The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents November 2007 Return to Table of Contents
Im Not There
The Kite Runner
ASC Close-Up
John Hora, ASC
DVD Playback
John Hora, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Bambi, because his mother dies. I’m still dealing with it. I was also fascinated by films with elements of fantasy, science and adventure that took place in remote or fanciful worlds: The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Thing From Another World, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
The great black-and-white guys, like [ASC members] Gregg Toland, James Wong Howe, Stanley Cortez and Arthur Miller, were all unbelievably good. Back then, the style of a studio, a producer, a composer or cinematographer could be identified without reading the credits. One person I consider to be among the greatest artists in the history of film, not only as a photographer and cinematographer but also as director, editor, dancer and actress, is Leni Riefenstahl. In my opinion, she’s right up there with Orson Welles.

In terms of color cinematography, anybody associated with Gone With the Wind and William Cameron Menzies. Jack Cardiff, BSC was the first cinematographer I came to recognize by name and whose work I sought out. Leon Shamroy, ASC’s color work from Leave Her to Heaven right up to Cleopatra is luscious, with the possible exception of South Pacific. I saw Haskell Wexler, ASC’s early effort Stake Out on Dope Street and followed his and Irvin Kershner’s work from then on.

What sparked your interest in photography?

It’s genetic. My father was an advanced amateur still photographer who attended Art Center School of Design. My maternal grandfather had his own photo studio in Missouri; he had acquired it from his father, a contemporary of Mathew Brady. I grew up in a house of cameras, film, darkrooms, tintypes, old glass plates, photography books and magazines, and lots of music, too.

Where did you study and/or train?

The University of Southern California. That’s where Irvin Kershner had gone, and it was close to home.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

None of my teachers at USC had worked in “Hollywood.” We were told that no USC graduate had worked even one day for the studios, and that was accurate. Dick Kendal was my photography instructor. He had full command of all things technical and was a friend of Jimmy Wong Howe, who visited us on occasion. One of the best things about USC was seeing films; there was no home video at that time, so seeing films from every genre and country every night was unusual, wonderful and important.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

My folks certainly instilled me with intellectual curiosity. I saw American films every weekend at the theaters in Pasadena, immersing myself in the Hollywood product. Then I met Dennis Jakob, who introduced me to the rest of the world — the Russian cinema of Eisenstein, and French and European films. We saw Battleship Potemkin together at the Cornet Theater, and I was reborn. Dennis went on to UCLA and later worked with Francis Ford Coppola. Also, the documentaries of Pare Lorenz and others of the period are rhapsodic.

How did you get your first break in the business?

My mother demanded that I get a paying job, and a friend whose father was in advertising directed me to John Urie and Associates, a commercial-production company. I was hired on the basis of the experimental abstract films I had made with Jakob. I shot ‘experimental projects’ for Urie and also worked as 1st AC for Ed Martin, another mentor.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

This will sound a little strange, but the most magical thing is attend the scoring session when the film is first seen with the music composed for it. That’s when I know it’s really going to make it as a movie. I’ve attended every session I could since my first feature, Big Mo, in 1973.

Have you made any memorable blunders?

Several, but the biggest was turning down the original Terminator. It was a non-union show, and I had just joined the local after finishing The Howling, so I felt I had to let it go.

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

‘It’s only a film,’ which, coupled with ‘This too will pass,’ pretty much takes care of it.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

I get so inspired all the time it’s hard to say. In between, I get mad at the length of time many movies take to get a story out, particularly in the third act. Give me the scissors!

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

I always wanted to do historical epics like Ben Hur, Ivanhoe and The Robe. I like period material. Liar’s Moon, set in 1949, is about the only chance I’ve had.

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

I’d be happy as a librarian, giving tours of Hollywood landmarks, or running a theater. I also like mechanics. I’m working on an electric car now so I can avoid those gas pumps!

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Jack Cooperman. He had been my first choice as gaffer on some challenging commercials, and also a friend since my USC days. He did outstanding aerial work for me in VistaVision on Explorers.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

I’ve met others who love the Eclair CM-3 camera. This is the camera that Welles and Coppola chose, and you should have one, too!


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