The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents October 2014 Return to Table of Contents
Presidents Desk
Gordon Willis, ASC
ASC Master Class
ASC Close-Up
Jonathan Freeman

Jonathan Freeman, ASC

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

Star Wars [1977] was very influential. Mainly it was the stunning visual-effects photography by John Dykstra, ASC, and his team that opened a whole new world for me. I realized that the magic behind those images was the intricate use of camera and light. I knew then that I wanted to be a cinematographer.


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

This page isn’t large enough to include them all, but some early influences were Gregg Toland [ASC], for his artistic and technical genius; Owen Roizman [ASC], for the raw naturalism and versatility of his work; Gordon Willis [ASC], for his resolute framing and guts in pushing darkness to the edge; and Vittorio Storaro [ASC, AIC], for his mesmerizing lighting, which retains realism yet sometimes bends toward expressionism through color. There are many current cinematographers whom I greatly admire as well, especially Emmanuel Lubezki [ASC, AMC] and Roger Deakins [ASC, BSC].


What sparked your interest in photography?

My mother was a painter, and she exposed me to the light abstractions of the Impressionists and the dramatic power of Caravaggio and Rembrandt. Light was always a very important part of our lives.


Where did you train and/or study?

Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.


Who were your early teachers or mentors?

Unbeknownst to them, many great cinematographers were my early teachers. Luckily, I grew up at the dawn of the VHS age and was able to spend hours studying their work, with the pause and rewind buttons at the ready.


What are some of your key artistic influences?

My fellow cinematographers provide continual inspiration. There are too many other muses to mention here, but I guess my desert-island emergency kit would include works by Kieslowski and Bertolucci, Dostoevsky and Camus, and Sibelius and Sigur Rós.


How did you get your first break in the business?

Some producers who were making a variety of low-budget sci-fi movies hired me, even though I had nothing more than a handful of short films under my belt. They encouraged me to take risks, which was helpful because we didn’t have the budget to make our cheap rubber monsters look convincing without generous shadows! It taught me the value of photographic darkness.


What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

I don’t think I can narrow it down to one. I often remind myself how fortunate I am to be able to do something I love for a living; that’s satisfying and humbling at the same time. Not everyone has that chance.


Have you made any memorable blunders?

On a small film early in my career, I was operating with a fluid head. The days were long, and I was exhausted. We were shooting a very long take of the protagonist’s climactic, soft-spoken confession. Sleep was beckoning me. It wasn’t until I heard, ‘Cut!’ that I realized my frame line had crept up to the point where the actor’s scalp was the only thing left in frame.


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

‘Trust your instinct. Your first choice is usually the best.’


What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

I came across some early work by Giacomo Balla, an Italian painter known mostly for his striking futurist work. His early work was equally stunning in his use of light and color, yet entirely realistic. I always admire bold artists who have the ability to be influential in multiple styles or media.


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

I love history, so anything historical is fascinating to me. Filmmakers bear the great responsibility to depict history as truthfully as possible. The trouble is, sometimes the truth is unattainable or just a bit too dull.


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

Maybe an architect or archaeologist. I don’t know if I would be very successful in either field, but I would enjoy the process.


Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Alik Sakharov, Ernest Dickerson and Michael Watkins, all brilliant mentors and dear friends.


How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

It is simply the greatest honor of my professional career. I’m honored to be part of a community that strives to preserve cinematography’s past while also fostering its future.


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