The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Anastas Michos
Anastas Michos


When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). I was 4 or 5 when I saw it, and the evil queen had me peeking out from behind my seat.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire, and why?
Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC, whose sparse lighting portrays the most complex of emotions; Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC, for his use of color; Chris Doyle, HKSC, for his intuitive eye for framing; Robert Richardson, ASC, who has defined a style all his own; and Haskell Wexler, ASC, for his iconic body of work and never-ending enthusiasm. Also, César Charlone, ABC; Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC; Nestor Alméndros, ASC; Conrad Hall, ASC … . Where do I stop?

What sparked your interest in photography?
One summer, when I was a bored teenager, I found an old 2x2 still camera rattling around in a box. I’d shoot, guessing at exposures, and marvel at the happy accidents.  

Where did you train and/or study?
Much to my regret, I didn’t attend film school. I read voraciously about film theory and technique, and I haunted art museums and photography galleries. Of course, I also went to the movies — lots of movies.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Garrett Brown, whose mastery of the moving camera and ability to transpose our three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional one continues to amaze me, and Philippe Rousselot, whose mantra “fill the frame” when composing shots of the human face stayed with me long after I operated for him. I’d like to thank both of them. As a camera operator, I learned from every cinematographer I worked with; sometimes, I learned what not to do.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
I try to give each film I photograph its own look by researching it meticulously using both obvious and improbable sources. I look for a point of view that’s unique to the script and then explore it. Having said that, some artists that move me are (in no particular order) Caravaggio, Miles Davis, Sebastiao Salgado, Erik Satie, David Allen Harvey, Georges de La Tour, Johannes Vermeer, Gordon Parks, Joaqun Rodrigo, Romare Bearden, Constantine Cavafy, John Coltrane and Nikos Kazantzakis.

How did you get your first break in the business?
When I was a non-union documentary assistant, I was introduced to Garrett Brown and a little project called Skycam, the precursor to all the ‘flying rigs.’ I went on to operate Steadicam and work on many music videos and commercials until I finally landed a job on a no-/low-budget union feature.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Any time my agent says, ‘They’d like to make you an offer.’ Actually, it’s probably when I’m sitting with the timer and we’re screening the answer print; that’s when I decide whether I was successful in fulfilling whatever vision the director and I defined way back in prep.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
The first day of shooting Man on the Moon, my first ‘big Hollywood feature,’ we were on Universal’s lot. Both nervous and early, I decided to calm down by stopping at Jerry’s Deli for a coffee and The New York Times.  As I was reading the Op-Ed page, my cell phone rang. It was the assistant director, wondering how long I’d be stuck in traffic. It turns out I’d read my call sheet wrong, and I was well over an hour late! I arrived at the studio to see the flashing red light outside the stage door. With heart in throat, I walked in to see my director, Milos Forman, in the middle of rehearsal, and producer Michael Housman, who had championed me for the job, pacing. Luckily, my friends had my back: camera operator Mitch Dubin was setting up the first shot (a Technocrane extravaganza), and gaffer Jack English and key grip Chris Centrella were lighting the scene. Housman only growled at me.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
I was working with Don McAlpine, ASC, ACS, and getting impatient watching the director, producer and assistant director endlessly discuss the next setup. Don turned to me and said in his inimitable Aussie drawl, ‘Relax. Sooner or later they’ll have to come over to talk to us.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
The films Three Monkeys and Il Divo were wonderfully and inventively photographed. Lynn Nottage’s play Ruined resonated with me; Lauren Flanigan’s performance at Carnegie Hall was transcendent; and Kehinde Wiley’s exhibit at the Studio Museum of Harlem was superb. The Invention of Everything is a magical novel that reimagines Nikola Tesla’s life.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I’d like to shoot a sailing film, although I know anyone in his or her right mind should stay away from working on the water.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Had I the talent and discipline, I’d be a composer or conductor. Photojournalism would be a strong second choice.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Haskell Wexler, Philippe Rousselot and Sol Negrin.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
It allows me the chance to engage with the next generation of cinematographers through ASC workshops, panel discussions and lectures, all of which I greatly enjoy. It’s also an honor to be in the same fraternity as so many acknowledged masters.

 

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