The American Society of Cinematographers

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There Will Be Blood
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Glen MacPherson
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Glen MacPherson, ASC


When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
I saw The Phantom of the Opera [1962] when I was very young, and I was terrified of the phantom and sure he was hiding under my bed for weeks afterwards. Years later, I sneaked into a theater to see The Exorcist — I was too young to buy a ticket — and was scared silly. I think The Exorcist was the first time I began to appreciate visual style and the world of cinematography.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
ASC members Owen Roizman, Robert Surtees, Stephen Goldblatt, Gordon Willis, Emmanuel Lubezki, Robert Elswit, Dion Beebe and Roger Deakins; BSC members Douglas Slocombe and Peter Bizou; and Bruce Surtees.

What sparked your interest in photography?
My grandfather was an artist well known for his realistic seascapes and landscapes. He also made a living as a commercial artist and took photos of his subjects that he would later paint from. He had a large darkroom in his home, and I spent hours watching him develop negative and make prints. When I got my first still camera, I traveled by train every weekend to experiment in his darkroom until one day, recognizing my passion, he gave me all of his darkroom equipment.

Where did you train and/or study?
I attended John Abbott College [Montreal], which had a small film program. I also spent one year at Algonquin College in Ottawa, where they had a terrific film program and all the equipment necessary to shoot, edit, score and mix a film on campus.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Lois Siegel, the film teacher at John Abbott, was also a filmmaker, and I volunteered to work on her films. She knew all the local filmmakers, and through her I was able to get onto some bigger sets and work for free as a PA. It was fantastic just to be around people making movies. Later, as a camera assistant, I worked with Richard Ciupka, CSC. He was very generous with his knowledge of cinematography, and he encouraged and inspired me to start shooting myself.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
If I’m not shooting, I’m traveling. I collect books, textiles and objects of art on my travels, and I always discover something new in the vastly different qualities of light the world has to offer.

How did you get your first break in the business?
I heard Robert Altman was about to do Quintet in Montreal with cinematographer Jean Boffety. I found the production office and somehow managed to walk right into the producer’s office, where I offered to work in any capacity, preferably in the camera department. I got a job in the catering truck cutting tomatoes and taking breakfast orders. I hung out with the camera crew after work and pestered them with questions until they agreed to take me onto the next film as a camera trainee.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Any time I get to put my eye to the eyepiece, I feel lucky and alive, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
As an assistant, I prepped the gear for a commercial involving a windsurfer. The rental manager handed me a brand-new Arri 35-3 and said, ‘Don’t get any water on it!’ I think that camera is still at the bottom of the lake.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘Keep it simple.’ It’s always exciting to try a new piece of gear, but sometimes two grips pulling a camera on a blanket is still the best solution.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
The book Daily Life in Art, a collection of paintings from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.

Do you have any favorite genres or genres you would like to try?
It’s not really a genre, but I’ve always been a fan of 1970s political thrillers. Michael Clayton is a terrific recent example of that style.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I really enjoy film editing. I also think I’d be pretty good as a drive-in-theater security guard — I know all the tricks.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Sandi Sissel, Daryn Okada and Andrzej Bartkowiak.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
To be a member of a group of cinematographers who openly share their stories, ideas, techniques and wisdom is a great honor, and I feel as though I now have many mentors. I hope to give some of that back if I ever achieve wisdom.

 

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