Tehillah De Castro | Painting the Frame Instead

In conversation with up-and-coming cinematographer Tehillah De Castro on her work in lauded indie feature, viral music videos, and more.

Written by

Isaac Dektor

Photographed by

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Styled by

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Photographed by Michelle Suh

Tehillah De Castro, an LA-based cinematographer and Chapman University alum, is on a roll. Over the past eight years, she has worked on an impressive 58 projects, collaborating on music videos with some of the industry’s biggest names, including Doja Cat, Post Malone, and Olivia Rodrigo

In the last year, she’s credited as cinematographer for Post Malone’s “Cooped Up” music video, which featured Roddy Ricch, as well as the critically acclaimed indie film “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.” Most recently, she contributed her expertise to Doja Cat’s “Paint the Town Red” music video, which has amassed a staggering 87 million views on Youtube. Her music video for Terrace Martin’s “Paradise” recently dropped and her latest short film “Grace,” is currently in the editing bay.

Whether it’s a Leon Bridges music video, a short film bound for the festival circuit, or a feature that addresses pressing issues like climate change through the lens of radical activism, De Castro consistently delivers striking and emotionally resonant visuals that contribute to the broader narrative.

FLAUNT spoke with the emerging director of photography about her upcoming projects, cinematic style, and why it’s good to have friends in post-production.

What got you into cinematography? Do you remember when you first picked up a camera?

I started in concert photography in the punk scene in the Bay Area. I went to local festivals where I met artists that wanted videos of their shows. Though I had such a DIY approach to filming, this ignited my curiosity for cinematography. Movies were also constantly playing in the background growing up. At the end of the school week, my family would treat me to a trip to Hollywood Video, and we’d each pick a film. A memorable weekend was a double feature of The Thin Red Line and Dr. Doolittle.

Who were some of your early influences?

Julia Morgan and Mike De Leon. Delving into Morgan's work as an architect helped develop my sensitivity to environments and light. And De Leon’s films were a mainstay in both my parents’ and my formative years. 

Can you describe how your style and approach to visual storytelling have evolved from one project to the next, and is there a specific project that best exemplifies your style?

I try to be sensitive to what each director wants and what their films want to be. I particularly enjoy the early stages of prep, when creativity takes precedence over more practical considerations. Whether it's watching films, exchanging playlists, or sending reference images, I get inspired by understanding everything that surrounds their vision and try to come up with ways to elevate our ideas. I don’t necessarily feel like I have a set style, but I do hope when people see my work that they recognize the thoughtfulness and intention behind each frame.

How does your collaboration process vary when working with different artists like Ariela Barer and Daniel Goldhaber compared to Doja Cat? Can you highlight any unique approaches or considerations you bring to each collaboration?

On Pipeline, Daniel and I spent time in prep creating a set of rules for how we wanted to execute each scene in order to convey certain feelings or themes. For example, if we wanted a scene to express urgency, we would follow our characters on steadicam on longer lenses. There’s a scene in the film when all eight of our cast members were rigging the bomb, and we were running out of light. We’d rehearsed once, and on a whiteboard, I drew out everyone's blocking, alongside it I drew all the camera placements that would cover the scene. I'd briefly go over it with Danny, and then we would just go for it. I really appreciated in those moments how much Ariela and Danny trusted my intuition.

For Paint the Town Red, I worked with Nina McNeely, who co-directed the video with Doja Cat. I made a digital scrapbook that pitched lighting and shot ideas that corresponded to the vignettes Nina and Doja had in their treatment. It was a great way to prepare because we were able to bounce ideas with tangible visuals to build off of. And because Nina and I had talked about every possible idea we wanted to try prior to the shoot, it was easy to communicate with my crew regarding how to best approach each setup.

How did incorporating Doja Cat’s original paintings into ‘Paint the Town Red’ impact the process of principal photography, and what was your experience working with this source material?

I was really excited to bring such personal art to life. Nina and I frequently use paintings as references for our work, so it was very natural to subsume Doja’s work into our creative process. We wanted to stay as true to the artwork as possible, so we discussed where and how the sun was placed in each setup to give the video a sense of cohesion between the looks. Our camera movement was also very minimal and restrained because we wanted it to feel composed and painterly.

How do you adapt your cinematography to different genres?

Switching between different genres and visual styles is one of my favorite aspects of my job as a DP. The cinematographers I admire have such expansive range in their work, and I aspire to pay equal regard to the innate qualities of each project that I adapt from the director’s vision. I find that the subtle intricacies of a thoughtful piece are often more impactful bases for visual motifs than the conventions of a given genre. 

What can you tell us about “Grace,” the upcoming short film that you shot?

Grace is a period piece set in the 1950s that explores the conflicts that religious traditions and rites of passage often present in relation to identity formation. We shot last fall in Upstate New York and it’s a project that I hold really close. Our director, Natalie Jasmine Harris, brought together such a lovely group of people to make an incredibly sensitive film. We just finished post-production and it will be premiering soon – I can’t wait for everyone to see.

What’s your take on the (somewhat) old adage ‘we’ll fix that in post’?

I used to avoid relying on post to save shots, but there are moments on set when we’re really out of time, and it’s nice to know it's not the end of the world. I guess I can say this confidently because I’ve befriended post friends over the years.

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