The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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At the recent International Cinematography Summit Conference hosted by the ASC, one of the discussions that representatives of cinematography societies from around the world engaged in revolved around the role of the societies in educating the next generation of cinematographers. Although we are not film schools, part of the responsibility we have is to ensure that the future of the craft is secure. We discussed ways to interact with existing institutions, as well as things we can do on an individual basis. One of the most valuable experiences a young cinematographer can have is direct interaction with a seasoned professional.

I have mentioned before the unique spirit of camaraderie that exists in the ASC Clubhouse. When members hang out in the bar or the kitchen, the conversations that occur run the gamut from low scores at golf outings to innovative solutions to complex virtual-production sequences. This free-flowing exchange of information is at the heart of the way ASC cinematographers speak to each other. Lacking any hint of competition, these casual conversations are like master classes: personal, in-depth explorations of the tools and artistry that comprise our craft. Often we’ve said, “If only we could bottle this.”

In a way, we have.

In March, as part of our Friends of the ASC program, we kicked off a series of events called the ASC Breakfast Club. My fellow member Matthew Libatique agreed to be the first subject. After sharing a hearty breakfast with many ASC members, an eager audience listened as Matty explained his approach to such films as Black Swan, Inside Man, The Fountain, Iron Man and Requiem for a Dream, his comments punctuated by clips from several films. Among the anecdotes he shared was filming a scene with two actors by the ocean. It was a very overcast day, so he surrounded one of the actors with white cards to bring up his eyes. The actor asked if Matty could remove the cards, because he wanted to see the water as an emotional element for his character. Although it might have made the shot look different than Matty intended, he understood how it would affect the actor’s performance, and he complied.

The event became much more than a seminar. As the conversation progressed into Q&A, the feeling in the room was one of familiarity, of hanging out with someone and hearing his stories about what he has done. This is exactly our intent with the Breakfast Club: not to lecture, but to learn through the realization that we all go through the same things, that being a cinematographer gives us experiences we all share, and what makes the difference is that we arrive at our solutions based on our individual artistic approach. This does not reduce the mystique of being a member of the ASC. It actually enhances that distinction, because the creativity with which you conquer the challenge is what separates you from the rest.

The most effective way of teaching our craft relies on giving young cinematographers exposure to professionals in a real working environment. This is often difficult, given the concerns about personal injury and liability when someone who is not an employee is injured on a set. Working through the stage facility at Mole-Richardson, honorary ASC member Larry Parker has become legendary for the number of grip and electric people he has trained over the decades. On another front, Hollywood CPR is a program that has successfully placed trained interns on film and television productions at entry-level positions.

Young filmmakers can also learn by volunteering to help an organization. At the ASC, we use volunteers for many functions, including our annual awards ceremony. A few years ago, a young man from Ohio named Jon Witmer came to the ASC and wanted to help. We were preparing to renovate our Clubhouse, so we put him to work packing our camera collection for storage. He was so dedicated and attentive that we later used him as a loader when we filmed interviews with ASC members for our archives. Eventually, Jon became part of my regular camera crew, and then he found his calling as the associate editor of American Cinematographer.

In the final analysis, cinematography societies of the world educate by inspiring, by being open about our techniques as well as our challenges, and, above all, by simply sharing our love for what we do.

 

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