The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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The Wolf of Wall Street
Presidents Desk
ASC Close-Up
Michael Slovis

Michael Slovis

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?

The Fly (1958). It scared me to death.


Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?

ASC members Gregg Toland, Owen Roizman and Caleb Deschanel, to name a few. These artists created or continue to create visual languages for each film that are graphically beautiful and inseparable from the stories being told. I love that.


What sparked your interest in photography?

My mom had a foldout bellows Kodak Tourist II camera. I couldn’t get enough of it.


Where did you train and/or study?

At the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I earned a BFA, and at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where I earned an MFA in film.


Who were your early teachers or mentors?

I was lucky enough to be at NYU when Nick Ray taught there. Later, I started as a gaffer for cinematographer Arthur Albert, and we would figure things out together. That process was invaluable.


What are some of your key artistic influences?

The Neorealist films of De Sica, Antonioni and Fellini, and the films of Preston Sturges. I love great writing.


How did you get your first break in the business?

I started as an electrician on low-budget films.


What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

The entire experience of shooting and directing on Breaking Bad. It defined the collaborative creative experience for me.


Have you made any memorable blunders?

Anyone who experiments will end up with failures that will ultimately lead to something worthwhile. A friend of mine once said, ‘I never did anything great intentionally.’ I like that.


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

‘Remain positive.’ It’s harder than you think.


What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

I read a lot, but what has inspired me the most lately is the long-form novelistic storytelling I’ve enjoyed by ‘binge viewing’ Homeland, House of Cards, Top of the Lake and Rectify. They are all part of a revolution in televised drama; there is attention to the writing, the performances and the look, and, as with a good book, you can pick them up and put them down anytime you like. It’s very exciting.


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

I like anything that’s well written, but something in the fantasy genre, open to graphic interpretation, would be especially fun.


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

I love music and have played a variety of instruments. It’s a very good thing that cinematography worked out.


Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Nancy Schreiber, James L. Carter, John Lindley and Steven Poster.


How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

In my interview with the Society’s Membership Committee, all of the discussion centered on artistic choices rather than technical ones — they asked questions like, ‘Why did you do this?’ or, ‘What motivated you to go in that direction?’ I’d been searching for that type of community for a long time and immediately felt comfortable. The impact on my career is impossible to measure. Inclusion in the world’s most celebrated cinematographers’ society is a dream for hundreds of filmmakers and a credit that supports me wherever I go. I consider myself very fortunate.


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