The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents March 2008 Return to Table of Contents
Man in the Chair
Crossing the Line
DVD Playback
David Watkin
ASC Close-Up
Wayne Kennan
Wayne Kennan

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
My parents took my brother and me to every Cinerama film that played at the Warner Hollywood and the Dome. How the West Was Won was just spectacular to see in its original format. I also loved all of the old Universal horror movies and all of the comedy-team movies with Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, etc. I must have seen Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 25 times.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
One of my all-time favorite films in terms of cinematography is How Green Was My Valley, shot by Arthur Miller, ASC. I also admire the work of ASC members Ted McCord in The Sound of Music, Conrad Hall in Day of the Locust and Néstor Almendros in Days of Heaven.
What sparked your interest in photography?
When I was 12, I was banned from processing film in our bathroom — something about stains on the tile — and found a Kodak Brownie 8mm movie camera for $20 at a drugstore that was closing. I immediately started making films.

Where did you train and/or study?
The telecommunications and film department at San Diego State University. Desi Arnaz was a visiting professor for a semester, and I sat in on his classes when I could squeeze into the classroom. He was a truly inspiring teacher. While in school, I worked at the local PBS affiliate, KPBS. That was my first paying gig — $2 an hour and answers to all the questions I could ask.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Don Benke at KPBS, as well as ASC members George La Fountaine Sr., Meredith Nicholson, Lester Shorr and Dick Kelley.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
The world around me. I can’t help noticing how my immediate environment looks. I’m constantly aware, almost annoyingly so, of where the sun is and what’s filtering or blocking it. When I’m inside, or when I’ve entered a new space, I can’t help noticing the light fixtures, where they are, how much daylight is present, and how the things or people in that setting look. I wish someone would develop a keychain with a footcandle and color meter.

How did you get your first break in the business?
Believe it or not, I knew somebody who knew somebody. I was carrying classified dailies to a lab in Hollywood for a San Diego defense contractor, and while the film was being processed and printed, I would try to get on the major lots to cold-call the camera departments. I called the Universal Camera Department from a payphone on Lankershim, and they gave me the bum’s rush. I immediately called a friend who lived next door to a producer with offices on the Universal lot. He called me back at the payphone and told me to call the camera department in 10 minutes. I got the interview, and a couple of months later, I got my first union day on Battlestar Galactica.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
My first episode of Seinfeld. It was one of those days when nothing was going as planned. It was pouring rain while we were rigging on the New York Street at Paramount. The power drops had not been put in as requested. I went over the entire night’s work with the director, Tom Cherones, and had my crew rig for every setup so we wouldn’t have to stop once we started shooting. It stopped raining for about two hours and we managed to shoot everything, with a great wet-down to boot.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
I’ve forgotten most of them. However, I’m having trouble shaking the feeling of a camera rolling down my back after I picked up a tripod without checking to see if the camera was secure. The floor was concrete. Enough said.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Right after I was accepted into the union as an operator, I was offered a job at Warners as an assistant. I needed a letter from a producer to re-rate me. The producer told me I’d be an idiot not to pursue operating because it might take me 10 or more years to get there again. He was right; it was a struggle. But I established myself as an operator and was working steadily within a year.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Due to the recent addition of a classic-movie channel to my cable package — and the writers’ strike, which has given me time to watch it — I’ve recently discovered the work of Edward Cronjager, ASC. His work in the ’40s is just the greatest. It’s that style of everything being perfect beyond reality; all the close-ups are gorgeous portraits and every inch of the screen is perfectly exposed.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
My favorite genre is comedy. I love working with comedians. Even really long days are a blast when they’re filled with laughs. Unfortunately for the audience, the funniest stuff usually happens between takes.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I’d probably be “doing time.” Just kidding. I’ve always admired and envied the photojournalists who get that great shot under completely uncontrolled and often dangerous circumstances. I’m not sure I could ever be remotely adept at it, but I do have my Walter Mitty moments about photojournalism.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Lester Shorr, Meredith Nicholson and Dick Kelley, all terrific mentors and true gentlemen.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
It’s the greatest honor to have your work recognized by the greatest cinematographers in the world. The feeling is truly a mix of humility and pride.

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