“John’s artistic capabilities as well as his devotion to his craft are staggering. Our film collaborations range from the surreally bizarre “Mozartballs” (2006) to the powerful political drama “Our Man in Tehran” (2013), to the aching humanity of the theme of mental illness of "Clara’s Big Ride" (2014), to the unexpected take of the saxophone history, “The Devil’s Horn" (2015). The latter required John to create an entirely new method of shooting, inspired by drug-infused hallucinations of our subjects, causing John to use the camera in ways that no other DOP with whom I’ve worked would have been bold enough to execute. He shoots documentaries in a way that are highly dramatic, and dramas that are infused with documentary techniques and has thus created a blend of styles and a blur of genres that are masterful in technique and storytelling.
Most important, John has been the ultimate collaborator, and his sense of playfulness and invention puts him in a category all by himself. As he has become more in demand, I arrange my shooting schedule around his availability, which I suppose speaks loudly of the deep respect and reverence that I have for his visual sense and the sheer joy of his collaborative talent.”
Director/Producer - Our Man in Tehran
“John Minh Tran has been my main cinematic collaborator, and dear friend, for about 25 years. Together we have made many award-winning documentary films, including McLuhan’s Wake, An Idea of Canada, Waterlife, Standing Wave, Stolen Spirits of Haida Gwaii, Spaceship Earth, Viral News, Arctic Blue, Borealis and two legendary TV series, The Polar Sea and Equator. Why do I love working with John so much? Let me count the ways: He has an eye for an exquisitely composed image worthy of any great painter -- but unlike a painter, John has just seconds to create each frame. He has a genius for verité filming which is, first, a set of human attributes: the courage and genial kindness to get close to subjects (yes, kindness, because they only let you near if they like you); the emotional intelligence to quickly grasp the essence of a character and how best to relate to, and capture them; the concentration to listen closely enough to understand what will happen next; and the humility to make himself small enough to go unnoticed. All of that then allows John to exercise his matchless operating skill, especially his ability to create seamless shots that follow an action from start to finish, anticipating each unknowable move, and always landing perfectly, creating, in each shot, a complete mini-movie. Nothing is less common than that. Then there are John’s arty image-making skills: he has the cinematic knowledge to understand metaphorical pictures and the technical chops to render them using greenscreens, layered composition, odd angles, varying speeds, fresh perspectives and a whole quiver of other techniques which have set my films apart for their poetic beauty – thanks to John’s skill. Almost as important is the fact that there is no one sweeter, easier-going, funnier, friendlier or happier to have on a filming expedition. We have shot in many crazy places -- on small boats in big seas, amid forest fires, deep in uncharted forests, on Arctic shores surrounded by polar bears and, very often, hanging from aircraft. And we have shot all sorts of subjects -- from the most humble coal miner to the most skeptical elder to celebrities and actual royalty. In all those places and with all those people, my job has been easy because John is always up for any challenge and everyone we encounter trusts him completely. As do I. For all the good times, all the adventure and, most of all, all the unbelievably wonderful imagery we have made together, I will always be grateful. I would be much less a filmmaker without my wonderful partnership with John Minh Tran.”
Director/Producer - Borealis
“John is a natural visual story teller (which I suspect comes from hours nerding out on comic books and dissecting cameras or maybe he was just born with a camera in his head). He can arrive on a set and instantly figure out how a scene should be blocked out and filmed.
On Carmine Street Guitars , he had to figure out how to shoot in a constricted space , typically on one take improvised scenes. The fluidity of his hand held camera work ,especially on the musical performances, is brilliant. And I think it’s brilliant because he anticipates where the music is headed . Scenes are not just “covered,” they are cinematically composed. For me is it’s not what John can do, so much as what can’t he do? He does everything and always with unequivocal enthusiasm.”
Director/Producer - Carmine Street Guitar
“John Tran is one of the hardest working people I know in the film business. His ability to grasp quickly not just how best to film a scene, but how to capture its cinematic essence, is unparalleled. He has a preternatural talent for ingratiating himself in whatever environment we are filming within, always putting himself in the right place with grace. He is brilliant, dedicated, and always fully present. And he’s a damn nice guy to boot.”
Director - To Win it All
“I wouldn't be the filmmaker I am today without John Tran. I was initially intimidated and felt unworthy to work with someone so highly established, but those feelings quickly dissipated when I met him in person. His kindness, generosity and respectful attitude were so refreshing and appreciated by anyone we met during filming. At the time, I held a lot of insecurities as an emerging filmmaker, but his gentle guidance and genuine support for my success were empowering and extremely validating. Truly, he is an inspiring artist, teacher, collaborator, and friend, and I am utterly grateful and honored to be able to work with him.”
