Joe Rubino – Cinematographer

Happy Friday everyone! Hope you all had a great week. For those new to our site, “Friday Feature” is a series that we have on our blog where we highlight something in the arts that we feel is dope and should be shared. This week we’re featuring the streetwear brand T.G.I.F. No not “Thank God It’s Friday,” well that’s cool too, but their T.G.I.F. stands for “Thank God I’m Fresh.” I came across them via the power of Twitter earlier this week. I’m a crewneck junkie so their “Eye Do It” and “King Me” crews had me at “hello.” Check them out below for a whole lot of freshness (pun intended).

Description from T.G.I.F.’s Facebook Page

T.G.I.F (THANK GOD IM FRESH) was started in 2011 to bring a different element into the streetwear realm. The founders Al Maddin and Jahi Roosevelt wanted a lifestyle brand that would reflect their own interests.

My personal favorite from their line – “Eye Do It” Crewneck

“King Me” Crewneck
Joe Rubino is a working Cinematographer and Director of Photography (DP) based out of New York. He has shot a countless amount of projects consisting of films, video games, music videos, corporate videos, commercials etc. He’s an award-winning filmmaker with an impressive resume and an admirable work ethic.

Joe was one of the first people I met at Columbia College Chicago. I would be lying if I said that we hit it off right away, but it took only one project of us working together to turn that all around. We worked together as either director/cinematographer but mostly as a producer/cinematographer dynamic. He is amazing behind the camera. He understands framing and his camera movement capabilities are unmatched to anyone else I’ve worked with. If you have a vision, he will no doubt bring that to reality. Joe is also an asset on set. He knows how to control the atmosphere and keep set morale on a high. We worked together all through our college years, and I’ve gained so much from our collaborations.

When we parted our ways, he went to New York and I went to LA, but we made sure to keep in contact. It’s amazing to see his growth and success in this business thus far. But I will say that I always knew he had it in him. He has only just begun, and I’m thrilled that we can follow along on his journey.

Check our interview with Joe below as he talks about how he got into film, what advice he has for the next generation, and so much more.

Angel Alzona: Can you give us a little background about yourself. Where you grew up? Your interests?

Joe Rubino: I’m Joe. I grew up in Long Island, New York. Born and raised. Never really lived anywhere else besides Chicago when I went to school. I was always a creative guy, but I never really had a focus. I just loved TV, movies, and video games. But I didn’t know what I liked about it. I didn’t know anything about it. I never really studied it. I just knew I liked it. I was a fan.

AA: Who were your influences growing up?

JR: I guess my influences growing up was just going out with my buddies on my block in my neighborhood and shooting crappy horror films and stupid comedy sketches in the woods in Long Island in abandoned fields and factories. I was just doing crazy stupid things. It was just fun. But I never ever imagined I would be doing that. That was when I was 14 and 15. We would take my Mom and Dad’s old camera. It was an old VHS camera and we would off the fly come up with a stupid idea and shoot stuff. We would edit it inside the camera. It was just funny and interesting stuff but nothing ground breaking. Then I never did it again. It was for about 2 years we did that. Then it got corny to me. It became cheesy. That’s the age where kids start doing dumb things and girls start getting into the picture. It was all about hanging out with the buddies then going out and doing that stuff. I regret it because I would have started doing it earlier instead of waiting to go to school. But it is what it is. It was the beginning. It planted the seed. It was just really awesome being in school and doing my first project and remembering my old stuff I did when I was a teenager. You get that same feeling. When you’re behind the camera, no matter what you do or how much talent you have, there’s really just this energy and feeling that you’re doing something cool. It’s kind of like endorphins when you work out. Your brain is just releasing this chemical and it’s just joy. I get that feeling every time I go behind the camera still. I’m sure it’s just going to continue.

AA: Would you say you grew up with it in your family?

