The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Richard Crudo, ASC
Richard Crudo, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
At age 6, I saw a revival of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, shot by Franz Planer, ASC. What stays with me to this day is its sense of spectacle. It’s a great piece of pure entertainment that still holds up.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
There are so many. Among the old timers, I admire John Alton and ASC members Joe MacDonald, Ray Rennahan, John Seitz and Gregg Toland. I don’t want to leave anyone out, but in the modern era I’ve enjoyed the work of ASC members Roger Deakins, Caleb Deschanel, William Fraker, Wally Pfister, Owen Roizman and John Toll. When I was coming up as an assistant cameraman, I had the great good fortune to work frequently with Gordon Willis, ASC, and I admire what he did — and the way he did it — immensely.

What sparked your interest in photography?
Like most of us, I always fooled around with still cameras as a kid. First and foremost, though, I was a jock. By the time I was in college — when I realized the Yankees weren’t going to need me — photography had taken on a new meaning. As I began to study, the notion of creating moments in time became more and more appealing, and that appeal has only grown over the years.

Where did you train and/or study?
I was extremely fortunate to receive the best film-school education possible: I came up through the ranks in New York City as an assistant cameraman. In addition to working with Gordon Willis, I was blessed to serve on the crews of some of the best people around, including [ASC members] Michael Chapman, Laszlo Kovacs, Robert Richardson, John Seale, Vittorio Storaro, Vilmos Zsigmond, and many others. Early on, I took some film classes at Columbia University and eventually earned a master’s degree. But that practical, hands-on experience is what really counted.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
I never had a mentor in the traditional sense, but I was absolutely tenacious in trying to learn from the cinematographers I worked for as an AC. I still have hundreds of pages of notes and diagrams I scribbled while standing next to the camera, and it’s amazing how relevant they’ve remained. Others were also generous with their knowledge: New York commercial cameramen Greg Andracke, John Beymer and Jamie Jacobson, to name a few.  I learned from some assistants, too: Michael Green, Doug Hart, Jim Hovey, Jay Levy, Bruce McCallum, Bob Paone. Great guys, all of them.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
I get nervous whenever someone uses the words art and movies in the same sentence, and there’s no way to answer this without sounding like a pretentious twit. So let’s just say I’m influenced by everything from the Louvre to Mad magazine.

How did you get your first break in the business?
One of my college teachers used to moonlight as a commercial director. He needed people to move things around on a set one day, so I stuck my hand up. I walked onto the stage, saw a Mitchell BNC on the dolly, and hooked up right away as the camera department PA. I’ve never spent a day out of the camera department since.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
There have been so many that I can’t single one out.  Most are intensely personal and private, those moments when you stick your eye to the finder and know in your heart that you’re the luckiest guy on the face of the Earth.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Some would say my biggest one was becoming a cinematographer in the first place.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Never give up. Always keep a positive attitude. Attention to detail.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
I generally find inspiration in things I’ve lived with for awhile, so most of my references are from the past.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I just look for a good script paired with a competent, passionate director. Unfortunately, that’s a rare combination. But what cinematographer in the world wouldn’t want to try his hand at a Western?

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
The only other thing I would have been happy doing is serving as a Navy SEAL.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
John Alonzo, Stevan Larner and Sandi Sissel.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
Becoming a member of the ASC is the greatest honor I could imagine. It’s a stamp of approval from the only people whose opinion really matters: your peers. And it commands respect everywhere in the world. In 88 years, only a few hundred cinematographers have carried those initials after their names. That’s humbling. Helping to carry on their legacy is my proudest achievement.


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