The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents April 2015 Return to Table of Contents
Presidents Desk
A Little Chaos
ASC Close-Up
Presidents Desk

Each day, global, national and local events conspire to imprint upon us that we’re living in a post-truth, post-common sense and, indeed, a post-reality reality. Even the most fleeting exposure to the mainstream media is enough to prove how bereft of responsibility they and so many other once respected institutions have become. Hollywood has not been immune to this trend, and by necessity most of us have reached some degree of peace with that. Nonetheless, every so often something flies over the transom that really makes me scratch my head. For example, a number of friends and colleagues recently forwarded me a series of social-media postings, and their subject certainly warrants attention.

Assume for a moment that a landowner wants to build a house. After an architect delivers a set of plans, a builder is brought in, followed by a parade of specialized contractors and subcontractors. Throughout the process, the architect’s thoughts, preferences and even emotions concerning what he or she wants to achieve are incorporated in a tangible set of plans that lay out how the house will be constructed and what it will look like in its final form. Every detail is reviewed, and allowances are made for fine adjustments or massive changes that may be required as work progresses.

Having been party to this sort of adventure on a few occasions, I can tell you that the deliberations are limited to a small number of participants. And though the information is eventually disseminated to the larger group of collaborators, here’s the important part: The initial intent for the look of the building is held in the heads of only a few principal creators. This is similar in many ways to putting together a movie or TV project. The producer is the landowner, the director the architect, and the cinematographer the builder.

Which brings us back to those troubling Web postings. It seems a growing number of people within the industry are buying into the misconception that what cinematographers do is no longer quite as thought through and controlled as it used to be. They believe that what comes out of today’s digital cameras is just a pile of data that’s whipped into shape and given its final form by a variety of other people after the “capture” part is in the books and the cinematographer has left the party.

If you endorse that, allow me to educate you: Nothing could be further from the truth. Surely the list of a cinematographer’s responsibilities was appreciable during the film era, but it has blown up exponentially with the arrival of digital technology.

Production designers, costume designers, art directors, hair and makeup people, camera operators, gaffers, grips, visual-effects specialists and a host of others all make valuable contributions to the look of a production; we are fortunate and thankful to have them with us as we go into battle. On the postproduction side, everyone should be reminded how tremendously well-served we are by film color timers and digital colorists. But let’s be clear: None of these talented, creative individuals is charged with the authority to conceive and execute the cinematographer’s list of actions any more than the cinematographer is charged with executing theirs.

We each have a role to play in the creation of visual entertainment. As cinematographers, ours is to use artistry, technical expertise and good taste to turn the director’s ideas into physical reality. Only one pair of eyes is qualified to guide the look and texture of the image from conception through delivery, and those eyes belong to the cinematographer. To proclaim differently is at best misguided or uninformed. At worst it’s an outright lie.

Many industry websites are spotted with the ravings of those who are easily recognized as “geniuses without résume.” With absolute conviction, they rant and pontificate about subjects of which they have no or very little knowledge. Maybe they’re aware of the damage that’s spread in their wake. Maybe not.

At this most dubious juncture of human history, truth-telling has never been more urgently needed. And while this misleading faction doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, they really should start to consider: When the pendulum starts to swing the other way, the payback might not be so kind.


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