Manel Ruiz: “In Los Angeles, I’ve had opportunities I could never have dreamed of having in Spain”

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In this interview, the former Audiovisual Communication student explains how he managed to carve a niche for himself in the music and film industry in the United States

Manel Ruiz: “In Los Angeles, I’ve had opportunities I could never have dreamed of having in Spain”

Manel Ruiz is a UIC Barcelona alumnus. His passion for photograph and video led him to study Audiovisual Communication. An occupation he is currently pursuing in one of the United States’ most emblematic cities: Los Angeles. In between shoots, this fan of still photography has managed to carve a niche for himself in the Mecca of motion pictures and in the music industry, while he travels the country, discovering its coasts and mountains.

Why did you decide to study Audiovisual Communication? 
I was always attracted by the media, particularly visual images. I wanted to gain a strong understanding of the different media. 

And why UIC Barcelona?
It offered me individual, high-quality attention. Right from the start you could see how accessible the teaching staff were. The audiovisual facilities and material played a major role in my decision. The TV studio, technical equipment and editing rooms were new and modern, and that was one of the things that caught my attention.

How would you describe your time at UIC Barcelona? 
It was very positive. Never once did I feel lonely. Right from the start the lecturers treated everyone individually. Plus, a lot of my classmates ended up becoming friends, and I’ve actually had the chance to work with some of them in the job world. 

You could say you're living a lot of people’s dream, but what made you decide to cross the pond and work in the US? 
After graduating from UIC Barcelona, I decided to specialise in cinematography at the Barcelona Film School (ECIB). When I finished, I spent a year working in all kinds of audiovisual productions, until a friend from university who was working as a producer in Madrid gave me a call. They were looking for camera operators for the programmes Más que Coches, Más que Coches GT and Más que Motos, by Mediaset. 

So I decided to pack my bags and head to Madrid to work with him. I spent the next year travelling around Europe, but I soon realised I needed something more. After weighing various options, I decided to go to the US and enrol at UCLA. The programme was more focused on networking, with the option to stay in the country for an additional year and work. 

What was your first project? 
It was for a friend, a Mexican director who was looking for a cinematographer in Los Angeles to shoot a couple things for a music video/documentary about José Alfredo Jiménez. It was nominated for a Latin Grammy. 

Beginnings are never easy, and even less so in a city like Los Angeles... 
There are two things I found particularly difficult. One, having all of my family and friends almost ten thousand kilometres away, with a 9-hour time difference. This was something I knew about when I stepped on the plane. But it’s totally different to actually experience it. 

And two, the distances. In Barcelona, we’re incredibly lucky to have such a fantastic public transportation system and to be able to get from one place to another in a relatively short amount of time. Here, in Los Angeles, things are a lot different. The city is immense, the distances are enormous and traffic can be a nightmare at certain times. But once you get used to it, it really is an impressive city. 

And professionally? Is it as difficult as it seems to get a foothold in the audiovisual world in Los Angeles?
I can tell you one thing: everyone is very upfront and quick to hand you their card, which means you’re constantly meeting up for coffee and expanding your network. And while it is much more competitive, if I’m realistic, I’ve had opportunities I could never have dreamed of having in Spain. For instance, I’m now in the pre-production stage of a film that I’ll be shooting in July and August in California. 

What factors do you think have helped you in your professional career?
One of the biggest pluses is the fact I speak Spanish. Los Angeles (and California in general) is home to a great many Latin immigrants, and many productions are geared towards this market. But in the end it’s just like everything else: you have to keep at it without shutting any doors.

How does the film production process differ in Barcelona and Los Angeles?
The pace of work is a lot different. I get the feeling things move a lot faster here. In our industry, time is money, and overtime gets paid. That’s something else that’s different here compared to Spain: the wages. In terms of materials, Los Angeles has lots of things I’d never seen before in Spain, and after the last couple of visits I’ve realised these things are just now making it over.

You said you’ve worked on several music videos in the US. What do you like most about working on this kind of project?
What I like most is the immense amount of creativity they involve. A narrative piece also requires creativity, but with a music video you can let your imagination run wild and try different things. 

What is a typical day filming a music video in Los Angeles like?
Like in any audiovisual project, there’s a shooting schedule that determines which scenes are going to be shot that day. 

Which artists have you worked with?
I’ve worked with Andy Vargas (lead singer in Santana) on a music video that still hasn’t been released. With this project we worked with artists such as the singer Beto Cuevas, who I’d already had the pleasure of working with, and MLB star Adrián González. I worked with Beto Cuevas on the music video/documentary about José Alfredo Jiménez. And I’ve also worked with other less famous artists from a number of different musical genres. 

You’ve also been involved in shorts and feature films. Which ones exactly?
I’ve worked on a lot of short films, from dramas and thrillers to comedies. Many are still in post-production or on the festival circuit. I also had the chance to go to Mexico and shoot a documentary and a fashion film, and worked, as a lighting technician, on a German, Polish and English co-production. 

And with all these experiences, what sticks with you the most?
The thing I’m most interested in is the narrative, telling stories through the camera and light. I really enjoy experimenting with cameras and lenses, trying new things. 

Given the choice, which director would you rather work with?
David Fincher, no question. I love thrillers, and his camera style is really fascinating.

And what would be your dream project?
My dream project would be to film a thriller/film noir as a cinematographer with no budget limitations in terms of camera, lenses, lights or grips. Mind you, always with people with much more experience than me, because, in the end, you always learn more when you’re surrounded by people who know more than you. 

Would you like to come back to Barcelona or can you see yourself living in the US?
I’m not really thinking about moving back to Barcelona just yet. I think I’ve started something there, and I want to see how far I can take it. This isn’t an industry of immediate results. It’s a path that yields long-term benefits, which is why I think I need to stay and see where I end up. 

And after the American dream, where would you like to try your luck?
Mexico also has quite a strong industry. I’ve been there a few times to shoot, and they honestly do have quite a powerful industry, with very talented people, and I’m lucky enough to be able to communicate with them without problems.