The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents August 2011 Return to Table of Contents
The Tree of Life
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

As I begin my third and final year as president of the ASC, I find that thoughts about where the craft of cinematography is going become more important, not so much in terms of what the ASC can do to affect the future, but in terms of enjoying the discovery of new talent. There are very few things that warm the heart of a seasoned cinematographer more than seeing a new and unique vision discovering its place in this form of artistic expression.

Many people have asked me if the Society has a mentorship program. We do not have a formal arrangement, but individual ASC members freely mentor young cinematographers on a regular basis. One of the most valuable and rewarding things a veteran can do is pass his or her knowledge and love of the craft to an eager apprentice. And as often as the veteran may jokingly say, “Now he/she is going to go after my jobs,” there is a calm satisfaction in knowing that, in a small way, you’ve helped pave the way for someone who may reach artistic heights that could surpass your own.

I’m always mentoring a few people at any given time. Sometimes I can get them onto sets so they can experience the professional world of production, and sometimes their interest is in the myriad ways post tools can affect the final image. I always try to see what truly sparks their imagination, to see what makes them excited about cinematography. In those moments of inspiration, I rediscover what makes this profession exciting for me as well.

I was recently interviewed for the Rising Stars department of Friends of the ASC about one such person. Polly Morgan was a student of mine when I taught a semester at the Maine Media Workshops a few years ago. A native of England, she made her way to Los Angeles to continue her studies here and began shooting student films. Two silent shorts she photographed during that time convinced me she had a talent worth developing. As I became reacquainted with her ambition to create compelling visual stories, I was drawn to help that quest. As we prepared to launch Friends of the ASC, I asked Polly to be the director of photography on the promotional video. There are probably few things more unnerving for a young cinematographer than being given the responsibility of lighting and filming Caleb Deschanel, ASC, and Nancy Schreiber, ASC, who were the spokespersons, but Polly didn’t show any sign of anxiety. She did her job, and today that video is seen all over the world.

Subsequently, when I was asked to shoot a feature and could not do so because of a schedule conflict, I asked Polly to step in for me. I was able to be around during the first few days of filming to make the producers feel at ease, and to observe how Polly worked. Her command of the set and the respect she received from the crew and the director spoke well of her ability to lead a complex project with a team of professionals without ever raising her voice above a conversational tone. Her focus on the details that mattered during chaotic filming schedules was befitting a cinematographer with many more years of experience. The joy that Polly has in exploring visual styles for a project is evident in the careful way she approaches setting up every shot. There is a logic and rhythm to the flow of images, and it incites anticipation in the viewer for where the story will take you next. The capper was when the producers thanked me for introducing them to her. She was subsequently profiled in British Cinematographer as a cinematographer to watch.

Many cinematographers working today were given a boost of confidence and inspiration from an ASC cinematographer at a crucial time in their careers. George Spiro Dibie and Vilmos Zsigmond did it for me, and I have tried to do so in return, as have many other ASC members. It’s part of our passion and our mission. It keeps us young.

I have said this many times about many talented, young cinematographers, and I love saying it: Now Polly is going to go after my jobs.

And you know what? I’m okay with that.


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