The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Mark Vargo, ASC

Mark Vargo, ASC

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

Darby O’Gill and the Little People scared me to death.

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

If I had to pick one, I’d have to say Freddie Young, BSC. Epic cinematographer, epic life. It’s a tough question, though, as there are so, so many I admire.

What sparked your interest in photography?

My father gave me his Polaroid Land Camera to mess around with when I was 10 years old. I discovered double exposing by accident and had lots of fun doing multiple exposures of every kind. I suppose it was my introduction to the multiple-pass photography I did for a while at Industrial Light & Magic on an optical printer.

Where did you train and/or study?

I received a B.S. in motion-picture production at Montana State University. I’m still training and studying every day.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

Early on, when I was working in visual effects: Richard Edlund, ASC; Doug Trumbull; Richard Yuricich, ASC; Stuart Robertson; and Robert Abel. As a cinematographer: Caleb Deschanel, ASC; John Bailey, ASC; John Seale, ASC, ACS; and Russell Boyd, ASC, ACS.  I was very fortunate.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

As a child, I loved looking at National Geographic. Beautiful pictures, beautiful places. We also had a huge book — it must have weighed 25 pounds — that featured all the great paintings from the early Renaissance up to modern day. I wish I could find that book today! My lighting these days is heavily influenced by the paintings and illustrations of N.C. Wyeth.

How did you get your first break in the business?

As a college senior, I flew out to a film lab in Seattle to observe the timing of our senior project. The lab was Alpha Cine, and the owner was Les Davis. Les had a llama ranch in western Montana. When he found out that I was in film school at Montana State, he told me to call him when I graduated, and he would hire me at the lab. I called, and he offered me my first film job.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

Gosh, I don’t know. On lousy projects, when we wrap. On great projects, the satisfaction is endless.

Have you made any memorable blunders?

I turned down an interview with Chris Nolan because I didn’t understand his script for Memento.

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

'Don’t ever give up' and 'Make lots of friends in the business.'

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

Book: Glittering Images by Camille Paglia. An amazing treatise on the evolution of art. Film: Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier. The ideas and imagery of this film blew me away. Artwork: The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.; it's my absolute favorite gallery in the world.

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

I really like old horror films, but I would love to shoot a spy thriller set in the pre-cell-phone, pre-Internet era.

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

Key grip. I really admire the incredibly important work these guys do for us.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Richard Edlund, Lloyd Ahern II and Neil Krepela.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

Even before I started down my professional path, I liked the whole concept of the ASC. I remember way back in film school, thumbing through copies of American Cinematographer and reading about [editor] Herb Lightman’s escapades on film sets all over the world. I never dreamed of becoming a member until much later. But the dream came true, and becoming a member of the ASC is one of the most meaningful events of my life. I’m a better cinematographer for it, because I strive to uphold the high standards of our members, present and past. I’m very proud to be a member of the ASC. Loyalty, progress, artistry.



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