When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
There really wasn’t one, but a combination of several, including Lawrence of Arabia (1962), West Side Story (1961), Blow-Up (1966), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Psycho (1960), Major Dundee (1965) and Ben-Hur (1959).
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Gregg Toland, ASC; Sol Polito, ASC; Robert Surtees, ASC; Freddie Young, ASC, BSC; Carlo Di Palma; Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC; Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC; Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC; Gordon Willis, ASC; Robert Richardson, ASC; Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC; John Alcott, BSC; and Janusz Kaminski.
What sparked your interest in photography?
An involvement in drawing and painting since I was a child. Also, my dad was a photographer in the Air Force.
Where did you train and/or study?
Massachusetts College of Art and the University of Massachusetts.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
I’m not sure if ‘mentors’ is the word, but those with whom I’ve worked for varying amounts of time and from whom I learned the most were Jan DeBont, ASC; Ernest Day, BSC; Winton Hoch, ASC; Orson Welles; and Bruce Surtees.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas and Renoir; Sergei Eisenstein, Buster Keaton, Orson Welles, David Lean, Sam Peckinpah and Francis Ford Coppola; Truffaut and Godard; Antonioni, De Sica, Leone and Bertolucci; Alfred Eisenstaedt, Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston and Robert Frank.
How did you get your first break in the business?
I got a job as an assistant on a film called Roar (1981) that Jan DeBont came over from Holland to film. He moved me up to operator very early in the production. As the movie rolled on for over three years, it gave me a great daily training ground to learn the complicated skills of operating, and cinematography in general. It also provided a chance for me to train with a Steadicam; this allowed me the opportunity to begin a parallel career as an A-camera and Steadicam operator.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
It’s hard to put a superlative on the moment. I would say these are some: as complete works, the period pieces Frankenstein (for Hallmark) and Into the West (for DreamWorks/TNT); actually surviving the feature Reindeer Games and miniseries George Wallace with John Frankenheimer — and with fond memories; the sheer glee of doing Muppet movies; and the complete freedom to create the look of Six Feet Under.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
Falling asleep while operating a close-up on Bette Davis.
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
From John Frankenheimer: ‘Alan, whatever you do in this business, don’t ever let them push you into shooting something you know is just bad, something you’ll end up regretting or hating. Simple rule of thumb: don’t shoot s**t!’
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
I read such a wide variety of fiction and enjoy art in such an eclectic way that it is very hard to cite any one thing. I would rather say that the collective experience of appreciating and living in today’s complex environment speaks volumes.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
My favorite genres are action, period pieces and Westerns. I would love to try a musical.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Building furniture and growing a big vegetable garden.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Charlie Correll, Gil Hubbs and Kees Van Oostrum.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
It has brought me closer to my peers and made available the tremendous resources offered by the Society. Membership has also allowed me the opportunity to give back to the community through the Society’s involvement with educational, awards and technical-advancement programs.