The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents November 2012 Return to Table of Contents
The Master
Presidents Desk
Short Takes
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Peter Deming


When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
It’s a tossup between Citizen Kane (1941) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
That’s very hard to narrow down because there are so many, particularly contemporary ones. But my early influences include Lee Garmes, ASC, for his atmospherics in Shanghai Express; James Wong Howe, ASC, for his urban realism in Sweet Smell of Success; and Gregg Toland, ASC, for being an artist and innovator.  

What sparked your interest in photography?
The ability to capture a moment in time or a performance that tells a story, and my dad’s Super 8 camera.

Where did you train and/or study?
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I attended the American Film Institute.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
George Folsey Sr., ASC was one of my teachers at AFI, and he had years of knowledge, experience and advice. He shot his first film in 1919 at Astoria Studios in New York and was there for the advent of so many milestones: the light meter (can you imagine?), color photography, Technicolor, the introduction of large soft sources and overhead silks, and CinemaScope! He was nominated for an Academy Award 13 times and never won. I think the Academy owes him one! And Caleb Deschanel, ASC became a mentor after I met him in 1980; he gave me a lot of encouragement and advice, and he sponsored me for ASC membership.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
I studied the light in paintings from all sorts of periods and styles. I think you can relate them all to photography and storytelling. Also, of course, observing real life.

How did you get your first break in the business?
I’ve always believed that everyone gets a break at some point along the way, although you may not know it’s your break at the time. Just make it all about the work, the craft. Forget the hype, and you’ll be fine.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
That’s so hard to say. It’s exciting to create a look exactly as you saw it in your head beforehand (a rare feat for any of us), and it’s equally exciting to capture the unexpected, to create something completely in the moment that’s born of the performance, the location, the time of day or circumstances beyond my control.

Have you made any memorable blunders?

Of course! Haven’t we all? But I like to think my best blunders are ahead of me.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

From George Folsey Sr.: ‘Whenever you go into production, eat a good breakfast and sit down whenever you can.’ Good advice.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
I am most inspired by films that offer great storytelling, films that move me, entertain me or take me to a place I know nothing about, have never been to or can never go to — films that completely transport me from the chair I’m sitting in. The one I keep going back to is City of God. It succeeded on almost every level, and it has stuck with me.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I like them all and would like to be able to do them all, although I am partial to darker dramas.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?

Maybe an architect or a musician? I really have no other marketable skills!

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Caleb Deschanel, Fred Murphy and Mark Irwin.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
I think having ‘ASC’ after your name says that you absolutely didn’t just get off the bus! It conveys a certain level of experience and, I hope, inspires some measure of respect.

 

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