The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Big Miracle
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ASC Close-Up

The ASC Awards weekend kicks into high gear this month. A dinner for the nominees and honorees on Feb. 10 will give everyone a chance to relax before things get crazy. Our annual Open House on Feb. 11 will, for the second consecutive year, be preceded by a breakfast for the Friends of the ASC, an opportunity for subscribers to spend some casual, one-on-one face time with ASC cinematographers prior to the public open house. Our black-tie awards ceremony on Feb. 12 at Hollywood & Highland’s Grand Ballroom will be the culmination of more than six months of planning.

The ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography was the passion project of Michael Margulies, ASC, who wanted the world to recognize the incredible work performed by cinematographers. Only one award was presented that first year, and it went to Jordan Cronenweth, ASC, for the feature film Peggy Sue Got Married (1987). Gregory Peck was our sole presenter. The entire ceremony lasted an hour and was held at the Clubhouse. From such humble beginnings came the 1,600-person industry event we enjoy today.

Those who attend the ASC Awards for the first time are always surprised at how intimate and casual the evening feels. There is a definite lack of formality to the speeches, especially those given by some of the celebrity presenters. This is undoubtedly helped by the fact that our event is not televised or streamed online. This occasionally leads to some drawn-out speeches, but overall the intimacy that this freedom generates is the reason we have a sold-out crowd every year. I recall Warren Beatty regaling the audience with his recollections of working with many ASC members on various films over the years. His stories were so humorous and personal that nobody cared how long he chose to be at the microphone. He conveyed the humanity of the relationship between the director of photography and the director, and even poked fun at his own reputation as a lothario when he said he wished cinematographers weren’t so attractive to his wife, Annette Bening. About her working relationship with Conrad Hall, ASC, Beatty remarked, “Every day on American Beauty, Annette would come home and say, ‘Oh, you should see the lighting Connie did today!’ Every day it was, ‘Connie did this, Connie did that,’ and, ‘Oh, isn’t Connie wonderful!’”

But it is the cinematographers who are the heart of the evening. Braving the disorientation of having to don a tuxedo and, worse, speak onstage in front of hundreds of people, these normally reserved artists truly make the event memorable. From heartfelt expressions of gratitude to funny recollections of past foibles, they make it an evening to remember. Michael Chapman, ASC, in his Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech, said, “I don’t know what they were smoking when they decided to include me with Haskell Wexler, Billy Fraker and other immortals, but if I could get my hands on some of it, I’m sure I’d love it.” When Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, received the same honor, he said, “I feel like Laszlo [Kovacs, ASC] and I really earned this together, so I don’t know how we’re going to split it,” and made a sawing motion with his hand through the award. A few years later, when Laszlo received the honor himself, he repeated the gesture, saying, “Vilmos, I’m giving you the other half!”

In a speech that opened our inaugural awards ceremony, Woody Omens, ASC stated, “If this award could speak, if there were a way to listen to its soul, to hear it express itself, it would tell you that the silent language of cinema belongs to the cinematographer. For it is the cinematographer who speaks silently with light, space, motion and color. Light is language. Light speaks and shadows answer. Tonight we do not look at cinematography; we look into it. The 21st century begins tonight, here at the ASC, where the language of vision lives. With these awards, we open the door to the future.”

Perhaps the comment that sums up the ASC Awards best came from Conrad Hall, ASC, when he received his Lifetime Achievement honor. He simply said, “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for being a cinematographer.”


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