JR: No. Not at all. Nobody in my family was an artist. You know most people have that uncle or something or a cousin. I had none of that. It was just me. I forced myself to watch really great movies. But I didn’t know they were great movies at the time. I would watch Goodfellas and Scarface. I lived my entire life by Scarface’s quotes. I bought a giant poster at the mall and it couldn’t fit in any cars. My Dad had to get a special truck to put this thing in because I was so obsessed with Scarface and the idea of “the world is yours.” I just loved the idea of the movie so much and I was a kid. I didn’t know anything about it. But I said that’s how I’m going to live my life. By the saying of “the world is yours.” Not in the violent sense, I mean I liked that too, but more of the don’t stop at anything. I do think it had a positive message to me because to this day I still have that giant poster. That was a huge influence alone. But no, no one in my family was into that stuff. When I finally told my family that I wanted to go into school for filmmaking, they just said “you’re going to go into what?” It was almost comical. Nobody believed it. It was like a joke to them I guess. And that drove me even further because I felt that I had something to prove now. I think everyone that goes to film school is probably threatened by their family. Not in your face but it’s like “oh what are you going to do with your life, you’re going to be a filmmaker?” How many filmmakers can people really name? It’s a very tough business and I know that now. It’s very enchanting to think that you can be a filmmaker and make movies.

AA: Did any of your earlier school institutions cultivate your craft or did you not really get into it during those times?

JR: Okay so I was a horrible student. I cut class a lot. Never studied, but I always studied history. I was always into history. I had one teacher that would always have us watch these historically accurate war films. They were really cool films. He definitely encouraged me. It’s all I would study. I was obsessed with it. That definitely help cultivate my love for cinema because to this day I am working on my baby project which is going to be a 20 year long project. I already started it 5 years ago so I have 15 more to go. It’s going to be a war film and it’s inspired by every great war film. I’m just putting my little touch on it. The war films were really my only thing growing up. I didn’t take any art classes. I was really good at drawing, but no one ever really pushed me. My parents actually wanted me to do more with that stuff but I really was not a good student. I would force myself to do theatre stuff. I would be a stage hand or be rigging lights. That lasted maybe a semester. I was into the friends thing, going out, and meeting people. I wasn’t focused. But there were definitely things here and there that planted the seed and helped guide me. I just really didn’t know at the time. I didn’t know I wanted to be a cinematographer/filmmaker until late 17, right before I left for school. I told myself that I was going to do this and give it 100%. I’m going to leave everything in Long Island, New York, and I’m just going to go and be the best that I can be.

AA: Do you remember what made you decide that?

JR: Yes I do. So going back to the history and the films I like. It all boiled down to this one breaking point. It was when Band of Brothers on HBO came out. I knew the series was coming and I was very excited for it. I didn’t anticipate it to be as good as it was. When Band of Brothers came out, it was like every weekend was a feature film that was epic. Everything from stories, characters, theme, production value. It shocked me. Every time I turned it on, I would get the chills. It was so authentic. I bought two DVD copies of it so I could keep one in my room and my living room. I was just obsessed. After that series, I said “I’m going to do something like this.” It inspired me.

AA: How did you choose what college you would go to?

JR: I went to Columbia College Chicago. I chose Columbia College because I just got these vibes. I went there with my Dad in November and it was really warm, and it’s never like that. It was also just a warm feeling I got walking around Chicago. The program was everything at your disposal. It had every piece of equipment you could really want. It’s a studio. There’s studios and rental houses out there that don’t have half the equipment Columbia has, and that was the one thing that was important to me. I needed resources. They kept saying over and over again, “we’re the biggest mass communications school.” I thought that was cool because I always came from a big school mentality. My high school was really large. I was always in NYC which is huge. I like people. I like being around lots of them. I just had this feeling that Columbia was where I wanted to be. So I went home, spoke with my parents about it, and they said “if that’s what you want to do, just do it.” I pulled the trigger the day I got back from visiting open house. I have no regrets going to Chicago. I think for anyone that is interested in going into cinematography should look into this school. There’s just so many great names that have come out of Columbia and so much opportunity for networking. The great thing about Columbia that other film schools don’t have is that you have other areas of interest that you can collaborate with inside of the school. You’re not just working with filmmakers, you are going outside that. You’re going to people that are doing animation, fashion, music, theatre, etc. It’s just a giant school where you can network with all sorts of artists. You’re learning that before you get into the real world. You don’t even realize it but you actually are working in a real world environment, but you’re in school. You’re already prepped. I feel like that’s an unrealized part of that school. People come from all over the world to go to that school and then they disperse when they graduate to other places and different positions in the industry. That’s important. That is your network.

