The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Presidents Desk
ASC Close-Up
Paul Maibaum

Paul Maibaum, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
At the age of 14, I accompanied my father to a screening of John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965). I don’t think my father realized the adult nature of the film when he invited me. It was risqué, to be sure, but I was able to process, understand and thoroughly enjoy it.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Gregg Toland, ASC, for his exquisite black-and-white cinematography in films such as Citizen Kane and The Grapes of Wrath, and ASC members Conrad Hall, Gordon Willis and Vittorio Storaro for their use of cinematography in not only conveying mood and emotion but also actually telling the story.

What sparked your interest in photography?
After shooting my first roll of 16mm with a hand-cranked Bolex, I knew to my core that I wanted to be a cinematographer.

Where did you train and/or study?
The University of Southern California.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Woody Omens, ASC; Michael P. Joyce; and Dean Semler, ASC, ACS.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
The writings of Borges; the paintings of Caravaggio and Dali; the films of Buñuel, Kubrick, Bertolucci and Roeg; and the cinematographers mentioned in my answer to your second question.

How did you get your first break in the business?
My father, Richard Maibaum, was a screenwriter and producer, and I constantly pestered him to get me some kind of industry job. He was adamant that I go to college and get a degree first. True to his word, upon my graduating with a B.A. in cinema from USC, he recommended me to a colleague who knew of a director of photography, Michael P. Joyce, who owned a small production company, FilmArt. Mike was expanding his business into renting cameras (including the then-new Arri 35BL), lighting and grip equipment, and needed someone to fill an entry-level position. I did everything from making coffee and delivering equipment to taking his car to be washed. Over time, I began to help assistants prep cameras, and I was soon putting together the camera, grip and electric equipment for productions Mike shot. FilmArt was a signatory to the I.A., so I was able to get the necessary days to qualify for union membership as a loader, and I began to work with Mike and other cinematographers on jobs that were payrolled through the company. I stayed with Mike for six years until I was able to start freelancing as a first assistant. I will be forever indebted to Mike for his generosity, patience and trust.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Shooting director Christopher Reeve’s final project, The Brooke Ellison Story, a MOW about a young girl with the same paralysis as his. Working alongside Chris gave me a new perspective about life’s priorities.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Yes. As a camera operator, I gave a most unsatisfactory assessment of a shot to the lead actor. After being ‘let go’ upon the actor’s insistence, I became available to move up to director of photography.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘All one really has in this business is one’s reputation as someone who can be trusted.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
The Stanley Kubrick exhibition that’s currently up at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
Westerns and hard-boiled detective noirs.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I would be a puppeteer with Jim Henson’s Muppets.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Julio Macat, Johnny Jensen and Daryn Okada.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
To be included on the ASC roster is the fulfillment of a career-long aspiration. The realization that I am considered a peer is humbling, and it inspires me on a daily basis to do work that the current members and the legendary cinematographers of the past would be proud of.


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