Director - Turning Table
“I’ve had the great pleasure and good fortune to work with John a couple of times. The first occasion was my first film as writer-director. It was a one-day, one-location, two actor shoot, adapted from a short play of mine. The whole thing went so swimmingly, in no small part thanks to John’s smooth efficiency, that towards the end of the day I said, “How about a feature next time?” He was all for it.
A couple of years later he was as good as his word. I asked him to jump on board a documentary I was contemplating, in which I would go to Israel to search for the tree that had been planted there in my name many years earlier. Some time after that, we were on a plane to Israel.
My abiding memory, and the one that I think best captures John’s dedication, devotion, and commitment is this: We were shooting a scene in Canada Park, a key location in the film as it’s the likely home of my tree. I was conducting another of my free-form, talk-til-the-memory-card-is-full conversations. John never complained about this approach, not even if it meant shouldering the camera for 20, 25, 30 minutes at a time, doing his best to follow me and my interview subject as we walked along various winding paths.
At one point in Canada Park, my interview subject, an activist named Eitan Bronstein, stopped to tell me about the history of the place, how it had been a Palestinian village until the war in 1967 when it was destroyed by the Israeli Defence Forces, its inhabitants forced out on foot. There was a lot to talk about. John had taken up position in a patch of weeds, judging it be the best spot from which to get the angle he wanted. The interview must have gone on for a good half hour when John announced, almost apologetically, that he was almost out of room on his memory card and needed to insert a fresh one. I felt like I had what we needed and it was time to push on to another location.
Packing up, John said, in that good natured way of his, that his legs were feeling funny, like they were on fire or something. “That’s because you’ve been standing in stinging nettles for the last half hour,” said Eitan. We all instinctually looked at the ground where John had been standing in silent suffering for the last 30 minutes. It was covered in the invasive weed. Most people, it’s fair to say, would at that point have panicked, wanted to get to a doctor, worried about the effects of the plants. Not John. He just laughed it off. Like, really laughed, with that hearty chuckle that keeps sets buoyant.
That’s John. Shoot first, ask questions later. But of course, he also asks plenty of questions before the shoot. The kind that you’d expect from a story editor. Sometimes he asks during an interview, encouraging a question for the interview subject that hasn’t yet been covered, that the story needs. Because John is, above all, a storyteller. That’s what makes him such a great photographer. Of course he has a brilliant compositional eye and an instinct for what to shoot on the fly, but he also knows his pictures are going to help tell the story we’ve all set out to make.
He is that rarest of people: A great collaborator, a great artist, a great friend.”
Director/Producer - My Tree
“John is the ideal collaborator. He can take a director's vague ideas and bring them to life, or he can execute your precise vision, no matter how complex. In the field, he's one of the best observational cinematographers I've worked with – always listening, always ready for the critical moment. And, just as important, he's a joy to be around, for the crew as well as the subjects. Working with John makes the job fun.”
Director - Cheating Death
John has an excellent reputation as a verité cinematographer, and when I finally had the chance to work with him, he proved to be a virtuoso, gracefully capturing the action while also creating gorgeous images. With “The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution”, we often had to shoot in tiny, closet-sized kitchens, in which every square inch of real estate was spoken for, and the challenge was to document a sequence without interrupting the flow of a working restaurant. In these instances, John would literally fold himself into a corner, becoming one with the pots and pans, while continuing to cover the action from his perch.
Most recently, we collaborated on “Crush: Message in a Bottle”, in which we followed artisanal winemakers and winegrowers, from vineyard to cellar, over the course of four seasons. At times, by necessity, I would be further from the action, watching on a monitor, so as not to get in the way.
Although we would discuss the sequence beforehand, some of the shooting was on the fly. I trust his instincts, and, invariably, would find that his camera went exactly where I was thinking (and mentally projecting) it needed to go. He listens and watches and is constantly reflecting on how best to tell the story visually. Plus, he works fast and has all the latest gadgets to enable him to do his work as smoothly as possible.
Director/Producer The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution
John is a wizard on set. He can easily command a room and capture the best of a character and situation. John is not only a DOP passionate about his craft, but he is also a natural-born storyteller. He thinks deeply about your film on and off the shoots and is prepared to go the distance. This is why so many prominent filmmakers choose to only work with John!
Director - Atomic Reaction