The American Society of Cinematographers

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Cinema Verite
Short Takes
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Tobias Schliessler
Tobias Schliessler

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Growing up in Baden-Baden, Germany, I was always fascinated by American film culture. It represented another world. I loved Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Le Mans (1971), Bullitt (1968), Cool Hand Luke (1967) and The Sting (1973) all made a huge impression. At the same time, the German TV miniseries Eight Hours Are Not a Day (1972), directed by Fassbinder, had all of Germany glued to the television and got me hooked on German filmmaking.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
[ASC members] Vittorio Storaro, Gordon Willis, Conrad Hall, Owen Roizman, Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki and Harris Savides, and the list goes on. Each of them is an incredible visual artist. They push the boundaries without ever sacrificing technical perfection, and their cinematography always serves the story.

What sparked your interest in photography?
I grew up in a filmmaking family. My father, Martin, made adventure documentaries, and my mother, Anemone, was his editor. I was loading magazines and rewinding film on a Steenbeck from an early age. I used to read my father’s Kameraman magazines, which were basically the equivalent of American Cinematographer in Germany. I loved the spreads showing the huge movie sets with all the lights and cameras, and I wanted to be part of that world.

Where did you train and/or study?
In my twenties, I moved to Vancouver, Canada, and studied film at Simon Fraser University. Early on, I figured out that cinematography was my passion, and I shot as many student films as I could.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
In terms of life, my grandmother, mother, brother, sisters and daughter have taught me all the important things. As for work, I’ve always learned the most from my gaffers and key grips.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
I love to collect and surround myself with paintings and sculpture, but I’m most influenced by the work of my peers and by contemporary photography. For instance, I referenced a lot of William Eggleston’s work for the movie Friday Night Lights. Right now I’m inspired by the lighting in the work of Australian photographer Bill Henson.

How did you get your first break in the business?
I find it almost impossible to pinpoint my first break. All I know is that every director and producer who has ever hired me has given me a break.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
I remember standing on the set of Dreamgirls, a foot away from Beyoncé during one of her incredible musical performances. I was giving her an eyelight with a Kino Flo in my hand while the theatrical lighting designed by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer surrounded her. I felt like I was at the center of the moviemaking world I had always dreamed of.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
At the age of 13, I flashed an exposed roll of film while working for my father — a classic mistake that you only make once.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘Don’t shoot your demo reel. Be true to the story.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
The Secret in Their Eyes was one my favorite films of last year. It was such a powerful story, so well told.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like o try?
I’d love to shoot a dark social/family drama like The Ice Storm or American Beauty.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I can’t think of a better job, except maybe a Formula One driver.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Daryn Okada, Karl Walter Lindenlaub and Peter Collister.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
I think of being invited into the ASC by my peers as the ultimate professional honor. I’m grateful for the support and camaraderie of other ASC members.

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