The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents July 2013 Return to Table of Contents
White House Down
Presidents Desk
ASC Close-Up
Don Burgess

Don Burgess, ASC


When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
The Great Escape (1963). Watching Steve McQueen jump the fence on the motorcycle made me fall in love with movies.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
I think ASC members Haskell Wexler, Conrad Hall, Caleb Deschanel and Owen Roizman would be the group that most inspired me to become a cinematographer. They took the Hollywood out of cinematography and made it look real.

What sparked your interest in photography?
My older sister, Chris, started a darkroom in our house, and I got hooked as soon as I saw the first print develop on the paper. I was 12 or 13.

Where did you train and/or study?
I studied at the Los Angeles Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where I majored in film.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
The teacher that helped me the most at school was Mike Ahnemann, who taught a production class where we actually made films. He made me feel like I actually had a future at this.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Painters. I seek out galleries wherever I go.

How did you get your first break in the business?
Cinematographer John Stephens gave me my first job, in 1976, on William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, and inspired me to become a cinematographer.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
I think we were about halfway through Forrest Gump when I realized how special the film was. I was having a great time working with Bob Zemeckis, and the job of director of photography was everything I hoped it would be.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Cinematographers don’t like that word, but we do like ‘happy accidents,’ which we take credit for all the time.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘Spend less than you make.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. It’s all about 10,000 hours and being born at the right place at the right time.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I do like variety. I like to keep moving and trying different things.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I come from a family of builders, so I imagine it would be something in the construction business.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Jack Green, Mikael Salomon and Robert Steadman.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
I’ve developed a lot of wonderful friendships with fellow ASC members who make me feel a part of Hollywood cinema.


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