The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Antonio Calvache
Antonio Calvache, ASC, AEC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Star Wars (1977).

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Néstor Almendros, ASC, and Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC.

What sparked your interest in photography?
My eldest brother had a Voightlander rangefinder, which I adored and played with. When he let me actually shoot film with it, I started shooting candid portraits of my family. I was fascinated by the magic of photography, and I attended a course at the local Arts Council so I could learn the principles behind that magic. One moment I will never forget was when I saw, for the first time, a photographic image appear as the print was being developed under the dim red light of the school darkroom. That course taught me not only the science behind the magic, but also that photography could be used as an artistic medium to express one’s view of the world. Later, I fell in love with cinema, and knowing that photography was an important part of filmmaking opened the door for me to become a cinematographer.

Where did you train and/or study?
After studying film in Madrid, I came to Los Angeles and studied cinematography at the American Film Institute.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
John Alonzo, ASC, who was the head of the cinematography department at AFI.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
I feel very influenced by the great Spanish painters — Velazquez, Goya, El Greco and Murillo — and the many less-known great painters who left their work in so many wonderful museums and churches. When I was a kid, I felt transported by their work many times, and I believe they live subconsciously in my work.

How did you get your first break in the business?
While I was a student at AFI, Juan Ruiz Anchia, ASC, AEC put me in touch with Rogelio Lobato, a directing graduate of AFI, with whom I shot my first feature film in the United States.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
There are many. I remember my first crane shot back in film school in Spain and my first period scene with candlelight. I remember my first day shooting on a studio lot; I was shooting my AFI thesis project at Universal, and the tourists were taking pictures of us as we worked. I remember when my name appeared in the credits at the premiere of my first U.S. film and the audience broke into applause. And I remember some moments of great satisfaction — luckily more often than not — looking at projected dailies of my work.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
I once fell asleep while operating a shot. It was very briefly, but by the time I woke up, the camera had tilted on its own and was pointing at the sky. I quickly tilted it back down and looked at the director, who was in front of the monitor, laughing at me.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
This is directly related to my memorable blunder. When Conrad Hall, ASC gave a lecture at AFI, he was asked what single piece of advice he’d give to aspiring cinematographers. His answer: ‘Get enough sleep.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Sebastiao Salgado’s amazing collections of black-and-white photographs, and Wong Kar-wai’s films, especially In the Mood for Love (2001).

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
Period films.

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

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Henner Hofmann, Gabriel Beristain and Juan Ruiz Anchia.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
Through American Cinematographer magazine, the ASC has been a constant source of information and inspiration. It is wonderful to see other cinematographers share their experiences, their joys and sorrows, for the good of their colleagues and for the good of the art of cinematography.

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