to convey those senses?
I think I lean on my documentary background a lot in the more serious situations. It’s given me a sense of where someone might be at emotionally by how tight they’re holding their body, or the rhythms of their breathing. I try to check in on that frequently and make sure I’m not being overly invasive to their emotional space. Whenever a performer has tough work to do, most of what’s going through my mind is how I can be effective while staying the hell out of their way. Sometimes that can mean longer lenses. Sometimes I have to light a little more broadly to accommodate loose blocking and unpredictable performance choices. One big difference with narrative is that you’re capturing performers playing a role, not people in the midst of their real lives. This opens up a world of collaborative dance between the performer and the camera. Sometimes it doesn’t work and its too distracting, but other times its pure magic. Nothing compares to when the camera and performance are breathing together.
The entire film was captured on SIGMA CINE lenses, correct? Can you tell us why you looked to our optics for this project?
Yes. The entire project was shot on SIGMA CINE prime lenses. We chose SIGMA primes for a number of reasons. Some practical and some aesthetic. On the practical end, few sets of prime lenses can boast lightweight, full-frame coverage, super fast aperture throughout the set, a wide range of focal lengths, and razor sharp detail. We had a ton of varied scenarios that we needed to cover, and high setup counts each day. Many were in low light and cramped spaces. Some were exterior with deep, lush backgrounds that we wanted to pull in with longer lenses. These practical attributes of the lenses made the SIGMAs an ideal choice. From an aesthetic point of view, I love these lenses because I can have them razor sharp if I want, or diffuse them to achieve a variety of looks.
For “The Sperm Bank”, we have a distinct visual separation between the scenes grounded in reality, and the scenes that are based in memory or heightened fantasy. For the more grounded scenes, we used different degrees of Black Satin filters. For the heightened scenes that take place in a realm of fantasy and memory, we used heavier degrees of Glimmer Glass to filter. We also used a really fun handheld kaleidoscope diopter for some of the montages and transitions. The base sharpness of the SIGMAs, along with their practical ease of use, allowed us to switch between these looks quickly and without fuss. We were able to keep the train running and get through a big shot list on a tight schedule.
What other projects have you used SIGMA CINE lenses for? Have you used SIGMA CINE lenses on any other projects?
I’ve used SIGMA CINE primes and zooms on a number of narrative and documentary projects. I can’t even count how many docs I’ve shot on the zooms. One that comes to mind was a doc series called “UnNatural Selection”, which is available to see on Netflix. Much of “Jihad Rehab”, which premiered at Sundance last year, was shot on SIGMA CINE zooms. The primes I’ve used more for narrative work and interviews. I love their ease of use and adaptability to different looks.
What’s up next for you and what’s up next for this film — where / when can viewers watch this online or at other upcoming film festivals?
“The Sperm Bank” will have more screenings soon, but nothing has been announced yet. I have a number of other films coming out over the next few months. One film I’m particularly excited about is “Complicated Order”. It’s going to premiere at a festival soon, but they haven’t officially announced yet, so I can’t say which one. “Complicated Order” is a hilarious story of first love lost written and directed by the extremely talented Emily Lichtenberg (@emmieshouse). It stars Midori Francis (@midoriglory) and Alok Vaid-Menon (@alokvmenon), who are both terrific in the film.
Follow Jack Schurman:
Crew for “The Sperm Bank”
Project: “The Sperm Bank” @thespermbankfilm
Director: Margaux Susi @snapthisbitch
Writers: Rob Scerbo @robscerbo & Jeremy Culhane @jazzy__jelly
Producers: Grayson Propst @graysonpropst & Angela Giovann Giarratana @angelagiovanagiarratana
Executive Producers: Andrew Carlberg @andrewcarlberg & Maggie Coffey @kaufcoff
Director of Photography: Jack Schurman @jackschurman
Gaffer: Allison Alonzo @al_pal1396
Key Grip: Sebastian Lim @sebastianlame
Grip: Tom Gault @TomGault
1st AC: Lauren Doyle @_lauren.doyle_ & Bonnie Delgado @bonnappletea
2nd AC: Zach Milnamow @tapecowboy
Editor: Michael Scotti Jr. @michaelscottijr
1st AD: Megan Chumbley @megchumbley
Production Designer: Grace Hinson @yourgracehinson
Costume Designer: Ryan Yanni @ryanyanni
Music: Zach Marsh @zachmarsh
Sound Designer: John O’Herron
Rental House: Old Fast Glass @old_fast_glass
Rob Scerbo @robscerbo
Jeremy Culhane @jazzy__jelly
Sophia Ali @sophiatali
Parvesh Cheena @parvey
Kylie Brakeman @deadeyebrakeman
Lauren Holt @holtlauren
Grace Hinson @yourgracehinson
Ana Marte @anamarte
Nicole Pedra @nicolepedra
Susan Ziegler @susanrziegler
Kourtney Bell @KourtneyBellll