AA: When you went into Columbia College Chicago, did you know you wanted to go into Cinematography? And for those that might not know, can you explain a little about what a Cinematographer is?

JR: A cinematographer is the tip of the sphere from the script to the TV to your theatre. Everything you see has to get visualized. The DP takes the director’s vision and applies that vision onto celluloid or onto digital media. Through lenses, camera, lighting, everything you see. Everything in the director’s head goes through your head and through the lens. I definitely want to help bring more notice to DP’s. They play such an important role in everything that you see, but they barely get recognition. My first short film, I partnered up randomly and we made this film. I had no idea if it was good or anything, but then we showed it in class. We went third. This was my first experience of someone watching something I made outside of my friends. People were just shocked and no one wanted to go after me. It was so well received and I got really good feedback. After that, I got this sensation that maybe I’m good at moving the camera. The teacher told me that I should focus on cinematography because I had a knack for it and it came natural to me. Then the next week, I met with my advisor and said I wanted to switch to Cinematography and never looked back. The thing is when a kid goes to school, they want to be a director because that’s all they know. They don’t know how much more goes into it. They don’t know the screenwriters, cinematographers, or any other aspect that goes into the filmmaking process. And you get exposed to that at Columbia so quick that you can choose early. I’m so thankful that I found it early. I made over 50 films at Columbia. I shot everyone’s movies. I just had fun doing it. What’s cool about cinematography is that you’re wanted. All the directors and writers fight for you in some of the classes. It just felt really cool to be talented enough where all the directors in your program are trying to get you to shoot their movie.

AA: Were there any specific classes that stood out to you?

JR: Yes. Totally. The cool thing that I did was I found a way through the system that I guess kind of exploited the system. I made my own curriculum pretty much. Since I was always shooting, I wanted access to equipment whenever I could get it and two departments had equipment – film and television. So when I found that out, I was like “oh if I take a TV class I can get the HD cameras. And if I wanted to go the film route and get some good lighting, I’d take a film class.” So I did both. I know people started doing that later on, but I was one of the earlier people to do that and get away with it. I took just enough TV classes to always have access to an HD camera. It was really just for equipment. I was always an equipment buff. I always wanted to be in on the best stuff. If a new camera came out, I wanted to touch it first. I wanted to know the ins and outs of it. The best thing to do that is taking it home and shooting on it. Not necessarily sitting in class and learning from someone else. The best way to learn was to actually go out and do it yourself. I think that applies to anything in life, especially filmmaking. No one is going to teach you how to tell a good story. There is no right or wrong way. It’s just guidelines. You take those rules that you learn and you apply that into your films. You just keep learning from your mistakes. “Okay wow, I crossed the 180 line there. That looks really dumb. It’s a conversation and they’re both on the same side of the frame. It doesn’t make any sense.” You learn that. All the production classes really helped. I also took Psychology and Philosophy. Those classes changed my perspective on what a filmmaker should be doing because learning about how to get inside the audience’s head, how to understand humans, understanding behavior and the mind gave me a different outlook that I applied into my filmmaking. Making films with that stuff on my mind changed everything. It helped me because I understood how to get the audience to feel something. I understood how to manipulate them. It’s brainwashing. That’s what a film is. I guess that might not be the best word to use but that’s what it is. You’re taking the audience, removing them from their lives, whether it’s a good life or crappy life, I don’t know, but you’re taking them from their reality and you’re putting them into a reality that you created inside your head. The best way to do that is to understand the human mind and give that audience about a 2 hour escape and psychology and philosophy really helped me with that.

AA: What was the first camera you ever shot on?

JR: It was the biggest, ugliest camera you could ever imagine. It was bright red. It took VHS tapes. It looked like garbage. The image was crap. Imagine the worst image in your mind, that’s what the camera did. It was horrible. It didn’t even work right. We had to tape the battery and shake it around to turn it on. You couldn’t see through the eye piece so we were really shooting blind. It just sucked. I couldn’t tell you the exact name of it, but you get the gist.

