The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Presidents Desk
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ASC Close-Up
The ASC host an international gathering of delegates from 24 other societies.

Photos by Matt Turve, Alex Lopez and Isidore Mankofsky, ASC
The ASC convened an ambitious International Cinematography Summit in early May, inviting every cinematographer society in the world to send representatives to Hollywood to participate. Joining ASC members at four days of events were cinematographers from 24 of those societies: Australia (ACS), Belgium (SBC), Brazil (ABC), Great Britain (BSC), Canada (CSC), the Czech Republic (ACK), Denmark (DFF), Estonia (ESC), Finland (FSC), France (AFC), Greece (GSC), Italy (AIC), Korea (KSC), Mexico (AMC), the Netherlands (NSC), New Zealand (NZCS), Norway (FNF), Poland (PSC), Portugal (AIP), Serbia (SAC), Slovenia (ZFS), South Africa (SASC) and Sweden (FSF).

The agenda covered areas of concern for cinematographers everywhere, including how new and evolving technologies affect the role of the cinematographer, how to mentor aspiring filmmakers, the challenges of preserving digital motion-picture materials, and promoting artistry in today’s world. Participants were shuttled to various studios and companies for tours and demonstrations of new technologies, and at the close of each day, everyone enjoyed dinner at the Clubhouse.

Day one focused on events at Sony Pictures, starting with an informative seminar on 3-D cinematography led by Buzz Hays, the executive stereoscopic 3-D producer for Sony’s 3-D Technology Center, and Bruce Dobrin, principle architect of the Center. Hays and Dobrin covered many of the most important elements of 3-D work, including convergence; the proper scaling of images; how to create “depth cues” to maximize the 3-D effect; how to identify the “sweet spot” in a theater; and common problems that arise in 3-D shooting.

Attendees were then treated to a screening of The Arrival, a short test film showcasing Sony’s new F65 camera that was written, directed and shot by Curtis Clark, ASC. Clark, who chairs the ASC Technology Committee, was on hand to answer questions. (The Arrival will be covered in next month’s Short Takes column.)

The next stop was the ASC Clubhouse, where the delegates discussed how to improve communication among their societies, and how to raise the profile of cinematographers everywhere. ACS President Ron Johanson summed up the importance of this mission: “Once we leave this venue, we must not stop talking to each other. There are people out there in the wide world that don’t even know what a cinematographer does.”
Steven Poster, ASC, president of the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600, suggested more publicity and outreach. “We need to raise our collective profile,” he observed.

BSC delegate Joe Dunton suggested the need for an official academy for cinematographers that could provide guidance to professionals and, especially, students. Pointing to photos of award-winning ASC members that adorn the Clubhouse walls, he said, “We owe it to the people on those walls to share information. We need a research center. We need some kind of regulating body to prove what companies are saying is actually true. The phrase ‘Unless you learn from the past, you won’t know the future’ is especially important for young people.”

CSC President Joan Hutton picked up on this theme and led the discussion into its next topic: how best to educate the next generation. “We need to foster a mentorship mentality,” she stressed. “Kids today come out of film school with no concept of what a film picture looks like, so they’re satisfied with a flat video picture. I started out as a second camera assistant, but we’re losing that on-the-job training.”

Jacek Laskus, ASC lamented, “What I’m seeing are a lot of images with no thought behind them. If we don’t start teaching the visual language of cinema, it will disappear.”

Another topic that emerged was artist’s rights. Nigel Walters, BSC, who also serves as president of Imago (the European Federation of Cinematographers), noted that while the cause of filmmakers’ rights (especially those pertaining to film “authorship”) has made progress in several European countries, it has come under siege in others. He suggested that by presenting a united front, cinematographer societies could make more progress in this area.

“I cannot affect anything in my country,” maintained Zoran Hochstätter, ZFS. “[In Slovenia] people don’t know what we do. We have no effect on the Ministry of Culture. We’re hoping togetherness will produce some effect. The ASC has exactly the same fears and problems we do; this is why we all need to [work] together.”

Capping off the day’s discussion, ASC President Michael Goi addressed a question that seemed to be nagging at many participants. “Someone asked me if cinematographers were becoming obsolete,” he said, recalling an encounter with an individual who insisted to him that anyone who picks up a digital camera can be a cinematographer. “My retort to this guy was, ‘If you pick up an electric guitar, does that make you Eric Clapton?’ Well, he didn’t even know who Eric Clapton was.”

Day two began at Universal Studios’ Virtual Stage 1, an 80'x40'x20' motion-capture stage outfitted with a dedicated camera and jib arm, a greenscreen cyc, Lightcraft Technology’s Previzion real-time camera-tracking system and adjacent editing bays and work spaces.

Technical director Ron Fischer provided an overview of the space, and then David Morin, chair of the Joint Technology Subcommittee on Virtual Production (which includes the ASC, the Art Directors Guild, the Visual Effects Society, the International Cinematographers Guild, the Previsualization Society and the Producers Guild), discussed the evolution of virtual production, from the introduction of computer graphics up to today’s productions, on which the visual effects are increasingly visible on set as the filmmakers shoot. Virtual-production supervisor Glenn Derry then shared anecdotes from his experiences working on productions such as Avatar and the upcoming Real Steel.

“Now that we’re all filled with fear for our jobs,” joked Goi, “can we take a look at some demonstrations?”

Visual-effects company Eden FX and previs companies The Third Floor and Proof obliged with live demonstrations that composited a live actor into a virtual environment with a CG costar animated via motion-capture, all in real time. Following the demos, attendees were encouraged to try out the tools for themselves.

Upon returning to the Clubhouse, the participants continued to discuss the increasingly virtual nature of blockbuster films, as Chris Edwards, Colin Green and Brian J. Pohl of the Previsualization Society presented an overview of previs and emphasized the importance of the cinematographer’s participation throughout the process. The presentation segued into a discussion of the merits of previs on intimate dramas and other productions that do not incorporate a heavy use of visual effects.

Recognizing the shifting landscape created by virtual-production practices, Johanson noted that the ACS has introduced a virtual-cinematography award, which distinguishes between virtual camerawork and virtual lighting. Poster applauded the idea, noting, “At this point, it’s important we embrace every form of image-making we can.”

Summit participants spent most of day three at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Pickford Center in Hollywood, where Andy Maltz, Ray Feeney, Jonathan Erland and Milt Shefter of the Academy Science & Technology Council provided overviews of some Council projects, including an evaluation of solid-state lighting, an assessment of the spectral sensitivity of various digital cameras, the new Image Interchange Framework for digital workflows, and the challenges of preserving digital motion-picture materials. (Information and updates on these projects can be found at

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