The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents December 2011 Return to Table of Contents
J. Edgar
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Luciano Tovoli

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Visconti’s La Terra Trema (1948), shot by G.R. Aldo.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
G.R. Aldo, for his classic and almost baroque sense of color in lighting; Gianni Di Venanzo, for his black-and-white work and modern sense of composition; and Peppino (Giuseppe) Rotunno, ASC, AIC, and Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC, for whom I have no special words — we grew up together, and they are simply phenomenal visual artists.

What sparked your interest in photography?
When I was 16, I discovered through the magnificent work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Paul Strand that photography could be an art.

Where did you train and/or study?
I studied cinematography at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, where I met Nestor Alméndros, ASC two years before Storaro arrived. Rotunno teaches there today. As you see, there is a circle in my life formed by the same group of persons, a comfortable ‘Roman nest’ that shares habits, expectations, inspirations and dreams.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Indirectly or directly, all the artists I’ve already mentioned.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
I try to find the time to transform myself into a pilgrim, wandering the streets of Venice, Florence and Rome on a quest for new discoveries. But I’ve finally accepted the fact that one life is simply not long enough to see all the gifts my beautiful country offers.

How did you get your first break in the business?
After earning the CSC diploma in 1958, I searched for someone who believed in diplomas! I found Vittorio De Seta, a director who was in search of a kind of factotum assistant for a short film on Sardinia. We came back eight months later with Banditi ad Orgosolo, which played to great acclaim at the Venice Film Festival.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

Re-teaming with Dario Argento this year for a 3-D version of Dracula, 34 years after we made Suspiria!

Have you made any memorable blunders?
While operating the camera on one of my first films (with no video assist at the time), I was so fascinated by what the actor was doing that I inadvertently included in the frame 100 of the 150 feet of track we’d laid down! Since then, I’ve hired the most talented camera operators I could find, and my nights have been restful.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

‘The edges of the frame are often more interesting than the center.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

I’m re-reading the first part of Dante’s Divina Commedia, L’inferno. Often he draws the most impressive fresco with only four verses. Only the divine Michelangelo can compete with him. I have to add that I studied and learned French reading Flaubert and Celine, and English reading Melville and Kerouac. They gave me the invaluable gift to be able to communicate in other idioms and understand other cultures.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?

I don’t see my films as belonging to any genre. A nice group of them are quite bad; most are good enough to deserve the salary; and very few are quite remarkable (according to others), and surely that happened when I had enough courage to take a lot of risks.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I would be a good lawyer to help my colleagues become legally recognized as ‘authors of photography’ and ‘co-authors’ of their films. I tried to contribute to the solution of this injustice by founding Imago in 1992, when I was president of the AIC. I received enthusiastic approval and immediate support from representatives of the BSC, BVK and AFC. Today, led by our wise and tireless president, Nigel Walters, BSC, Imago includes 32 European and 15 extra-European cinematographer societies ( By far, this has been my most important idea and my best achievement.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Peppino Rotunno, Vittorio Storaro and Steven Poster.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

To be part of such a society of film artists is invaluable.

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