AA: What was the first professional camera you ever used?

JR: It was the PD150.

AA: Do you have a favorite camera you’ve shot on? Are there any cameras you haven’t shot on yet that you would like to?

JR: My favorite camera is the Alexa and Red Epic. Ones I haven’t touched yet would be the Penelope 4K and also the Sony CineAlta F65 8K. I’m really excited to shoot with 8K because I want to see what the camera can do with that. With that being said though, I wish I could still shoot film. I really do. I think eventually by the time I’m doing big budget features unfortunately I think film is going to be an archaic format. It’s just been 10 years for HD to really take full control and in another 10 years it’s going to be game over. I do think you’re going to have people like me, that when I’m going to make my epic war film, I think film is still going to be a good medium to get that rawness and organic look that you just can’t create yet in digital. There’s something about celluloid. Don’t get me wrong I do like digital. I’m really fortunate to have gotten in when I did so I could experience both. But it’s just really sad seeing film becoming less and less.

AA: I completely agree. I’m happy that I was able to shoot on the Bolex as well. I feel that if you can make an image look good on a Bolex, then you can do it easily with a digital camera. It really taught you how to shoot an image. So as a cinematographer, do you feel that a lot of the younger generations are going to miss out on that?

JR: That’s definitely something that comes out on sets all the time. It’s something we’re always talking about. The great aspect is accessibility. You want to be a filmmaker and make a film you can go out and make it. And it’ll probably look good. But the negative aspect of that is it’s flooding youtube and vimeo with tons of videos. That becomes an issue. Everything being shot on the Canon 5D has this look, and it looks good. However, now anyone is picking up the camera and shooting something. If you’re really good, though, you’ll stand out amongst the millions of videos out there. You can still rise to the top. It separates the pros from the amateurs. I think the kids these days that are picking up DSLRs to shoot that are so sensitive in low light with a dynamic range of almost 13 stops out of the box, where nobody had access to that stuff, nobody before this generation had that. It’s almost like giving someone who has never had food before and giving them the top steak. You don’t know anything else. It’s going to be weird. I don’t really know what’s going to happen. You just see more and more reality stuff. You’re seeing the same type of of programs. There’s nothing that really stands out anymore. But then you have your handful that does stand out like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. Those just look way better and they have a better subject matter. I think that’s what’s happening with the youth now. I think they’re going to run into the same issue. They’re going to be picking up cameras. All their stuff is going to look the same and be influenced by everything in media today. They’re going to have all the same subjects and themes. Nothing is going to be innovative. I’m hoping it’s not going to be like that though.

AA: What advice do you have then to not go that route? How do you preserve an art form that is constantly changing because of technology?

JR: That’s a great question. I don’t think there’s a right answer to that. I think it’s a responsibility of people like us and people that came before us to always go back to the mediums that may be called obsolete. I think that I was really mad about shooting on a Bolex and cutting by hand, but now looking back at that, it really helped me with the filmmaking process. You really learned preservation with your frames. Nowadays if you didn’t get something on set, you can just go out and shoot it again. There isn’t the question of not having enough film. I don’t have enough light. None of that. You can open up to 1600 ISO on any of these new cameras and get a house light and you’re at exposure. It may be a little noisy, but it’s certainly better than any image that we had access to. I think the teachers and authors of today need to ground these students in reality. Also, sometimes take away the good stuff. Have these students make films with limitations. Pull away some of the stuff that’s going to make their film look a lot better and have them learn the hard way. Instead of giving them access to everything maybe they should still be shooting some films on 16mm. Less and less film schools are doing that. I know now at Columbia you almost have to beg to shoot film as a freshmen. They’re giving all these kids HD cameras. Is that the right way to go? I don’t know. I don’t know the correct answer on how to get these kids out of the trap of making the same thing.

AA: What is something people may not know about being a cinematographer?

