The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents April 2010 Return to Table of Contents
Alice in Wonderland
Presidents Desk
Sundance 2010
Production Slate
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Rene Ohashi
Rene Ohashi, ASC, CSC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
In the late 1960s, I saw Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant film Dr. Strangelove (1964), which impressed me more than any film I’d ever seen. It was satirical, fantastic, comedic, serious, suspenseful and realistic.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire, and why?
Gordon Willis, ASC created an outstanding array of innovative work in films such as The Godfather, whose use of color, light and shadow became the model for how future period films would be shot; Manhattan, with its perfection of formal tableau; and Zelig, which took the archival-film look to a new level. Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC taught me about style with The Conformist and theatricality with Apocalypse Now. With Seven, Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC taught me about darkness and mood. Other cinematographers I admire include ASC members Jordan Cronenweth, Conrad Hall, Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki, who have all made memorable contributions to the art.

What sparked your interest in photography?
I’ve always had an inherent disposition toward visual imagery. Drawing and painting were my early passions. Stills photography became another means of expression and exploration. I discovered the power of the image through great masters of photography like Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Eugene Smith and André Kertész.  

Where did you train and/or study?
I completed a four-year film-studies program at York University in Toronto while working part-time as a camera assistant on documentary films.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
I studied with teachers at film school and worked with documentary filmmakers too numerous to name. I am grateful for the knowledge they all passed on to me. My work is an accumulation and evolution of ideas, inspiration, concepts from movies I studied and technical books I read, and I’ve gleaned techniques from the cinematographers whose aesthetic I most admired. American Cinematographer has played a key role in providing me with insight about cinematographers and their artistry.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
I have always been inspired by the clarity of vision of Ansel Adams’ landscapes and have incorporated his Zone System to achieve technical precision in my own images. I admire the sensitive treatment of light and dark and the meticulous composition in paintings by Vermeer. In addition, there are many cinematographers whose mastery and innovation have influenced me.

How did you get your first break in the business?
I had a neighbor who worked as a documentary cameraman. I asked him to teach me everything he knew about filmmaking. I was 16, and I became his assistant.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
When I sit down and watch the completed film for the first time; it’s my creative vision expressed as a unified entity.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Because I had worked independently in stills and documentaries, when I first started shooting dramas, I forgot to delegate, trust and interface with all the departments. I had to learn to work with everyone on the crew. You cannot make a movie by yourself.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Have a clear vision, design and objective for every scene. Then, by lighting with your instincts along with your intention and setting your own level of excellence, you will find satisfaction.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
I recently saw a memorable exhibition of Edward Steichen photographs and Alexander Calder sculptures in the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario. They all inspire diverse ways of seeing.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I am open to all genres. My interest is in what opportunities any script will present for visual exploration and creativity.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I would be an architect.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Steven Poster.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
To me, ASC membership represents excellence and high standards in the field of cinematography. I have aspired to have those same standards. There are so many ASC members whose professional achievements I highly respect, and they have been my mentors throughout my career. To be invited to become a member is the greatest honor that’s been bestowed on me.

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