The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents August 2013 Return to Table of Contents
The Lone Ranger
Presidents Desk
ASC Close-Up

Stuart Dryburgh, ASC, NZCS

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
The Ipcress File (1965).

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, from his early British work, through his collaboration with the Coens, to the gorgeous Skyfall.

What sparked your interest in photography?
My father always had a camera and took photographs, and when I was around 8, he bought me my first camera, a plastic 120-size-roll-film Ilford Sporti 4. My first serious attempts were documenting my family’s immigrant journey by ship from Britain to New Zealand. The results were somewhat mixed.

Where did you train and/or study?
I did not have any formal film training. In fact, I studied architecture at Auckland University, which gave me an excellent visual-arts education. I learned the skills and techniques of camera and lighting on the job, from the cameramen with whom I worked.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
When I started in the business, I was blessed to gaff for a great group of New Zealand cinematographers, notably Alun Bollinger, John Toon [NZCS] and James Bartle [NZCS]. I was also the gaffer on Battletruck, which was shot by Chris Menges [ASC, BSC] when he was the British go-to guy for sci-fi after shooting second unit on The Empire Strikes Back. He taught me a lot, especially about window light.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Photojournalism, particularly the Magnum photographers (past and present); the socially aware photography of William Eggleston; and the long-view photographs of Andreas Gursky.

How did you get your first break in the business?
I was fortunate to get involved in film in New Zealand when the business there was just getting started. I was interested, unemployed and therefore available. After a decade as a gaffer, I was asked to shoot some low-budget commercials by a few directors who had got to know me and figured I knew how to light. Then, shooting Kitchen Sink, a short by Alison McLean, led to meeting Jane Campion and getting the opportunity to shoot An Angel at My Table.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
So many things come to mind, but operating a camera on Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light at the Beacon Theatre was a real career highlight. Not only did I get to shoot a Rolling Stones concert over several nights and work with a great director, but I also shared the experience with a large and enthusiastic crew, amongst them many ASC members.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
When I first started working in the U.S., I didn’t understand the politics of being loyal to the producers and responsible for schedule and budget while staying true to the director and his vision. Luckily, I am a quick study.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Using the Pentax spot meter, John Toon taught me the relationship between incident and spot readings. I have used this method of exposure calculation ever since.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Books: The sci-fi novels of Ian Banks, Neal Asher and Neal Stephenson, and Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Films: Biutiful, Rust and Bone and Skyfall. Artwork: I am currently inspired by the work of my children, Isobel and Emil, both graduates of the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I am about to start work on an international crime thriller, and I am very excited to be working in this genre.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Given my educational background, I might have become a very mediocre architect. But what am I good at? I make very good coffee and would be a kick-ass barista.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Sol Negrin, Adam Holender and Philippe Rousselot.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
I have always enjoyed the camaraderie and conviviality that can be found at the Clubhouse and amongst ASC members wherever we meet.


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