For more than 30 years, Craig Wrobleski has enjoyed a successful, award-winning career as a cinematographer right here in Calgary.
He is the first to admit how unlikely that is and even one of his previous agents described it as a bit of an anomaly.
“To be based out of Calgary and doing the kind of work I’ve been lucky enough to do is kind of a long shot,” Wrobleski says.
“It doesn’t really make sense. It shouldn’t have worked out this way on paper, but it did, and I’m very grateful for it.”
Wrobleski says his entire career has felt like a dream. His film credits include well-known titles such as Heartland, Fargo, and The Umbrella Academy.
Born in Winnipeg, Wrobleski’s family moved to Calgary when he was three years old. Save for a short stint in Saskatchewan in his teens, he has lived in Calgary his whole life.
Wrobleski discovered the camera in the late ’80s when he attended Mount Royal College’s two-year Broadcasting diploma program.
Interestingly, he entered the program intending to pursue a career in radio. But as it turns out, Wrobleski didn’t enjoy that medium as much as he expected to.
The second year of the program was dedicated to television and as Wrobleski says, “it just clicked.”
After learning the fundamentals of the industry in school, he was fortunate to get a job right out of college at CFCN Calgary — CTV News.
However, the somewhat mundane daily news cycle left a lot to be desired when it came to creativity for an ambitious 19-year-old aspiring filmmaker.
The newsroom received a subscription to American Cinematographer magazine. Wrobleski read it in his downtime between newscasts and became fascinated with the different ways a camera could be used to create worlds and tell stories.
Taking a chance on himself
After a year at CTV Calgary, he took a bold and exciting chance to quit and go freelance.
“I didn’t know what that meant. I really had no idea what I was getting into. But I just thought, I’ll give it a go and see what happens,” Wrobleski says.
While he considered moving to Vancouver or California, Wrobleski ultimately decided to stay in Calgary where his family and life were.
“It felt right to stay”, he says, adding he kept busy with commercial work, corporate projects, documentaries, and shooting sports.
With a career now spanning more than 30 years, Wrobleski is amused by the fact he’s been a director of photography for longer than most of the crew members he works with have been alive.
Wrobleski says it was a privilege to shoot more than 100 episodes of the television show Heartland, which was recently renewed for its 16th season and is shown in more than 20 countries around the world.
“As an Albertan, I was really proud shooting Heartland because I was actually shooting Alberta for Alberta,” Wrobleski explains.
“So often people come here and it’s supposed to be Utah, it’s supposed to be Colorado, it’s supposed to be Montana, and you never actually get to shoot Alberta as Alberta.”
Wrobleski says he was able to showcase the local landscapes and that it’s extra fulfilling when international fans get in touch wanting to visit and see some of the filming locations for themselves.
Opening the door to new opportunities
Working on Heartland led to a big career shift for Wrobleski. He went from shooting a mid-budget Canadian show to a big American show with a lot of prestige attached to it — Fargo.
Shooting two seasons of the anthology series in Calgary is one of Wrobleski’s career highlights.
He says the cast is phenomenal, the writing is incredible, and it gave him a chance to shoot Calgary in a new way.
“We’d end up shooting at these interesting places. These sort of unseen places that most shows wouldn’t consider, Fargo would jump on and so we ended up finding really interesting aspects of Calgary and shooting them in an interesting way,” he explains.
Wrobleski says he is looking forward to reuniting with the Fargo team in Calgary later this year to shoot season five.
A major honour
A member of the Canadian Society of Cinematographers (CSC), Wrobleski has three CSC Awards in addition to several Alberta Film & Television Awards.
Recently, he was welcomed into the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). He says a relatively small number of Canadians have the honour of being invited in.
Things have come full circle since Wrobleski quit his job at CTV Calgary based on the spark that was lit by American Cinematographer magazine.
“All these years later, to be invited into the ASC, it kind of melted my 19-year-old brain,” he says.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that somehow I’d gotten here. And I still can’t, it still doesn’t connect. I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. But it’s an incredible honour and it’s an incredible privilege.”
Mentoring aspiring cinematographers
Wrobleski says the ASC is heavily involved in advocacy, mentorship, education, and innovation.
He looks forward to exploring the mentorship side of things; guiding young, aspiring cinematographers in the industry and helping them find the same joy and satisfaction he has had in his career.
“I have no business doing what I’m doing being from Calgary, it doesn’t make any sense,” he says.
“But the point I would like to make with people is that, if you pursue it and you stick with it, you can do it. You just have to believe in yourself and believe in what you’re doing and stay with it.”
With CSC and ASC now beside his name, Wrobleski wants to continue doing good work with good people — who he describes as kindred spirits.
“I want to do work that resonates with the audience, and do it with people that I connect with and that I understand,” he says.
When a team of people working on a film production can create something, enjoy doing it, and resonate with the audience, Wrobleski says it completes a circle of connectivity.
“When you connect with the people you’re doing the work with, and then that work connects with an audience, it kind of creates this circle that’s really quite a beautiful thing.”
Connecting with audiences
Wrobleski says using a camera to create an emotional connection with an audience is what gets him out of bed in the morning.
“Making them feel things as opposed to see things. That’s really what I’m about. And that’s what I try to do every day and whether I succeed or not, I guess it’s up to the audience. But that’s the goal, just to do something that hits people in the heart, not just in the eyes.”
Wrobleski is excited about what the future holds for the local film industry and is happy that the city is finally living up to its potential.
He shares his thoughts on the local scene in Part Two of this feature: Film industry insiders say Calgary is becoming a major player in the game
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