The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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President’s Desk
Fences
Paterson
ASC Close-Up
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ASC Close-Up

Brief interviews with ASC members about their careers and inspirations. This month: Lawrence Sher.




When you were a child, which films made the strongest impression on you?

Jaws, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Being There and Breaking Away.

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

So many. Of the veterans — Conrad Hall [ASC], Owen Roizman [ASC], Caleb Deschanel [ASC] and Nestor Alemendros [ASC]. And more recently — Robert Elswit [ASC], Chivo Lubezki [ASC, AMC] and Bradford Young [ASC].

What sparked your interest in photography?

It was in high school and I borrowed my father’s 1963 Nikon F on a trip to Paris. I took pictures the whole trip and suddenly I was hooked on photography. In college at Wesleyan University my interest was re-sparked when I took a survey course called ‘The Language of Film.’ I started seeing the art of moviemaking, and at its center was cinematography.

Where did you train and/or study?

After graduating from college as an economics major, I got in my car and drove to Los Angeles with the goal of becoming a cinematographer. I pulled the light meter out of that same Nikon F, put in some RGB film and took thousands of stills to teach myself lighting and exposure. Additionally, while assisting on commercials, music videos and features, I would take copious notes in between my 2nd AC duties of all the lighting setups. Every moment in between assisting, I tried to shoot anything that I could drum up and learned by shooting and making every mistake you could imagine.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

In college I learned film theory from professor Jeanine Basinger, and in the ‘working classroom’ of Los Angeles I learned from every cameraperson I worked for, including commercial cinematographers like Marco Mazzei, Max Malkin, Sal Totino [ASC, AIC] and Jeff Cutter.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

I find constant inspiration from watching movies, as well as from photographers like Joel Sternfeld, Jeff Wall, Philip-Lorca diCorcia and many others.

How did you get your first break in the business?

I was hired by a veteran film executive named Bob Misiorowski to shoot a low-budget bank-heist movie called On the Border for Nu Image in El Paso, Texas. He had no reason to hire me as I had very little on my reel at that point. I was completely in over my head but learned a massive amount about preparation and organization and how to be a professional working cameraman. I survived — we even finished two days early — and I went on to make another movie with Bob the following year in South Africa. I’ll forever be grateful to him for taking such a chance.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

It may seem like a real cliché, but my satisfaction on a project comes in small ways every shooting day. Sometimes it’s simply capturing a really true moment of a performance that will only happen that one time, and sometimes it’s just getting that one beautiful frame or lighting setup after a long and frustrating day.

Have you made any memorable blunders?

I’ve made many, including the first thing I ever shot in college. On a thesis short film for my friend Jordan, I left the high slide of the old Luna-Pro light meter in through all our interiors and everything was 3 stops underexposed. You only make that mistake once. Fortunately, it was college, and a couple six packs of beer and a reshoot smoothed that over.

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

‘Never let them see you sweat,’ from Bill Paxton.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

I just saw Arrival and thought Bradford Young, ASC’s work was beautiful. And Fargo season two is perhaps the best 10 hours of entertainment I’ve seen in a long time — Dana Gonzales, ASC’s work is fantastic.

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

I’d love to shoot a documentary or a big action movie.

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

A doctor like my dad and brother, or a behavioral economist.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Owen Roizman, Mark Irwin and Tom Priestley Jr.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

As a person who fell in love with movies mostly in my 20s when I was learning cinematography, the ASC represented the best of the best and I was in awe of the members’ talents. So when I became a member I was incredibly humbled. When I see the ‘ASC’ after my name on slates, it still seems weird and unreal and reminds me of all the history of the ASC and all I still have to learn.

 

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