The American Society of Cinematographers

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Peter Moss

Peter Moss, ASC, ACS

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
My first film experiences were all at a budget cinema in London that showed reruns. My grandparents went every Wednesday (senior discount day!) and always took me. I was quite young and Seven Samurai made a huge impression, closely followed by The Wages of Fear — terrifying at that age — and High Noon.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Nestor Almendros, ASC; Conrad Hall, ASC; Dick Pope, BSC; Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC.

What sparked your interest in photography?
When I was 13 I inherited an old Yashica twin-reflex still camera from an uncle. In figuring out how to use it and how to develop the 120 black-and-white film, I began my lifelong interest in photography.

Where did you train and/or study?
I had no college or film-school training. I came up through the ranks in the camera department in Sydney, Australia, starting as a clapper/loader. I was lucky in my timing, as it was a very productive time in Australian cinema: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Breaker Morant, My Brilliant Career, Mad Max, etc.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
William Fraker, ASC; Russell Boyd, ASC, ACS; Dean Semler, ASC, ACS; Brian Probyn, BSC.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
The work of the Australian Impressionist painters Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin. The beautiful colors of Pete Turner’s photography. The light and eccentric composition of Edgar Degas.

How did you get your first break in the business?
I caught and trained the dolphins on the Mike Nichols film The Day of the Dolphin. Bill Fraker, ASC — the cinematographer — noticed my interest in photography and encouraged it, even letting me shoot some second-unit underwater scenes. At the end of the film, he wrote a letter introducing me to a production company in Sydney, where I lived. On my return home I looked up the production company, and on the strength of Billy’s recommendation I got my first job as a clapper/loader on a small feature.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
So many of them. Every time perfect light — either supplied by nature or created — coincides with beautiful composition and a wonderful performance, the emotion one feels is hard to describe. As an operator, the ethereal connection with the actor on a complicated move, the wheels on the geared head moving as if by magic, unconsciously. Incredible moments.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
One — as an assistant to British Academy Award- and Oscar-winner Russell Boyd, ASC, ACS. Details on request. He was a gentleman, he was calm, and I went on to pull focus and operate for him on later films.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
No matter how technologies change, a cinematographer’s most valuable tool is his eye.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
I recently saw the J.M.W. Turner exhibit at the Getty. Marvelous. And I received for my birthday a beautiful book of the work of Canadian artist Alex Colville. Gloriously graphic but energetic compositions.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I would love to shoot a Jane Austen-type drama.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Hard to beat this wonderful job, but perhaps a production designer or a chef.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Steven B. Poster, ASC; Peter James, ASC, ACS; and Dean Semler, ASC, ACS.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
I have benefitted from the help of wonderful cinematographers throughout my career. Being a member of the ASC has provided me with many opportunities to do the same for others.   


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