The American Society of Cinematographers

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Presidents Desk
The Water Diviner
The Thing
ASC Close-Up
Jon Joffin

Jon Joffin, ASC



When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?

Apocalypse Now (1979). I was blown away by everything I saw in the film — the colors, the images, the music, the vibrancy and audacity of the storytelling. This was my moment of revelation. I knew I wanted to become a cinematographer. 

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?

There are so many that I could write a novel, but some who really stand out are: Jordan Cronenweth [ASC]; Caleb Deschanel [ASC]; Bruno Delbonnel [ASC, AFC]; Chris Doyle [HKSC]; Vittorio Storaro [ASC, AIC]; Sean Bobbitt [BSC]; Chris Menges [ASC, BSC]; Robert Richardson [ASC]; and Emmanuel Lubezki [ASC, AMC].

What sparked your interest in photography?

My love of photography was passed down to me through my father. I spent countless hours in the darkroom and buried myself in his photography books and magazines. My idols were Robert Frank, Eve Arnold, Arnold Newman, Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz and Manuel Álvarez Bravo.

Where did you train and/or study?

York University in Toronto, but most of what I learn comes from working on set, and I am still learning every day.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

All the cinematographers in the pages of American Cinematographer magazine, which I studied religiously as a student and still do.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

Paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Photographs by Sarah Moon and Julia Margaret Cameron. Early photographic processes: autochromes, daguerreotypes, cyanotypes, salt prints.

How did you get your first break in the business?

I went out on a day call for the series The X-Files and was extremely fortunate to end up shooting on the second unit.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

I was shooting a children’s show that had several musical numbers, including one that paid homage to ‘Hot Lunch’ from Fame. The dancers did a breathtaking routine that was an absolute celebration of youth and artistic discovery. Their joy was infectious, and it quickly spread to everyone on set. The crew and I were able to capture and convey their pure emotions in the finished product.

Have you made any memorable blunders?

A memorable moment for me on The X-Files involved shooting an alien spaceship that had never been seen on the show before. I wanted to embrace the show’s overriding theme that ‘less is scarier,’ so I shot the scene very dark — and this was for a show that was already the darkest on television. The next day, I was called into the producer’s office to view the footage with the director. They were trying to locate the alien ship in my footage — drawing the blinds, leaning close to the TV screen, squinting their eyes, but all to no avail. I realized I had mistaken ‘blackness’ for ‘darkness.’ I was convinced I’d be fired on the spot, but to my amazement, neither of them was angry. I was simply sent off to shoot the scene again.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

'You’re never finished lighting, but at some point you have to stop.'

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

I loved how lyrical and gorgeous Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was, and I have never experienced as great a cinematic experience as Gravity. TV shows that inspire me are Mad Men, Rectify and True Detective. Also, any book by Neil Gaiman or music by Bon Iver and Sigur Ros. I view the website 500px.com almost daily; the photographs are truly inspiring.

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

I like any genre that tells a great story, but I do have a particular fondness for period films.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?

I just can’t imagine doing anything else!

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Tobias Schliessler, Jonathan Freeman and Stephen Lighthill.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

Membership in the ASC is a dream realized and a definite high point of my career. Being in the company of so many incredible cinematographers has inspired me to excel at my craft. I want my work to reflect the high standards of visual storytelling that the ASC and its members represent.

 

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