The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents January 2012 Return to Table of Contents
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Presidents Desk
Production Slate
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Rodrigo Prieto

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

I was blown away by Jason and the Argonauts (1963), particularly the skeletons’ fight. That scene changed my life. Because of it, I learned how to do stop-motion animation and made my own monster films with my older brother.

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

Since I was in film school, I’ve been inspired by the naturalism of Néstor Almendros, ASC; the style of Jordan Cronenweth, ASC; the elegance of Sven Nykvist, ASC; and the strong compositions of Gabriel Figueroa. 

What sparked your interest in photography?

Working for a year as an assistant in a still-photography studio in Mexico City with photographer Nadine Markova made me aware of the power of framing, lighting and color. 

Where did you train and/or study?

At the Centro de Capacitacin Cinematogrfica in Mexico City.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

Nadine Markova; Miguel Fernndez Morn; Guillermo Navarro, ASC; and Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

I use the work of still photographers as my main reference for lighting and composition. I admire the work of Nan Goldin, Alex Webb, Cindy Sherman, Sebastiao Salgado, Jonas Bendiksen and many others.

How did you get your first break in the business?

I was working on a commercial as a PA and still photographer when I was 22 and still in film school. The client liked my photos and asked the production company to hire me as the director of photography on their next commercial. That kick-started my career as a cinematographer.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

So many! Moments like sharing a cry with Naomi Watts on 21 Grams after an emotional scene, or watching Tony Leung reacting to Tang Wei singing on Lust, Caution, or improvising with the camera onstage with Eminem on 8 Mile, or seeing Matt Damon imagining his deceased wife on We Bought a Zoo. Also, watching the first dailies of the color-infrared battle scene on Alexander.

Have you made any memorable blunders?

On one of my first commercials in Mexico, I was required to shoot a telecommunications facility from the air, and I operated the Tyler side mount on a helicopter. On the way to the location, I filmed landscapes and sheep in idyllic pastures. We arrived, and as I started filming the huge antenna, I saw soldiers running to trenches and pointing their guns at us — apparently they weren’t aware of our permit. So after circling once, we left. Upon landing, I realized I had run out of film before we reached the antenna! I had to go back and shoot it from the ground on another day.

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

On my first day on my first job as a PA, the production manager was late, and a grip said, ‘It is disrespectful to be late on a shoot day.’ That made a big impression on me.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

I enjoy books by Haruki Murakami. His mysterious, introspective and vivid style is fascinating to me. I also appreciate the work of artist Francis Alÿs, particularly his keen eye on the politics and life in Mexico City.

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

I love science fiction and horror, but I have not had an opportunity to delve into those genres since I did my own Super 8 films!

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

I would probably be a graphic designer.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Steven Poster, Guillermo Navarro and Emmanuel Lubezki.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

Being a member of the ASC has allowed me to be in direct contact with cinematographers I admire and keep learning from them, as well as discuss ideas and techniques with them. It is also a great forum to participate in defining the evolving role of the cinematographer.


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