The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents April 2013 Return to Table of Contents
Oz the Great and Powerful
To the Wonder
Presidents Desk
ASC Close-Up
Christopher Baffa

Christopher Baffa, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
The original Planet of the Apes (1968), photographed by Leon Shamroy, ASC. The fascinating world the filmmakers created and the innovative and timely script made a tremendous impression on me. I still remember the amazing, isolating shots of the men traversing the ‘alien’ desert landscapes. I remain fascinated by science fiction’s ability to provide a safe window through which to examine such dangerous topics as hate, prejudice and oppression.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
All of them! But I am especially drawn to the sensitivity, courage and creativity of ASC members Owen Roizman, Vittorio Storaro, Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki, Allen Daviau, John Toll, John Schwartzman, Chris Menges, Robert Elswit, Robert Richardson and Wally Pfister.

What sparked your interest in photography?
My father shot 8mm movies of our family, and seeing a vacation or a place like Disneyland come to Kodachromatic life in our living room a week later was truly magical.

Where did you train and/or study?
The University of Southern California School of Cinema/Television.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
My father, without question. Also, Woody Omens, ASC, an adviser at USC, has been a great source of knowledge, friendship and support, as well as an overall role model. I am also grateful for Allen Daviau’s support and encyclopedic knowledge of film.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
I am a tremendous art lover. I love soft light, shadow and contrast, so Rembrandt’s work is quite powerful to me. I also envy Van Gogh’s emotionally bold use of color. I aspire to be that courageous.

How did you get your first break in the business?
John Aronson, a dear friend from USC, landed his first feature as a cinematographer and was gracious enough to ask me to photograph second unit for him.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Meeting (on separate occasions) Warren Beatty and Robert Elswit, ASC, two men whose work I greatly admire, and hearing them compliment my contribution to Running with Scissors.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
While operating a camera in 2.35:1 on a big stunt for the first time, I accidentally panned in to another camera team. The frame was just so endless!

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘Lead through respect, not intimidation.’ Words of wisdom from Dad.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
I recently visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and literally wept in the Van Gogh section — such a powerful symbiosis of beauty and pain. I was stunned by the light in works by John Singer Sargent and Frans Hals. Also, I recently saw Skyfall and was once again amazed by Roger Deakins’ work.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
Any period project. I would especially love to shoot a Western and, of course, science fiction.  

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Archaeology, interior design or architecture.  

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Owen Roizman, John Schwartzman and Aaron Schneider.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
The honor is still overwhelming! The privilege of belonging to a group so dedicated to the preservation and expansion of this beloved craft is a blessing and a source of tremendous pride. Cinematographers are a unique breed, and the friendships I have forged as a result of ASC membership are truly precious. Through the Society, I have enjoyed the opportunity to meet, converse with and learn from my idols. The joy of that, and the wealth of knowledge, talent and grace they offer, are impossible to describe.     l


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