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Veteran DP Rodrigo Prieto Steps Into Director's Chair for 'Likeness'

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Having proven his mettle as a cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto is turning his hand to directing. The veteran DP, who has photographed notable films like Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain" and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "21 Grams," as well as standout spots like W+K's P&G Olympics spot "Best Job," has stepped behind the director's chair on "Likeness," a short film that premieres tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival.

"Likeness" stars Elle Fanning, is produced by Candescent Films, Little Minx and Idealogue, with music and sound by Q Department, and explores the issue of eating disorders. Co- producer Rhea Scott approached Prieto in New York to ask him to participate in a series of web films about social issues. Prieto picked eating disorders, because his daughter, Ximena, went through a bout of anorexia. "It is extremely hard and extremely traumatic to go through that as a family," he said. "Ximena is my creative consultant on this project. This was a good opportunity to deal with it and help us understand our feelings about it." She also appears in the film itself, playing one of Ms. Fanning's friends.

Mr. Prieto, who's repped out of Little Minx for commercials, says that "Likeness" is part of the healing process for Ximena and his family. When the climax of the film was shot, he said he saw his own daughter in Fanning's eyes. "It was very cathartic for us as a family," he said.

Jacqueline Bosnjak, one of the co-producers on "Likeness," described Mr. Prieto as having a real "sense of justice." Without naming names, Prieto said he has turned down plenty of movies that don't align with his personal principles. "I don't do gratuitous violence," he said. "And I don't do vengeance."

Along with his directorial debut, Mr. Prieto will also premiere more of his big screen cinematography work this year, including Martin Scorsese's 'The Wolf of Wall Street,' a film based on the autobiography by Jordan Belfort about a stockbroker who refuses to get involved in a large-scale securities fraud, to launch in the fall. "I'd like to say [working with Scorsese] was a dream of mine," said Mr. Prieto. "But I can't, because I didn't think it was ever a possibility." He's also shooting for "The Homesman," which is being directed by Tommy Lee Jones in New Mexico.

Born and raised in Mexico City, Prieto said he was always attracted to film, perhaps because he used to visit his uncle Los Angeles every year. "L.A. for me symbolized the magic of Disneyland and Universal Studios," he said. "I was fascinated by filmmaking. As for his move from cinematographer to director, he said he's always been interested in actors and storytelling beyond camera operation. When he started working in the industry, he didn't even know the difference between a DP and a director. "It's an expansion of my creative talent," he said. "I don't want to stop being a DP, but I do want to expand a little bit."

While studying at the Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica (CCC) in Mexico, he got a job working as a DP for a commercial for the National Telegraph System. He was younger than most other DPs, who usually worked their way through assistant positions for years before landing a cinematographer position. "In those days, cinematographers started in their 40's," he said. "I was completely bizarre." When he was first approached to work on a commercial, it was because a producer he had previously assisted recommended him to the agency. "He told me, even if you get it wrong, don't worry," said Mr. Prieto. "We can always scratch the negative and say it didn't work out."

Turns out, that was a smart piece of advice and now, lMr. Prieto's commercials CV boasts an impressive list of credits. Outside of the celebrated "Best Job," he was also cinematographer on the Cannes Grand Prix-winning "Lamp," for IKEA, out of Crispin Porter & Bogusky, directed by Spike Jonze, and American Airlines' "New York Minute," helmed by Rupert Sanders.

Lucky breaks seem to have played a large part in Mr. Prieto's career. He said he has also been fortunate to work with a variety of directors for different types of films, avoiding what he calls the "Mexican fate" of getting pigeonholed. Prieto's work includes a large number of "gritty films," including 'Amores Perros,' the Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu anthology that has, at least on the surface, a similarly dark tone as his other efforts like "25th Hour" and "8 Mile."

"Mexicans do get typecast," he said, adding that he managed to escape that fate because of "Original Sin" and "Frida," two period movies that also earned him accolades. "I got to do different types of movies, I was lucky," he said.

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