The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents December 2016 Return to Table of Contents
ASC Close-Up
Checco Varese

Checco Varese, ASC

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

I was born and raised in Peru. My father took me to see The Magnificent Seven — that is the first memory of a movie theater that I have.


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

Dante Spinotti [ASC, AIC], Christopher Doyle [HKSC], Emmanuel Lubezki [ASC, AMC] and Gabriel Figueroa.


What sparked your interest in photography?

I studied architecture in Italy, and after graduating I returned to Peru, only to find that it was very difficult to have an opportunity in that field. By chance one of my friends needed a camera assistant for a National Geographic documentary in the Amazon jungle. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.


Where did you train and/or study?

I started as a camera assistant in documentaries, then a news cameraman and war correspondent for several years. Finally I got an opportunity and took a Steadicam workshop, and then I started shooting second unit.


Who were your early teachers or mentors?

Guillermo Navarro, ASC, AMC took me as a Steadicam operator on several of his movies.


What are some of your key artistic influences?

Probably the most important influence I had was my artistic education in Italy. Once you learn how to understand spatial volumes, color and light in architecture, the transition to cinematography is a natural progression. You don’t build walls in architecture, you build spaces — the same is true in cinematography.


How did you get your first break in the business?

One has many godfathers in several stages of one’s career — too many to mention.


What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

When you are on the plane going back home, you fall asleep in the seat … and wake up remembering that you should have done that one shot. You’re always looking for one more camera move, one more shot, one more take.


Have you made any memorable blunders?

Yes — yes, but, ‘Senator, I don’t recall.’ Sorry!


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

Wake up before everybody else; go to sleep after everybody else; work more than you think you should.


What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

I often take inspiration from photographers. Sebastião Salgado — I have no words to describe his framing and sensibility.


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

I’m intrigued by action movies. I think there is a pirate movie somewhere in my future, waiting for me. Sandokan and the Malaysian tigers are hiding in a script in a drawer!


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

Surgeon for Doctors Without Borders.


Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Guillermo Navarro, Gabriel Beristain, Steven Poster, Antonio Calvache.


How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

The ASC has impacted me in many ways, and has opened the door for me to share my experiences with colleagues in ways I would have never expected. I have enjoyed the privilege of teaching two Master Classes as a mentor, and a third in Puerto Rico where I am filming a movie. I personally believe that most of us ASC members are shooting movies in remote places, and it would be great if we could give a workshop, a master class or even just a ‘conversation’ wherever we are — during prep, on the camera-test day, on a Saturday. We could share knowledge and learn so much every time we are abroad. 

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