The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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I have thousands of films in my personal collection, including the first films from a number of ASC cinematographers. As I watch those early efforts, what strikes me is that the talent that would ultimately propel those artists to the top was always there. You could see it in their approach to the material; despite low budgets, short shooting schedules, bad actors and even worse video transfers, that elusive talent to light and shoot something in a unique and compelling way shines through.

One film from the 1960s, Lila, Mantis in Lace, revolves around a woman who takes LSD and subsequently becomes murderously unhinged whenever men approach her. Her hallucinations include projected images of contrasting splashes of color on her face and jarring in-camera exposure effects. It’s a tour-de-force of creativity on a shoestring budget, and the stylized visuals elevate this B movie to the level of truly effective filmmaking. The cinematographer? The late, great Laszlo Kovacs, ASC.

Another future ASC member forever made the chainsaw an iconic horror symbol. Shooting in the blazing heat of a Texas summer, and using 16mm film with an ASA of 16 and tons of visual creativity without tons of money, Daniel Pearl, ASC made 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a visual rollercoaster ride that is impossible to forget.

One of the features of the new “Friends of The ASC” subscription site is devoted to rising stars in the field of cinematography. They may be students or young cinematographers, or even shooters who have been working for a number of years but haven’t been recognized for the excellent images they’ve created. Every month, an ASC cinematographer will choose someone they think is exceptional and discuss why he or she thinks that person has what it takes to make a mark in this demanding field.

Because your average ASC cinematographer has so many opportunities to view films that are outside the mainstream, we are often exposed to innovative, groundbreaking work that hasn’t yet been noticed by the industry at large. For example, many of us are asked to attend annual screenings of student work. We are frequently impressed by the sophistication of the visual approaches we see, and we make mental notes of the projects and cinematographers that stand out.

Sometimes we are invited to view films that do not yet have distribution. When I first came to Los Angeles, I was an unknown cinematographer who didn’t have connections with anyone here in the business. A screening of an independent film I’d shot was set up at a local theater, and, although the budget was very low, I was proud of what I accomplished on that film, so I sent invitations to all my cinematography heroes, none of whom I had ever met.

Five minutes before the film was to screen, it was evident that almost no one the producers had invited was going to attend. I had no expectations that my blind mailing to the greatest cinematographers in the world was going to have much of an effect, so my disappointment was tempered by the understanding that they were probably always busy. Just then, Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC came walking up, holding one of the promo cards I’d sent out. He went to the box office and said he was invited to attend the screening. I ran up to him and introduced myself, thanking him for coming to see this small movie he knew nothing about.

Vilmos and I sat together during the film. He asked me questions about how I did this and that, and complimented the things he found effective in the lighting and composition. After the screening, I told him how much it meant to me that he came to see the movie. He said, “Well, you invited me, so I came!”

That is the spirit of this new feature we’ve included on the “Friends” site. It excites us to see the potential in someone who is doing good work early in his or her development, and it’s encouraging to a young cinematographer to have his or her work recognized by someone in the profession who has achieved success. It goes straight to the heart of one of the ASC’s most important missions: to recognize, educate and encourage new talent.


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