The American Society of Cinematographers

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Peter Anderson

Peter Anderson, ASC

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

When I was about 8, my cousins gave me a used 16mm projector along with some animated and live-action Castle Films movies. I analyzed them every which way, including frame by frame, and I fell in love with the art of cinema and moving images.


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

Freddie Young, BSC, for Lawrence of Arabia, and Gianni Di Venanzo, for Federico Fellini’s 8 1⁄2.


What sparked your interest in photography?

After watching a TV episode of Mr. Wizard on photography when I was about 9 years old, I set up a small darkroom and made contact prints from some negatives my dad had shot. In the process I destroyed a good set of my mom’s baking pans by using them for the processing trays.


Where did you train and/or study?

In high school I shot 16mm play-by-plays of our sports teams, and continued that at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. When I was 19 I got on a train to California and enrolled in the Art Center College of Design. I also studied at USC, UCLA and University of San Francisco.


Who were your early teachers or mentors?

I came across Hal Mohr, ASC as he was filming a commercial with the prototype Mustang in 1963. I took pictures of him filming and made up some special prints, and Hal accepted me as a friend and became my mentor. He introduced me to Charlie Clarke, ASC at the Clubhouse, and Charlie and I serviced the Clubhouse’s camera collection.


What are some of your key artistic influences?

Art museums and movies, and anything involving Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. And while I was a student, [I admired] the films of Fellini, De Sica, Antonioni, Truffaut, Godard, Resnais, Bergman, Kurosawa and many other great international filmmakers. I am also very strongly influenced by nature.


How did you get your first break in the business?

After successfully running my own advertising photo studio for a couple of years, Macy’s bought me out and hired me to head up their photo advertising department. I then returned to L.A. and worked at Reel 3 with Richard Spies, through which I became involved in my first live-action studio feature production, Mahogany — filming Diana Ross and Anthony Perkins. Richard also introduced me to Douglas Trumbull, whom I then worked with on Close Encounters.


What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

Creating images that exist only in one’s imagination, where nobody fully understands what the end result will look like until I help deliver this vision. A lot of my creativity is a result of the convergences of art and technology. Also, two years ago when I was awarded the Motion Picture Academy’s Gordon E. Sawyer Award, which is an honorary Oscar for technological contributions.


Have you made any memorable blunders?

There have been occasions when, had I been made more knowledgeable of what the director was actually looking for, I would have been able to make these images even more powerful.


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

Oddly enough, it was a print ad that McDonald’s ran back in the Sixties, promoting being ‘persistent and patient.’ This mantra has served me very well over my career.


What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

Nature and travel inspire me the most. I’ve traveled the world, worked with so many talented people, and been to many amazing places, and this inspires me more than something you can hold in your hand. Also, I’ve been a great aficionado of American Cinematographer since I was in junior high.


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

I’ve been blessed to be able to work on everything from commercials to television to features, on technical projects, motion control, and special venues like Imax and theme parks. I’ve done so many 3D and immersive-cinematography projects, which are now making a comeback as virtual reality.


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

I would be a photographer and a teacher.


Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Art Cruickshank, L.B. Abbott, Joseph Westheimer and Linwood Dunn pushed for me in the Eighties, though it was Jack Cooperman, Izzy Mankofsky, Russell Carpenter and John Hora who successfully recommended me for membership.


How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

I have been hanging around our Clubhouse for over 40 years, and it took until the Nineties to officially become a member of the ASC. It was a validation of my ability as a creator of motion pictures. 


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