The American Society of Cinematographers

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ASC Master Class
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A Perpetual Student

When Angarag Davaasuren isn't shooting in Mongolia, you can probably find him at the ASC Master Class.

 





When the ASC convenes its eighth Master Class in Hollywood this month, it will be the first one that Mongolian cinematographer Angarag Davaasuren has missed. He has so far attended every seminar since October 2013, when they were inaugurated.

“The Master Classes get more valuable each time,” says Davaasuren. “Each ASC cinematographer has his own unique way to do workshops and lectures, and I learn something new every time.”

Shortly before the May Master Class commenced, AC sat down with Davaasuren at the ASC Clubhouse for a chat. His friend and fellow cameraman Sant-amar Erdene assisted with translation. Here are excerpts from the conversation:

American Cinematographer: How did you become a filmmaker?

Angarag Davaasuren: My parents hoped I would have a career as a diplomat, so when I was in high school, they sent me to Japan as an exchange student so I could experience life in another country. While I was in Japan, I took a course in photography and really enjoyed it. When I got back to Mongolia, in 2000, a director named Zolbayr Dorj, the founder of Mongol Film Studio, saw my photos and suggested I become a cinematographer. I discussed it with my parents, and they agreed that I could pursue the profession.

Did you go to film school?

Davaasuren: I got a full scholarship to attend the Beijing Film Academy and moved to China, first to learn the language. We shot everything in Super 16mm, but I did my diploma work with a 35mm Arri camera. For every summer vacation, I went back to Mongolia and worked as a camera assistant and operator at Mongol Film Studio.

Tell us about the film industry in Mongolia.

Davaasuren: When Mongolia was part of the Soviet Union, we had a vibrant filmmaking community. Every director, cinematographer and actor studied film in Moscow. It was the golden age of filmmaking in Mongolia. When Mongolia gained its independence in 1990, the film industry all of a sudden didn’t have any resources. But in 2004, a movie theater with digital projection was built in Ulaanbaatar, the capital, and young independent artists began to make movies again; they used video cameras and were mentored by the previous generation of filmmakers. By the time I finished school in Beijing and returned to Mongolia, in 2008, the film industry was beginning to revive. Mongolia now produces 50 to 60 movies a year. We also have an international film festival.

Did you start working as a cinematographer when you returned to Mongolia?

Davaasuren: Yes, and I started working on projects right away. In 2011, I shot the movie Thief of Mind and won an award from the government: I was named a Mongolian Culture Top Artist. Another film I shot, Call of Duty, was about one of the biggest air battles in history, between Mongolia [with Russia] and Japan. We made that movie for the younger generation so they wouldn’t forget history — and to get them interested in watching movies! One of the biggest problems in Mongolia is a lack of gear. Camera and lighting equipment are in very short supply. It has started to improve a little in the last three or four years, but there are still no rental companies.

How did you find out about the ASC Master Class?

Davaasuren: I became a member of the Australian Cinematographers Society in 2010, and I found out about the ASC Master Class through Australian Cinematographer magazine. I signed up for the first one. My goal was to learn about digital cinematography because when I attended film school, we used only film. I wanted to learn more about digital cameras and just keep up with the latest technologies. That first ASC Master Class did all that and more. I learned what’s important when looking at a digital camera, how to make adjustments, how to do digital color correction, and many other things. I liked the class so much that I signed up for the next one.

And you’ve attended every one since then. What have you learned by enrolling so many times?

Davaasuren: I learn new things at every master class; it’s not just about technology. I like that the classes are more interactive than any other class I’ve taken. The instructors teach based on their experience, so it’s much more useful than reading a book. For example, Bill Bennett [ASC] has taught me a lot about shooting cars because he is an expert in shooting car commercials. To be able to sit face-to-face with Dean Cundey [ASC] and hear him talk about how he shot Back to the Future — there was nothing like that in school.

What else have you gained from the master classes?

Davaasuren: Relationships with many great ASC cinematographers! I’ve made sure to meet as many of them as I could. I’ve spent a good amount of time with Richard Crudo, Bill Bennett, Gabriel Beristain, Curtis Clark, Isidore Mankofsky and John Simmons, among others, and I’ve become friends with many of the other students, who are artists and professionals from all over the world. If you have a passion for film, the ASC Master Class is where you can meet people with that same passion. I’m very grateful to all the ASC cinematographers who’ve taught the master classes, and to everyone else who has helped to create this unique and useful experience. What I’ve learned has been important not only to me as a filmmaker, but also to the growth of the Mongolian film industry.

 

 

 

 
 
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