The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents December 2010 Return to Table of Contents
Black Swan
Resident Evil-Afterlife
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

Inspiration is difficult to quantify and impossible to predict. It happens at unexpected times and affects our lives and careers in unexpected ways. Yet it is the one element that drives us to do the things we do, regardless of reason, logic or common sense. Years from now, I’ll be able to say I was there when my 3-year-old son, Michael, got his first big jolt of inspiration. Sure, he’s always been happy mixing his food together after watching a cooking show, or marveling at the way a hummingbird flies, but this was different. 

Gina gave birth to our second son, Ryan, two weeks ago. Michael has been protectively supportive of his little brother, so we wanted to do something special for him. We decided to take him to Disneyland for the day. As we were preparing to leave the park in the evening, we stopped by the Nickelodeon Theater on Main Street, where they run six different black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoons on six screens in a circular setup. The moment we walked into the dark room, I could see it hit him; Michael stopped in his tracks and slowly looked around the room at the six screens. He has certainly seen movies and cartoons before, and he has been to numerous theaters, but this was different. 

He stood in one spot for a good five minutes, taking in the surroundings, then sat on the floor in front of one screen and watched the six-minute cartoon (Traffic Troubles) twice. Then he shifted over and watched the next screen’s cartoon twice, and so on, all around the room. He is a talkative boy, but he never said a thing during the experience — not a laugh nor a question. I watched his face as he scanned the screen and the environment. I could see him thinking. When we had watched all the cartoons twice, he simply got up and walked out the door with us. 

It reminded me of the time I was 7 years old and went to a friend’s birthday party, where he was showing 8mm films of Frankenstein and Dracula on the wall with a projector. Watching the strip of film with little pictures disappear into the machine and seeing the moving pictures on the wall jogged something in my brain; suddenly, it was like random thoughts had focus, and I felt like I understood more. It also freed my mind to truly explore and fantasize. 

I see that change in Michael now. He’s still the same kid, but he’s different. I sense it in the way he speaks and the manner in which he plays. He’s looking at the world in a different way, and I can’t pretend to fully understand why. I don’t ask him about it because I don’t think he would be able to explain it, and I also don’t want to disrupt the thought process he’s going through by asking him to analyze it. But it’s there. Who can say how that moment of inspiration will affect the rest of his life? 

Inspiration is necessary for all of us to get through the day, let alone our lives. If we don’t find it, we somehow become hollow representations of ourselves, shadows of the people we really are. For a few years, I thought I had lost the ability to be inspired. Then, typically, I found it again in an unusual way. My wife snapped this photo of Michael and me on her phone. It’s out of focus, compositionally crooked, and you can’t see our faces, yet it is my favorite photo. It inspires me — to be a loving husband, a decent father, a dedicated teacher, a selfless mentor, a tireless artist and a compassionate leader. 

My wife jokingly says of Michael’s introspective observations, “Oh, boy, now he’s going to be just like his daddy. He’s going to want to save the world.” I hope for nothing less. 

Happy holidays, and best wishes for an inspiring new year.


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