JR: The cool thing about the cinematographer is that he gets to touch every part of the filmmaking process. Also, being on set, he gets to be involved with each team as far as art, camera, lighting, grip and electric, SFX, etc. You don’t have that with the other jobs. Cinematographers are almost like the saviors of the film sometimes. For example, a question would be asked “how could we get this done without having the money to spend for this special effect?” The cinematographer has to find some way to get what the director wants while shooting around things. He’s a problem solver. On top of that, he’s also the main networker by being involved with all the groups, he gets to know everyone else’s job. He’s also the back up director. He’s next to the director. They’re like glue.

AA: In school, did you have a favorite project?

JR: Wages of Sin was my favorite student film. It was great. The subject matter was current. The film said something. It was dark. It was shot and directed well. There was a great team behind it. I mean you know, you helped produce it. It’s an emotional film. You take something from it. It was done very professionally and was very ambitious. It looked like we had way more than we actually had. I mean it was shot on the Bolex with banged up lenses. But everything came together and we won an award for it.

AA: How important are collaborations and networking?

JR: I think that’s the most important thing about filmmaking and being in the entertainment industry. It’s a two step process. You get to networking. Networking leads to friendships. Friendships lead to collaboration. Once you hit that collaboration part, you’re going to start that process over again with a new set of people. You’re going to keep doing that and it grows and grows and branches out. The next thing you know, you’re never looking for another job. You can’t stop turning people down because you’re so booked. That’s what I’ve learned just being in the business for the amount of time I have been. You really have to make friendships on set. You have to shadow everybody. Just get your name out there. Be friendly. Don’t be an asshole. Do the right thing and network. It could be 20 years down the road, that person is going to remember you, and they’re going to want you to be a part of their film if you were really good and dedicated. It’s so important. I see it everyday on set. Some people just don’t get that and it’s sad because you’re really going to struggle for work if you don’t have the network. How are you going to get your name out there if no one knows who you are? It’s definitely one of the most important things about the job. Also, you learn from each other. “Oh you were on that shoot, this happened on that set, oh wow so you learned that.” It’s almost like you were there. The stories you learn on while on set are informative. You’re sometimes on set for 16-18 hours a day. These people become your family. You can be with the same group of people for a year eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, staying up late, working hard, getting your hands dirty, getting hurt, sweating, crying. This is your family and networking is the core of that.

AA: So you graduated film school in 2009. What did you do next? Where did you go after that?

JR: I left Chicago. I went back to New York. Most people went to LA. I just didn’t want to go there right away. Maybe I’ll end up there in a few years. It doesn’t matter. I have no problem with LA, I just wanted to go to New York because that was my home. I started shooting films. I shot a couple films and music videos and started networking. I made my website and was just selling myself. Every time I was on set I was selling myself. Almost like it was a job interview. A couple things led to other things and I began to make a name for myself. Then people started calling me. People that I didn’t even meet but was recommended to from networking. Next thing you know, I was working for about 4 different production companies and also doing other things on the side. I’ve never looked back. I was offered a couple teaching jobs, but I didn’t want to do that because as much as I want to teach one day, I didn’t want to do it now. I think that would have been an easy way out starting my career with teaching film. It really just goes back to networking. Going to every website imaginable. Mailing my resume, DVDs, and demo reel to over 150 companies everywhere. I was just sending stuff out. Utilizing sites like Production Hub and Mandy. It all pays off. The hard work pays off. If you really think you’re good and you have the drive, you will succeed. There’s nothing to stop you. It goes back to Scarface, “the world is yours.” You just got to go out and take it. There’s always doors that are opening. Some door is unlocked somewhere. It’s just waiting for you to go through it. That’s the story of my life so far. More doors are opening right now than ever before and I’m just so thankful. I’ve shot so many commercials, films, pilots, web series, video games, and I’m working on so many different things I’m almost stretching myself out to thin. I’ve been turning down so much work. Projects I’d love to be a part of but I just can’t do it. The cool thing about being a filmmaker is that you get to travel and meet new people. You make friendships around the country and the world. I’ve been around the world doing this now and there’s no end in sight.

AA: That’s pretty dope that you get to travel and see all these different places. Do you have any favorite places you’ve been so far?

