2 Minutes With ... Kharen Hill, Director and Photographer
Kharen Hill is renown for her entertainment, advertising and music photography. She crafts compellingly memorable images through a mastery of camera angles, lighting, location selection and themes.
Hill strives for spontaneity while navigating time constraints and production challenges. She has helped develop campaigns for most major streaming platforms and Hollywood studios, while also handling projects for various global brands.
We spent two minutes with Kharen to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations and recent work she's admired.
Kharen, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I was born in New Zealand to a nomadic cancer researcher father and a microbiologist mother. At five, my family left on an ocean liner for Rochester, New York, and London, England. I returned to New Zealand for high school. Coming to Vancouver, Canada, as a young adult and finally moving my residence to LA in 2013 to put myself in the hot seat.
Why you pursued a career in entertainment.
I had always wanted to be a fine artist since I was a child and was steered into a bachelor of commerce degree by my parents for the perceived job prospects. But as a young adult I was driven to find a career choice that let me express my creativity everyday and would engage that need to be an artist with the more pragmatic side of me which had studied economics and law at university. After a gap year I settled on a media program in Vancouver where my photography break came in my work practicum. At 21, the company hired me as a photographer to travel around the world to document everywhere that Air Canada flew. This put me on a path to shooting stills and directing for advertising clients.
Then a close friend started a music label and became a music manager for Sarah McLachlan, Avril Lavigne and Coldplay, which was my intro to music and band photography. When a food photographer friend I was sharing a photo studio with passed me on to his brother-in-law who produced movies and was looking for a Vancouver photographer who could combo unit and gallery work, I was hooked into entertainment.
The idea of focusing my photography specifically on entertainment advertising and key art imagery came when a 669 publicist I was working with recommended me to MGM creative advertising to shoot the key art for Katie Holmes breakout movie "Disturbing Behavior." I began a partnership with that agency for several films and my career took off. Working almost immediately back and forth between USA and Canada; now with dual citizenship.
My choice to do entertainment and music photography was combining my strengths. A love of lighting and interpreting creative, the unique pressure (meaning the rush of dealing with many setups, crew and multiple talent on the shoot day,) the chance to direct and capture the performances of the most photogenic people in the world, the excitement of contributing something new and inspiring for the creative teams. It is a job that allows for an infinite number of approaches and takes me as far as my imagination can go. And I love it!
Three movies/TV shows you couldn't do without.
The Walking Dead (Full disclosure, I do fast forward through the "dead" killing sprees). I love how there is so much time with the characters over so many seasons. I marvel at the writers and how the plot twists over all those years. I have just finished binging a few seasons and it was most satisfying. I am Negan.
The Piano. I always love the impact of an incredible soundtrack of original music that layers onto an already wonderful story. Taking the film to another level. This was shot in New Zealand where I was born and was directed by one of my favorite fellow Kiwi directors Jane Campion. I was deeply moved by the visuals, story and music in this movie which combined with the stunning scenery and struck the perfect note for me.
Chef's Table. This series changed the way I approached cooking and presenting food and inspired me to look at food presentation as art and change the way I thought about everyday home cooking. This show inspired my current collab with celebrity chef Amy Simpson on her soon to be released cook book "Tahoe to Table."
Your favorite movie trailer or poster.
There are so many campaigns I love. A TV stand out I was inspired by recently was the key art and art prints combo of I Care A Lot for the Netflix. I have a fondness for my first big campaign poster for "Disturbing Behavior" MGM. I saw first on the side of a bus after landing at LAX and then again as a billboard on La Cienega. We cross processed slide film to negative. I also love the Paramount+ Yellowstone prequel 1883 campaign.
One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on.
Pleading the fifth on this one. Honestly, I love all of the projects I work on. Each one has its own serendipity and magic!
A recent project you're proud of.
I am super proud of all the work I do, so again doing the fifth on this one.
One thing about how entertainment marketing is evolving that you're excited about.
I love the expanded 360 element of shoots. I love to incorporate lighting and setups to direct for stills and motion portraits. The number and content requirements have expanded so I keep in mind that there will be are multiple versions of key art and publicity that will be created. So pre-lighting to be efficient with shooting on the day and to maximize a variety of setups or poses so that there is a variety of material to use is a fun challenge and great to see in the end products.
Also cameras are now capturing at lower light better. In recent shoots we often include night exterior, or available set lighting for an unexpected set up and look as we can now capture more versatile low lighting.
Someone else's work, in entertainment or beyond, that you admired lately.
I have always admired the portraiture of Annie Leibovitz and her lighting and editorial photography is always conceptually inspiring.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
The Inspirati Podcast. This podcast is about the creative process through interviews with artists, hoteliers, designers, creative directors discussing their process and creative journeys. Very inspiring and insightful. I love the creative process and am so interested in how creatives approach and find their path. This podcast shows there are as many ways to get there as there are creatives minds. Which is very comforting as I am primarily self-taught and definitely forged my own unique path.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
Cindy Sherman's "Untitled Film Stills" series.
Your favorite fictional character.
Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austens' Pride and Prejudice.
Someone worth following in social media.
I spend very focused time on social media for work and I have to admit outside that I follow my friends and clients but haven't expanded out past that.
Your main strength as a marketer/creative.
I love to look at every shoot with fresh eyes and I am able to cope with the ever-changing cadence of the job flow. Also I love people and enjoy the process of working with all of the wonderful creative and teams from the agencies and studios. I love interpreting it with talented actors and directing them for their best performances. I don't like to repeat myself so I look at each shoot, even when it's seamless to light and execute the creative brief with fresh eyes.
Your biggest weakness.
Coffee, specifically quad espresso macchiatos on a shoot day. Is three or four really too many?
Something people would find surprising about you.
I am ambidextrous and can write with both hands at the same time. It looks identical.
One thing that always makes you happy.
One thing that always makes you sad.
Movies on a plane or hotel rooms, also leaving friends and family and home behind. I spend time traveling for work and family and have always wished everyone could live in the same city or country so I could see everyone all the time. Also the homeless problem in LA. Especially after the Covid shutdown. Such a challenging issue with an unclear solution.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in entertainment.
I can't imagine a complete life without doing my entertainment work (which it never feels like btw!) I find the process of a shoot beyond inspiring and fulfilling so I haven't really considered another career or hobbies.
I love that there are always too many things to fill a day and I would always add (more) riding horses, renovating fixer uppers, learning how to paint/photo artwork, my cactus garden (and fostering dogs and horses if I was home enough).