Working as a futures trader is not the typical path to shooting films, documentaries and TV series for Hollywood titans James Cameron and Michael Bay. But Jules O’Loughlin is not a typical cinematographer.
“I traded for brokers for five years and then traded my own money on the Sydney futures exchange for five years so I was surrounded by money and finance and all that jazz,” O’Loughlin says.
“I was a mad keen photographer… but when my dad died my life changed. I came to the realisation that I had no interest in money. It didn’t motivate me at all so I became a filmmaker and became poor as a result [laughs].”
That was in 1999, and with the financial support of his wife, O’Loughlin spent the next three years at the Australian Film and Television School honing his craft. “I literally went ‘I have to do this and there is no other option’. I was so driven by that stage – failure is not an option.”
It was a leap which paid off. He went on to shoot several Australian films including the James Cameron-produced 3D cave-diving thriller Sanctum, which grossed more than $US108 million around the world in 2011. Most recently, he finished shooting the final three episodes of ABC TV series Redfern Now and is set to return to Cape Town, South Africa, in mid-November to shoot the second series of Michael Bay’s $US40 million pirate TV series Black Sails.
Still, those early years working in the finance industry have informed the second half of his career – a world where art and commerce often make uneasy bedfellows.
“I’m always really mindful of the budget on a feature or a commercial and always try to work with the line producer when they say ‘we’ve got no money for that’.”
He says it took some time to adjust to the bigger scale – and budget for cinematography – on Black Sails although “coming into season two I’ll be much more comfortable using every cent but still, I’ll always have that thing in the back of my mind of fiscal responsibility.”
It is a sense of financial responsibility which extends to his own business.
“I’m not precious as a cinematographer. I’ll do a corporate shoot as long as it’s paying because I know I have to keep the doors of my business open. You can actually make a lot of money just having turnover. I’ll do anything from a commercial to a $100 million movie and I don’t care – I’m without ego because I understand it’s cash flow.”
The Australian screen industry is largely driven by passion and goodwill (Sanctum was one of the few films to make a profit in recent years) and O’Loughlin has contributed his share. However, the role that money plays has taken on a higher level of importance again, harking back to those early years in the finance industry, although for different reasons.
“I’ve never really been driven by money – my wife on the other hand worked in finance and always looked after the money-side of things. But now I’m separated, I’ve really become much more money-oriented because I’ve got two kids and a mortgage – just through necessity I have to do it. It’s shifted my career a little bit because of that – I can’t do as many of the freebies because I’ve got to live and feed my kids and all that.”