The American Society of Cinematographers

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ASC Close-Up
Shane Hurlbut

Shane Hurlbut, ASC

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

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, because of the light, the mystery and the aliens. Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC was such an inspiration for me.


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

Gregg Toland, ASC, for his use of contrast and composition. Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, for his seamless, effortless and stunning visuals. Robert Richardson, ASC, for his ballsy exposures and mixing formats. Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC, for his extraordinary talent to immerse you as a viewer.


What sparked your interest in photography?

I grew up in a small town in Upstate New York with very little money, but my parents always made it a priority to take a long family vacation during the summer, and they loved to take pictures to document our adventures. I would shoot Super 8mm movies on these epic train trips. By 14 years old, I was making my own experimental movies and processing them in the bathtub.


Where did you train and/or study?

I graduated from Emerson College in Boston with a bachelor’s degree in film.


Who were your early teachers or mentors?

First and foremost, my wife, Lydia, has been a leadership mentor to me. As a filmmaker, I had three mentors while training to become a cinematographer. The first was Daniel Pearl, ASC, who took me under his wing as his key grip. Kevin Kerslake is a director-cameraman whom I studied under for six years; he encouraged me to experiment and take things over the edge if it’s best for the story, and he showed me that failure is essential for the creative process. Herb Ritts taught me how to light a face, how to make an actor comfortable, and how to deliver beauty with a unique look and feel.


What are some of your key artistic influences?

I love to go to museums, study architecture, and view paintings and still photography. The artists who have really influenced me are Caravaggio, Georges de La Tour, Todd Hido, Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Gregory Crewdson, among others.


How did you get your first break in the business?

I was on a Donna Summer music video for the movie Daylight, directed by Rob Cohen. His team came down to the set to see how it was going, and three days later I got a call from Rob’s office requesting an interview. A week after that, I started my first narrative film with Rob, The Rat Pack. I will be forever grateful to him for believing in me and giving me a chance to prove myself in the narrative world.


What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

Each feature project is satisfying in its own way, but if I had to choose just one, it would be Act of Valor. That experience was unlike anything I had ever done before. Under the leadership of directors Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy, we made the movie with a core of about 10 storytellers, and the teamwork necessary to pull it off was inspirational.


Have you made any memorable blunders?

My first day as a gaffer, I had set my meter to 100 ASA and we were shooting 500 ASA film. I will never forget coming up to the cinematographer and telling him that we had to reshoot all the footage. Of course, the agency decided to use the footage we exposed incorrectly. 


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

Never feel comfortable, always challenge yourself and never stop dreaming.


What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, by Timothy Egan; and The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, both by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.


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

I would be a chef. My hobby is to cook. It’s a passion of mine to create new recipes and share them with our family and friends.


Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Fred Murphy, Dave Stump and Michael Goi. Francis Kenny helped me so much throughout the process as well, in addition to Bob Primes, who was influential in my acceptance.


How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

It has really pushed me as an artist — it’s the gold standard. It is an amazing community to reach out to for advice and referrals, personally as well as professionally. It has given me the ability to understand how important it is to share and to educate future storytellers.

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