The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents November 2014 Return to Table of Contents
Presidents Desk
Gone Girl
ASC Close-Up
Ken Kelsch

Ken Kelsch, ASC

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

I think it was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which I watched about three times over in the movie theater. I got a licking for not letting anyone know where I was on that Saturday afternoon. I loved the horror genre as a kid. I was profoundly affected by Psycho, which I saw with my grandfather one great afternoon in a real, old-fashioned big-screen theater in magnificent black-and-white. 


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

[ASC members] Gordon Willis, Connie Hall and Michael Chapman.


What sparked your interest in photography?

I was a bit shy … and I wanted to meet girls.


Where did you train and/or study?

The graduate film and TV program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.


Who were your early teachers or mentors?

Beda Batka was my cinematography professor at NYU and a tremendous influence.


What are some of your key artistic influences?

The usual school of classical painters. I devote a lot of time to consuming movies and long-run episodic TV.


How did you get your first break in the business?

Shooting The Driller Killer with Abel Ferrara in 1978.


What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

Every day has its challenges and successes. I think one of the most satisfying was overcoming the conditions and the hardships of shooting in Africa and trying to change world attitudes about FGM [female genital mutilation] with Desert Flower.


Have you made any memorable blunders?

Too many to list.


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

John Cassavetes told us at NYU to not stop shooting, just figure out a way to do it.


What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

I’m a big Ken Bruen fan. I think his books have been realized a bit on British TV but I’m not totally satisfied. I’m a great fan of Cormac McCarthy. His writing is visual and incredibly deep. I think he is an American treasure as a novelist.


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

I’ve always wanted to shoot a Western.


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

I wonder how it would have been if I’d stayed in Special Forces in the Army.


Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Sol Negrin, Michael Negrin and Constantine Makris.


How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

I’m incredibly proud to be associated with the world’s finest directors of photography.


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