The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents December 2014 Return to Table of Contents
Presidents Desk
Interstellar
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I have been a Major League Baseball fan — more specifically, a radical New York Yankee fan — for my entire life. And while detente has been reached with artificial turf, expansion and the designated hitter, the past season introduced an annoying new trend: the proliferation of meaningless statistics and records touted by the announcers and color commentators during every broadcast. It was a practice carried out far, wide and way too often, and on more than one occasion precipitated my clicking to another channel ... for a hockey game, if I could find one.

“Well, Pete, that marks the first time in history that a left-handed hitter has checked his swing three consecutive times during one at-bat on a Tuesday evening after 8 p.m.”

“Eleven more knuckle curves and Tommy will top the all-time list for breaking pitches on a cloudy day.”

“You might not know that Charlie is a distant relative of the Queen of England, which technically makes him a Royal, even though he plays for the White Sox.”

Admittedly, this is a trivial thing to get wound up about. But it gains meaning when you realize the cheapening effect it has on the game, not to mention the way it deflects from the truly relevant things that have made the sport so special since the beginning.

A similar situation exists in our own industry with the continued expansion and complication of the technology used by cinematographers. It’s just another smoke screen that causes us all to take our eye off the ball. Obfuscating a creative process with increasingly cumbersome and more onerous technical requirements does not help us do our jobs better or more efficiently. But why do there seem to be so few attempts to redirect that bend in the river? How is it that the community of cinematographers — especially the younger ones — aren’t demanding simpler, more “plug-and-play” solutions to image making?

Look back to those annoying goofballs in the broadcast booths of the baseball world and you just might find an answer, one symptomatic of a whole new agenda. Among many of our manufacturers, a catastrophic loss of clarity has pervaded what not long ago was a smart, sensible atmosphere. Time and again I hear it from my colleagues; I also see it in my own experiences. Nothing is basic or intuitive anymore. We understand that it’s difficult for the makers of our gear to keep it simple, to pursue the elementary, but I have no sympathy. Anything worthwhile in life requires focus, commitment and effort. When you don’t approach it from that level, you end up with the type of mess we are now forced to deal with every day. Go out to photograph a movie or television show, and what you need to pull it off recalls not so much the building of a rocket (which is bad enough) but the launching of one. Yes, the game has changed. For those without the benefit of a few decades’ perspective, I assure you, it’s not for the better.

Another publication recently asked me what technological development would be most beneficial to cinematographers in the next decade. Only half jokingly, I answered, “Film.” Clearly, that’s never going to happen — and that’s okay, since digital images are finally starting to approach the potential of what we had before. Besides which, I’m not a Luddite and can hardly be described as slow witted.

I realize this is a scream into the wilderness — and a wilderness it is. Sit quietly in the desert for an hour, and you’ll be amazed at the quick shifts in the textures and topography surrounding you. Review the tools and practices you employed on a shoot just last month, and you’ll experience the same sensation.

So, this being the holiday season, the season of light, hope and gift giving, I look forward with the greatest of optimism and implore our manufacturers to stop mistaking movement for progress. If there’s one present you can give to cinematographers as we move into the future, it would be to make our tools and workflows more compatible with a direct and uncluttered mind.

Until then, and until we meet again in 2015, everyone at the ASC wishes you health, happiness and nothing but the best!

 

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