Interview: Jordan Oram Talks Spiral, Shooting Drake’s Biggest Music Videos

Spiral is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and digitally. The Saw spin-off stars Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in the lead roles and is directed by Saw II-IV director Darren Lynn Bousman in his return to helming the horror series. While it exists in the Saw universe, it’s very much its own thing and provides a fresh experience thanks to the work of director of photography Jordan Oram.

RELATED: Interview: Spiral Director Darren Lynn Bousman on Crafting a Saw Spin-off

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Jordan Oram about working on the horror franchise, his music videos with Drake, and what’s next for him.

Tyler Treese: To the average person that has watched your work, how would you explain what exactly you’re doing behind the camera as a cinematographer and a director of photography?

Jordan Oram: I would say I’m a point guard for basketball. Ultimately what I’m doing is facilitating the director’s vision, bringing it to life. In terms of, the directors will spend more time working the actors, getting emotional referencing out in performance, whereas I’ll take the shot description, the lighting, and the orchestration on the floor into account in terms of how we successfully adopt a plan, or actually achieve the look and feel of the firm. So a lot of collaboration with production, design, makeup, hair wardrobe, AD department, production support, as well as the director/writers to ensure that everything on screen is facilitated through my lens. So managerial from working with the grip department to ensure that we have rigging and the technical stuff down to lighting and ensuring that there’s power distribution and all forms of consistency from a visual perspective on screen is all my priorities.

You’ve done so many videos with Drake in the past. I had read that you kind of manifested that. That you told him, “Hey, I’m gonna be shooting your videos.” Can you tell that story?

I had worked primarily in the videography space before I became a full-time cinematographer and I had worked on a project with Drake in 2008 and 2012, I believe. I remember just meeting him for the first time, and I just remember reciting words to him. “If I’m ever able to shoot one of your music videos, I’ll shoot the biggest music video that you’ve ever had,” and that was maybe six years before I ended up getting the opportunity to lens “God’s Plan.” A lot of it just came from the willingness and the determination that I had to successfully accomplish a goal that I’d set out prior to actually accomplishing it. Coming from Toronto, it’s one of the biggest goals that anybody that’s in the film space has because everyone, when you’re shooting these videos and everyone is saying to you, “When are you going to shoot Drake?” So it was really just about having a vision set out and accomplishing it. Now I’m still collaborating with him on main various projects and still have that consistent, ongoing dialogue that allows us to create, but now venturing into the long form narrative worlds and taking all of my past with me.

“God’s Plan” is such a legendary video and, you know, he’s giving out money during it. When did you learn about the concept of that video? How did you decide who got money?

We had [spent] two weeks in Miami [scouting] in terms of who was really in need of these funds that Drake was donating. I had known of the concept from the inception. It was something that Drake had wanted to do with this project. So Karena Evans, the director of the video, she kind of just lens it and said, let’s go and shoot a documentary-style music video that is going to allow Drake to be captured in the most authentic way. So we approached that with more scheduling plans, but from a reactionary phase, everything that happened on screen actually happens in real time. Not much of that was staged other than the fact that we knew Drake was going to be there, but we didn’t know what was going to happen, how it was going to happen, where it was going to happen. We just kind of took the cameras to the spaces and had Drake show up with cash in hand. No one declined the money, but everyone that received it was extremely grateful.

That’s awesome. Then you worked on “I’m Upset,” which was a really cool video, kind of like a Degrassi reunion. How was it working on that?

Oh, that was great. That came after a bunch of videos that we did for Drake in that time period. And that was the 10-year anniversary of the Degrassi High cast. So it was an actual reunion that we had been scheduled to capture. It was great. We’ve done a bunch of music videos in LA and New Orleans, and now being able to come back to Toronto for that period of music videos to capture in Toronto, on home base, it was incredible. It was the first time that my father had ever gotten to see me work. So that was a goal of mine was able to achieve because of the projects I worked on.

Max Minghella Spiral Interview

You know, with a film like Spiral, what kind of challenges did you face setting up those shots. There’s so many moving pieces and the awesome traps that we see. What was challenging about that shoot?

Yeah, the biggest challenges I think were just to not conform to the past and all the things that had previously been executed in other franchise selections or things that we had to eradicate from our approach in this film with Darren, the director. I didn’t want to allow what had been done to format itself in the future. So I had to extract new information from the director and the team creatively to just try and ways that we could make this look and feel something that was a modern take on an old franchise. It was a resurgence, and having a Black-led cast gave a whole fresh face to the franchise. So it was particularly important for me to just stay honest and authentic to my approach.