JR: I’ve been throughout Europe. I’m supposed to be going to Asia and Australia. That’s going to be postponed because I just took on this project that I would talk about but I can’t talk about it. We’ll have to come back and talk about that later on. One of my very first projects, which was nominated for an Emmy, was this 20 city thing for government jobs. I went to so many different cities throughout the country and I was the director of photography. It was a great learning experience because that was my first big gig outside of New York. It was pretty big in scale. It was over 6 months going to all these different places. It was such a great experience.

AA: I feel like you’re always jet-setting.

JR: Ha. Yeah I was just recently in England. I just got back from San Francisco. I might be going back there very soon. It’s never ending. I was just able to get these gigs that allowed me to travel. Last year I was able to go to Vegas 4 times, 3 times with 1 production company and the other with a different production company. It’s just cool. I love every second that I’m working. It’s a great career. I love it.

AA: You’ve mentioned different production companies. So are you considered freelance?

JR: Yes I’m a freelancer. The cool thing about a freelancer is that you can go from project to project. You’re your own boss. You get to choose what you want to do. If you want to take off next week, then you can. There’s always opportunities somewhere else. If you don’t like the job that you’re doing. Once it’s done, you can walk away. If you don’t like the freelance route, you don’t have to do that. You can work in house as well if that’s what you want to do. You get to choose.

AA: Are you allowed to talk about any of the projects you’re working on?

JR: Honestly, I’ve been working on all these projects that I can’t speak about. It’s just top secret and I’ve signed NDA forms for all of them. Once they come out, I’ll definitely share.

AA: How would you describe your style as a cinematographer?

JR: I believe that naturally people have a certain technique, however I don’t think there is a standard style. I used to believe that. And then I learned that each script should dictate the style of the film. With that being said, each project individually has its own style. I love cinema verite. I always lean towards that if I’m going handheld or something, but I do believe that each script dictates the style and vision. There’s always a natural technique but it’s all individual. I tend to frame and light things a certain way, so I guess that’s my style, but each project calls for something different.

AA: What advice do you have for the next generation? How does one go about making this their career?

JR: Never give up. Always believe in yourself. Always go outside the box and push yourself further and further. My main thing is pick up a camera. Start shooting right away. I don’t care what school you go to. I don’t care if they don’t let you touch a camera until you’re a senior. I don’t care. Find a way to get your hands on a camera and make a film. Make it the way you want to make it. Keep your head in the books. Always look for new techniques. Always try to push yourself. Always try to use the latest equipment. Always use the latest support gear. Teach yourself how to do everything. Learn every aspect of the filmmaking process then find what you want to specialize in and run with it. Run like the wind. And make films. Make 100 films. Make films that people hate. Make people hate you. Make films that people love. Make people love you. Make films that are experimental. Make music videos. Shoot spec commercials. Get on sets. Be a production assistant. Be anybody. Just always be willing to do something that you may not want to do on set. Always help your friends out. If there’s a party the same time your friend wants to shoot a film. Skip the party. Bring the beer to the film set. Party on the film set because beer and filmmaking are good friends. They go together so don’t worry about that. You’ll have your fun on sets. Don’t worry about that. It’s always a great time. And networking. Have a card from day one. When you’re going to school, have a card already made. It just has to say your name on it and an email. Start handing it out. Watch films and be inspired, but don’t be too influenced because then you’re going to make things like the next guy. Don’t go into this business caring about money because if you do what you do the money is going to come. You have to love what you do. That’s worth more than money. The money will come to you. The money is endless. Keep pushing yourself as an artist. Bottom line – make films.

AA: Cinematography is your craft and you’re the craftsman. What three things do you have in your toolbox?

JR: Golden hour 24 hours a day. I would love if everyday 24 hours a day was golden hour. It’s that hour right before sunset. I love shooting in that. I wish that was every second because it’s so beautiful. An Alexa camera. A good team.

Check out some of Joe’s work below.

Visit Joe’s official website here.




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Written by Angel Alzona

Angel Alzona is the co-founder of Art Room Collective. She is also the director of social media for Keyes Auto Group and a field producer for the Emmys.



  1. Nicole Petrone says:

    Having had the great pleasure of working with Joe, I really enjoyed reading this interview and getting a better picture of his background and inspirations. Great interview! And Band of Brothers IS phenomenal.