From MiniDV to anamorphic film, Joe “Jody” Williams has utilized the full spectrum of media to craft clear and resonating images for film and television. For more than two decades he has served on an array of productions from short films, music videos, and documentaries to major film productions for the likes of Gus Van Sant, Lee Daniels, and Spike Lee, among others.
A native of Cleveland, Williams found his start in the camera department as an assistant and camera loader on Telling Lies in America, followed by Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam and John Singleton’s Shaft. In rather short time, he worked his way up the ranks to the camera operator’s seat with opportunities on films such as the Spike Lee joints, A Huey P. Newton Story and 25th Hour, Malcolm Lee’s Roll Bounce, the Bob Odenkirk comedy, Let’s Go to Prison, and Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns.
Williams’ earliest opportunities as Director of Photography came in the form of documentaries and short films, including the Africa Movie Academy Award-nominated short, The Lost One, and the Emmy-winning documentary, Paper Trail: 100 Years of the Chicago Defender, as he continued to build a solid reputation as a reliable camera operator of major film and television productions, such as Widows, Jupiter Ascending, The Chi, Source Code, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), NBC’s The Playboy Club, the acclaimed STARZ series Boss, and ultimately the multiple-award-winning series Empire.
It was his work on Empire as camera operator for three seasons that eventually led to his being offered the role of Director of Photography on more than two dozen episodes in the final two seasons of this wildly successful series. A warm and inspired collaboration with Craig Brewer—one of several notable directors of the series—resulted in an invitation from Brewer to reteam for the long-awaited sequel to Coming to America, starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, marking Williams’ foray into shooting a major studio feature film.
Regardless of the size, scope, or tone of the particular project, Williams notes, “My aim is to always execute and complement the director’s vision, to manage the visuals, and to inform the director on how to tell the story visually with the available time and resources. I have the utmost respect for the sensitive process of crafting a story, so listening and engaging respectfully are important tenants of mine.”
He earned his Master of Fine Arts in Film with an emphasis in cinematography from Ohio University. While he will always consider himself a student of filmmaking, Williams also welcomes opportunities to teach its finer points. He has led workshops and classes at several institutions, including Xavier University and Cleveland State University, and even lectured at Harvard. He is a member of the International Cinematographers Guild and makes his home in Chicago with his two sons—who have, at times, doubled as camera department interns.