The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Rodney Taylor, ASC
Rodney Taylor, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
I grew up in a small town on the coast of North Carolina, and I loved films. I used to have my parents drop me off at the theater for a double feature; the theater only had one screen, so I’d watch the same feature twice. I wasn’t really aware of cinematography until I saw Apocalypse Now while in college. Blade Runner also made a big impression.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
There are far too many to name, but I appreciate ASC members Conrad Hall and Robert Elswit because of the emotion they bring to a scene with their camera. I also really admire their character.

What sparked your interest in photography?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had cameras around me. In high school, I loved music and thought I might have a career as a recording engineer. In college, during a television-production class, I looked into a viewfinder for the first time and knew I had to shoot.

Where did you train and/or study?
I began shooting live sports after college. After seven years, I made the transition to shooting film when a director I worked with asked me to shoot a documentary. After that experience, I knew cinematography could be a lifelong learning experience. I moved to Los Angeles and began working my way up through the ranks.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Two cinematographers I learned a tremendous amount from are Mehran Salamati and Rogier Stoffers, NSC. Mehran introduced me to and taught me the Imax system, which I have used for many films. I shot second unit for Rogier, and he always was and still is very generous with his knowledge.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Still photography is one of my greatest influences. Some of my favorite photographers are Koudelka, Eggleston, Ryan McGinley and Eugene Richards. I also like the work of director Krzysztof Kieslowski, especially his collaboration with Slawomir Idziak, PSC on Three Colors: Blue.

How did you get your first break in the business?
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1988, I immediately called Levie Isaacks, ASC, whom I’d met at the Maine Photographic Workshops. He invited me to Roger Corman’s production company the next morning to help him with some tests he was shooting. At the end of the day, he hired me as a camera assistant. I couldn’t believe I had a job within a day.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Swimmers will always be very special to me because it was my first anamorphic film, and it’s about a family of fishermen, like my own family. Another one is Wired to Win, an Imax film about the Tour de France. I really wanted those shots from the motorcycles so we could put the audience right in the race. It was a huge challenge. The producers initially thought it couldn’t be done with an Imax camera and that we’d have to settle for HD. I had a great crew, and we figured out that we could put the Imax camera on a Libra head on the back of a motorcycle and then operate it wirelessly from a helicopter. We did some tests, and the director loved the shots and the producers spent the money to make it happen.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
On Wildfire: Feel the Heat, I was using an early version of a sun-tracking device. We had designed a crane shot by a tall watchtower that would require a platform so the Imax camera could reach the top. On the day we scouted, it was overcast, and I couldn’t confirm the device. The sun was shining on the shoot day. When I arrived, I realized I’d built the platform on the wrong side for the light. I came to find out that when I’d read the compass, I was on the tower, and the compass indicated north toward the middle of the tower, where the enormous amount of metal created a lightning rod. We had to quickly rebuild the platform and ended up making a great shot.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
When Levie asked me to work with him at Corman’s, the pay was $50 a day. Levie said, ‘They’re not paying for experience. Take the job and you’ll meet people.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Recent additions to my collection of photography books are Sebastião Salgado’s Africa, Marcus Bleasdale’s One Hundred Years of Darkness and Larry Towell’s The Mennonites. I found the work of Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC over the last year to be inspirational. I would also add the novel The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I would like to shoot a black-and-white film.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Cinematography is the coolest job on the planet.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Levie Isaacks, Reed Smoot and Richard Crudo.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
It’s humbling to be an ASC member. So many great cinematographers are members, and it’s amazing to see all of them enthusiastically sharing their ideas. It reminds me of the skateboarders I filmed at the X Games. While one guy was on the ramp, the others were at the top of the ramp, cheering him on. The skateboarders didn’t care who won; they just wanted to see the coolest trick. Cinematographers want to see who’s going to shoot the coolest film.

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