I’ve been interested in two dimensional art my whole life. As a child I enjoyed painting, drawing, and cartooning. I would set lights around stuffed animals in our basement and sketch dramatic still lives. I enrolled in numerous art and cartooning classes and was fortunate enough to attend a pre-college fine arts program at Carnegie Mellon University.
During my teens, I attended an outdoor photography workshop in Colorado, which is where I first learned how lenses worked and how to develop and print film. Filmmaking fascinated me, so I applied to Northwestern University and earned my B.S. in Radio/TV/Film, learning all aspects of production. I focused on cinematography, working on over thirty 16mm productions in the lighting and camera departments.
I have worked for PBS and for National Geographic, where I camera operated on the cable TV series DogTown. I supervised finishing and color correction of over twenty programs at National Geographic, NY. I traveled to Bolivia in 2005 to photograph a historical documentary titled, Centro Medico Humberto Parra.
I work professionally as a cinematographer and gaffer. I have crewed in the lighting department on countless commercials, music videos and features, and have shared sets with ASC members Nancy Schreiber and Michael Negrin. I have lit commercials for NBC, USAA, Gatorade, Glasses.com, Bank of the West, Seventh Generation, FanDuel, and Toyota. The films I have photographed have won awards, notably King Eternal (Dir. Christiano Dias), which was selected at ten festivals and won awards at five. I was awarded Best Cinematography at the Los Angeles International Film Festival and have been recognized by critics and by the publication, American Cinematographer (July '16), for my work on Monster In A House (Dir. Christiano Dias).
“I’m just fortunate to have worked with such immensely talented people from Composer - Daniel James Chan and Director of Photography - Michael Helenek. To me, it’s all about building a family that you work well with, believe in, and are “sharp as a knife” focused on telling a story.”
Director Christiano Dias - Hollyshorts Film Festival interview.
“Michael Helenek's lensing is simply stellar, utilizing a perfect use of shadowing and framing and giving the film an emotional depth by following the faces of the characters involved.”
Richard Propes, The Independent Critic.
Review of Monster in a House.
“…Dias and DP Michael Helenek [keep] impressive visuals on the screen throughout, finding dreamy wonder in the most ordinary of locations.”
Nicholas La Salla, Forest City Short Film Review. Review of Monster in a House.
"The footage looks amazing. You did an excellent job and I would love to work with you again or recommend you to friends!"
Producer, One Heart.