With Spiral being connected to the Saw franchise, it just hit a billion dollars and it has such a passionate fan base, was there any nervousness or expectations in coming in and putting your own stamp on it?

At first there was a little bit of hesitation to actually deploy my own voice, my own opinion to the execution of the film. But I think getting the opportunity alone was a big enough of a crutch break for me to know that they were taking a risk, so I didn’t have much to lose. So from that opportunity, I kind of just fermented myself in firm ground and just said to myself, “Let’s go forward with the direction I want to intend and allow what is going to happen to happen.” A lot of the decisions that we made were collective that were pushed both by me or the director. They ended up cutting out really well. I’m happy because the results of the film are what you see that their response has been great so far.

You get to work with Drake, so it’s hard to get bigger stars than that, but Spiral has such a talented cast. Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, how cool was it to be with these legends?

It was great because now working with Chris and Sam and Max and Marisol, I’m now experienced in what does it look like to work with a mega superstar. So it’s nothing that changes from my experiences, working with Drake and Usher and Coldplay and all the other predecessors that I’ve worked with, but it now allows me to just find that unique voice when dealing with these types of humans and just extracting what character development or what character characteristics they want to bring out in their stories. It allows me to just be a little bit more reactionary versus controlled.

You also did See for Me, which is another horror film. Do you have like a particular affinity for that genre or have these projects just happened to be horror?

These projects just happened to be horror. the project See for Me was the collaboration between myself and the director, Randall Okita as well as Jackson Parrell. It was a friend of mine who was shooting the film and COVID had locked him up. Randall, the director, actually was my mentor in 2012. So it was an amazing experience, full circle moment for me to come back and be the cinematographer for his second feature film. I like the idea of thriller mainly for the concept of the psychology behind the reasonings, but I don’t want to stay, I don’t want to get stuck in this genre too because it would allow me to do the things that I’m really excited and looking forward to in the future.

Do you want to do more films or what type of like projects would really excite you in the future?

That’s more psychological things that are exploring human behavior. [Something] unconventional. I look at films like The Tree of Life, Children of Men, things that Terrence Malick would direct for me are things that I would be very interested in because it allows more conversation and complete intention to the visual language and storytelling, and also things that are enriched in culture or something that I’m primarily focusing on right now to depict the lens of our stories as African-American filmmaker. I would love to make sure that I’m making a priority to lens things as authentically as possible. As seen in the past things aren’t as true as they seem. So I think just giving me a new perspective to the various genres, like horror is unique in my approach.

As I mentioned before, you’ve been big on, you know, manifestation in your career and speaking stuff into existence. Is there any, you know, dream projects that you kind of want to just put out right now put out in the world?

If I could shoot every book that I’m reading right now, I’d be happy. A dream project of mine, there’s a couple of books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad, The 48 Laws of Power. Things of the nature of manifestation I would love to kind of adapt to my filmography, but, yeah, I’m not crossing my arms and waiting for the right projects. I’m just patiently waiting for things to fall into place.

For your near future, what other projects do you have coming up?

Well, I’m currently working on my first ever television episodic series. It’s eight episodes at one hour apiece on the CBC and BET network called The Porter and explores the story of train porters in 1920 Montreal. Back in 1920, when they weren’t able to work, they were only able to get jobs as train porters. This is my first TV series that I’m a director of photography for.

For a series that’s a time period piece, does that change how you shoot any or is it more the same?

50/50. I would say I approach with the same characteristics that I would approach anything, but a little bit more in historical reference and goes into things in terms of the color temperature or the textures that I expose, or the language that we’re conveying through consistent beams and cues that we take. So repetitive nature and just the way that the director and I are figuring out ways to tell what it looked like in 1920, you can’t do something that you shouldn’t do in 1920 in 2021. So yeah, finding ways to simplify the approaches is my priority right now.

Spiral is out on Blu-ray finally. Due to the pandemic, not everybody was able to see it in theaters that wanted to. How great is it that people are finally getting to see it?

It’s amazing. We shot the film back in 2019. So my anticipation for the following year was high and COVID [happened], so pushing it back to 2021 release definitely reduced the amount of views that I could add on the project collectively, especially because it was only available in the United States. So most of my Canadian viewership wasn’t able to see the film, but now that it’s going on in digital, Blu-ray, it’s going to be nice to rerelease the film globally on a physical platform that people can watch around the world. I’m very excited to see and hear what people have to say about my work as well as the actors, performers, directors, and all the team involved.

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