The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents August 2008 Return to Table of Contents
The X-Files
Greetings From
Green Porno
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
John Bartley
John S. Bartley, ASC, CSC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Many films made a great impression on me when I was young. National Velvet (1944) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) were two of many favorites.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
There are so many great cinematographers it’s hard to single out a few. Past: ASC members Gregg Toland and Sven Nykvist. Present: Robert Richardson, ASC.

What sparked your interest in photography?

Growing up in New Zealand, I didn’t get to watch television until I was in my early teens, and New Zealand had just one channel. It was movies — Saturday matinees and then maybe another film in the evening — that fascinated me. Cinerama was big at the time, and we took school trips to the theater. Many theaters played double features continuously from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., mostly Westerns and film noirs.

Where did you train and/or study?
I wish I had been able to go to film school. Sadly, there were none in New Zealand at the time. My mother worked in live theater and introduced me to stage technicians who taught me theatrical lighting and stage mechanics.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
After moving to Sydney, Australia, I was lucky enough to get a position as a lighting technician at Channel 7 in Sydney. Two lighting directors, Peter O’Brien and Brian Bansgrove, taught me how to light sets for multiple cameras. Television was still black-and-white at the time.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
The Impressionists.

How did you get your first break in the business?
Director David Saperstein hired me to shoot a small movie, Beyond the Stars (1989), with Martin Sheen, Sharon Stone, Christian Slater and F. Murray Abraham. It was my first feature as a director of photography, and I learned a lot.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Watching actress Carroll Baker, whom I loved in The Carpetbaggers, in front of the camera on the set of Bob Fosse’s Star 80, which I worked on with Sven Nykvist. Looking around at Bob, Sven and Carroll, I thought, ‘How does it ever get better than this?’ But any time I get to watch good actors acting and the lighting is working out is a satisfying moment for me.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
After lighting a set with director of photography John Coquillon, we went and lit another set while waiting for the actors. When I got back to the first set, I found the electricians had taken away the equipment from that set for the new lighting setup. I had to put it back very fast because the actors were walking in. Also, early in my career, I turned off a key light on a host interviewer while we were live on the air!

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘Light the set, then turn off half the lights and shoot.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
CGI movies and digital cinema. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I would like to shoot a musical, old or new.

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

Working in live theater.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Robert Stevens, Robert Primes and Michael Watkins.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
Becoming a member of the ASC was an important, exciting moment in my life. It is truly amazing to be in the company of such talented cinematographers. In the future, I hope to be able to get more involved with ASC activities.

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