The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents February 2011 Return to Table of Contents
Green Hornet
John Seale, ASC, ACS
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Barry Markowitz
Barry Markowitz, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Yiddish was my first language, so seeing black-and-white Yiddish films made by the forerunners of what was to come in Hollywood excited me. As we now know, Yiddish theater in Europe turned into MGM and Warner Bros. Many of the Italian Neorealist films also made an impression.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire, and why?
I love Giuseppe Rotunno, ASC, AIC; Conrad Hall, ASC, and all those who did so much more with less. Guys like Haskell Wexler, ASC, made me think, ‘Wow!’ quite often.

What sparked your interest in photography?
I got interested in photography very late. Working at Ferco rental house in New York City exposed me to many new genres, and then my dad found an old, broken-down camera and fixed it for me. All is history after that.

Where did you train and/or study?
When I finished the Hebrew University in Jerusalem with a degree in Jewish history, I thought teaching would be my thing, but it turned out it wasn’t. I found a job at Ferco for $65 a week take-home, and I knew that if I stuck it out and cleaned enough camera cases, one day I could become a loader and then a first AC. I met all the assistants at Ferco and made connections. Collimating lenses and learning about dead batteries served me well when I moved on.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Garrett Brown gave me the start I needed, even though I only got two takes out of 40 in focus on our first job together. I was his AC for five years, and he saw to it that I learned set presence and skills. Haskell Wexler — or, as we called him, “Hacksaw Wexler” — was also very good to me and just loved to share his smarts. When I needed good advice, I could always call Jack Green, ASC. He used to be a barber, so I’d call him up pretending I needed a haircut and then pick his brain about lighting. Boy, he would laugh. I also learned from many others who were not ‘name brands,’ including all those guys who overlit — they taught me what not to do.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Watching films like A Clockwork Orange and Touch of Evil set me straight on ways to approach a film. Watch closely, and you’re set.

How did you get your first break in the business?
In addition to Garrett Brown, Ellen Shire and Bob Giraldi were good to me.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Having Jeff Bridges thank me at the Academy Awards while accepting his Oscar for Crazy Heart. Boy, work has improved since then, thank God!

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Yes, a few, but nothing too bad. I’ve avoided focus issues mainly because of good assistants and keeping my eye on the ball. Once, while I was assisting Burleigh Wartes in the desert in Israel, I accidentally exposed a 400-foot roll we’d shot, and he turned to me and said, ‘I didn’t like that reel, anyway.’

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘There’s only one way to shoot this thing: two ways.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you ?
I have two teenaged boys, so time for reading has been scarce. I’ve gone to Holland many times and found myself online at all the museums. I hate the wait, but once you’re in there, you can stand 2 feet from the art and really examine the details.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
Will someone give me a job in New York City, a shoot-’em-up kinda thing? I need one of those for my reel.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be 
doing instead?
Teaching would probably be my thing. I’m good with showing younger folks the way.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Russell Carpenter, Jack Green and Fred Murphy.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
It has given me a huge boost by allowing me to believe that I’ve made it, so to speak. I’m positive there’s a lot of unrecognized talent out there, too.

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