The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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What propels a cinematographer to step away from the camera and direct a movie? Is it the desire to have more complete control over the artistic process, the opportunity to work directly with talented actors and writers, dissatisfaction with the course of one’s career, or the need to express a point of view about the world that no one else is addressing?  

With their documentaries No Subtitles Necessary and The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), James Chressanthis, ASC and Ellen Kuras, ASC, respectively, brought dignity and awareness to the struggles of individuals caught up in tumultuous world events. With his Oscar-winning short film, Two Soldiers, Aaron Schneider, ASC used narrative form to express the bond between two brothers during a time of war.  

This month brings the DVD release of a feature I wrote and directed called Megan Is Missing. I did not think about why I decided to direct a film until just now, when the journey to get it into distribution is almost over. I’ve realized that the film was born out of rage, an intense dissatisfaction with many aspects of the ways in which child abductions and Internet predators have been handled in the media and in the legal system. My goal in taking the director’s chair was to make the most disturbing movie of all time using only factual occurrences as the basis of the drama; to that end, I spent two years researching seven different cases with a forensics investigator. 

I decided early on that the movie should feel like it was not filmed by anybody; it had to feel like it was happening now. At my insistence, cinematographers Keith Eisberg and Joshua Harrison used no movie lights and no grip equipment (except for what was necessary to create TV-news sequences), and the young actresses wore no makeup. All the dialogue was based on recordings I’d made of my friends’ 14-year-old daughters. We shot the whole film in 81⁄2 days to both accommodate the number of children involved and give the unfolding drama a visceral pace. 

When the film was completed, I became convinced I’d made an unreleasable movie. It was exactly the movie I wanted to make — and how often do you get to say that? — but to what end, if no one would see it? 

Then glimmers of validation emerged. My agent said it was not the film he expected from a cinematographer — there were no sweeping crane shots, no beautiful lighting — but it had pure, realistic emotion. And Marc Klaas, whose daughter, Polly, was abducted and murdered, said the movie was the only filmed depiction of the subject that he and his wife had ever seen that dealt with the subject honestly, without concern for a “commercial” resolution. 

So as the journey to tell this story has been fulfilled, has the rage that compelled me to make the movie been pacified? 

My forensics-investigator friend recently called to ask if I would like to know any details of a case he was working on, a high-profile child disappearance that had been reported on national TV. I told him no, I didn’t want to know anything. He said that was because I already knew. He correctly surmised that I had done my own investigating using the online search tools now available to everyone, and that I had pieced together a possible scenario based on background checks I’d done on the individuals who may have been involved. Three days later, the authorities confirmed my conclusion: the child had perished at the hands of her uncle. 

My forensics friend called again once that news was announced and said, “It’s in your blood now. You will never accept what is told to you by the media as being the entire truth. You will always dig for the real story. And you will never look at the world the same way again.” 

I suppose looking at the world in a different way is ultimately what drives a cinematographer to direct. We’re always looking for that new way of telling a compelling story, and that search never ends.  

 

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