The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents March 2010 Return to Table of Contents
Shutter Island
John C. Flinn III, ASC
Sol Negrin, ASC
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Sal Totino
Salvatore Totino

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Where I grew up, there was a movie theater that would play Italian films on Sunday, and sometimes my parents, being Italian, would take my sister and me. So at a very early age I was exposed to all the Italian Neorealist classics, which had a profound effect on my psyche. Some of my favorites are Fellini’s Amarcord (1974) and La Dolce Vita (1960) and Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945).

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire, and why?
Conrad L. Hall, ASC, because he had balls! He was a risk-taker and not afraid to take a chance on an idea.

What sparked your interest in photography?
The work of still photographers Saul Leiter and Robert Frank.

Where did you train and/or study?
I trained on the job under camera assistant Paul Gaffney and commercial cinematographer Jack Donnelly.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Harris Savides, ASC. I met Harris in New York City in 1990. He was very influential in the sense that he, too, is a risk-taker, and he taught me how to let go and be free with my inner ideas.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Music is a big artistic influence in my life. Artists like Tom Waits and Nick Cave drive my imagination. Also, life experiences bring a lot of ideas to my work.

How did you get your first break in the business?
Sal Oppedisano got me a job as a production assistant at a commercial house in New York in the summer of 1985.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Cinderella Man and Frost/Nixon.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Once on a commercial, I lit a scene very dark. I was pushing the limits, and the director asked me about the exposure. I said, ‘It’s on the edge.’ The next day at dailies, the director said, ‘You found the edge and fell off.’ We had to reshoot that scene. That was a learning experience, and I am still happy to walk that edge.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
The advice I got the first day I worked in the film business: Always be five minutes early to work, never five minutes late. But more importantly, live on the edge when it comes to your photography — take risks. Put your ideas on film and fall down a few times; it will make you a great filmmaker.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Films: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Books: Excellent Cadavers by Alexander Stille.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I like true stories about people who live on the edge of life.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I’d be a chef.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Harris Savides, Darius Khondji, Declan Quinn and Shelly Johnson.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
What happens at the Clubhouse stays at the Clubhouse!  

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