Gareth Cobran: How it started as a ‘terrible’ graphic designer… Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Chances are you’ve seen his work, be it a music video, television commercial, feature-length film, or movie short. His name, a much called-upon one in Jamaican production circles, might not, however, be readily familiar to you.

Meet Gareth Cobran, the respected director of photography and director whose artistic talents have illuminated screens for iconic Jamaican artistes such as Sean Paul and Beenie Man and major corporate entities like JMMB Group.

Director of photography and director Gareth Cobran

The boho-chic 45-year-old creative, with cascading locs that trail past his back, took a brief respite from behind the camera of his latest project to talk shop and his life’s journey with Loop News.

“I’ve been working in my field for almost 20 years,” he revealed on a break for a Tastee Cheese commercial shoot. “The evolution of filmmaking in Jamaica has taken many leaps since I came into this business. Those leaps have been through technology, and I myself have benefited from these advances.

“For example, noticing a change in technology earlier in my career led me to purchase the 5D. So, while everyone was using something else, when they would see my productions, they recognised it had a different look,” he shared.

It’s shoot time for Gareth Cobran on-set for a new Tastee Cheese ad.

Cobran, an alum of Wolmer’s High School for Boys, returned to Jamaica in 2004 after completing post-secondary education studies across the pond at the University of Central England.

“I honestly don’t know at what point in life I was aware that filmmaking was my calling, but it wasn’t my original plan. Originally, I went to school to be a graphic designer, but the programme required me to take a film course. One day, my graphic design professor pulled me aside and told me I was terrible in graphic design, while my film professor told me that I should take film seriously because, according to him, I was a natural— that really sparked my interest,” he shared.

Upon landing home, he hit the ground running.

“I came back and did a series of animated work for RETV and some other clients as I was trained in computer-generated imagery. This led to me working on music videos, and the first video that received national acclaim was Busy Signal’s ‘The Days’. From there, a floodgate opened into the music video industry for me,” he recalled.

Gareth Cobran is flanked by grip Andre Clarke (right) and director Damanic Green.

An impressive roster of Cobran-directed videos for artistes Morgan Heritage, Konshens, Skillibeng, Tarrus Riley, Stalk Ashley, and Jah Cure are sprinkled across his resume. For him, the ‘sweet spot’ on jobs over his two-decade career span happens when all collaborators are on the same page and working efficiently to manifest the goal. 

As for the downside of filmmaking, he pointed to “[the] unique challenges faced working on projects in Jamaica is the budget. The budgets aren’t what they need to be to meet the standard of what’s necessary to be recognised, on an international level.”

Crediting the source that has fuelled his creative juices, Cobran lauds American cinematographer Bradford Young, who was nominated for an Academy Award for the 2016 sci-fi drama ‘Arrival’ and worked on such notable films as ‘Selma and Solo: A Star Wars Story’.

“Bradford definitely inspired me towards my path. The way he visually communicates culture, you can really feel a connection to the subject through the framing, lighting, and the overall tone. If it wasn’t for him allowing me to be his apprentice, I wouldn’t be ‘The Truth’. He actually gave me that nickname after he watched something that I shot. He’s had a major impact on not only my career itself but the way I approach every aspect of it,” said Cobran.

Gareth Cobran (second left) on camera operator duty at the National Stadium with Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) for a behind-the-scenes feature for the upcoming Bob Marley biopic ‘One Love’.

And, who are the Jamaican creative talents he deeply admires?

He piped up: “I’ve been fortunate enough to already work with a handful of creative Jamaican talents that I admire. Nadean Rawlins, president of Women in Film, without a doubt, is always a pleasure working any film she directs. Damanic Green, one of the dopest young directors, has an incredible eye to really tell and sell a story. And, Maelynnne Lowe, her creatively unhinged method of pushing the envelope, combined with her writing skills keeps you on your toes. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few people, but those are the few that come to mind first.”

With a stacked list of projects in the can, which includes a filmed documentary on the Maroons of Accompong, new ad for JN Bank, a Miami-shot music video for reggae artiste Gyptian, a Los Angeles-shot television pilot for American actress Tia Mowry, and a behind-the-scenes video for the upcoming Bob Marley biopic ‘One Love’, Cobran’s work as a director of photography and camera operator is clearly in-demand.

But, for him, his proudest accomplishment to date is being the coordinator of the Skylark Film Festival.

Gareth Cobran (left) and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young at the Skylark Film Festival in October.

“The festival was conceived during my stays at Skylark Negril Beach Resort while shooting videos for Rockhouse Foundation. I pictured a venue where an audience could enjoy the thrill of our local cinema in a magical part of our island, the miles of Negril beach strip.

“We just celebrated our fourth year, and the plan is to expand the festival over five days with multiple screening venues throughout Negril. We want it to be a premier international event for film,” he told Loop Lifestyle.

The married father of two boys, ages 11 and three, cherishes family time.

“My way to decompress from work is spending quality time with them. Balancing being a husband, a parent, and a business owner can have its challenges as well as its rewards. Ultimately, I’m lucky enough to have my loving and supportive wife to balance it all with.

“I work hard not to make a living but to try and make a better place for my children to live. I enjoy taking time out of the city with my family to explore the beauty Jamaica has to offer,” he divulged.

What’s not yet done that’s in his sights?

Cobran said: “My dream job would be to capture and produce the first Jamaican musical featuring reggae and dancehall, the two internationally acclaimed genres of music. I would love to be the one to bridge that gap because we’re not represented in that space. Musicals can be so epic, like ‘The Sound Of Music’, ‘Les Miserables’, ‘West Side Story’, ‘Grease’, I mean come on! Our music is epic, too, so why is it not represented in that space?”