The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents September 2011 Return to Table of Contents
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Dante Spinotti
Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
In those days, without television, every film made a strong impression, but I should mention the original The War of the Worlds (1953) and The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954).

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
ASC members William Daniels, Jimmy Wong Howe and, more recently, Bill Fraker, Giuseppe Rotunno and Vittorio Storaro. Great cinematographers seem to have the ability to bring beautiful prints all the way to the movie theater.

What sparked your interest in photography?
I don’t remember exactly what took me to still photography as a kid, but I loved the magic of the darkroom — the negative and the print and the image appearing in the developer bath.

Where did you train and/or study?
I was mostly self-taught. A cinematographer uncle of mine was my first teacher, in Nairobi, Kenya. When I returned to Italy, I worked for Italian TV in Milano, far from the movie industry in Rome. I was shooting mostly 16mm. I would experiment and watch the movies of the masters.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Visual art from Giotto to modern artists, design, architecture and photography.

How did you get your first break in the business?
When I was on staff at the Italian state TV station, I got a call from Marco Ferreri, a well-known director in Rome. Then I got another, from Sergio Citti. I decided to leave the safety of TV and become a freelancer.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Any time my original choice of visual language proves to be the right one when the film is completed.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Some 30 years ago, I was shooting 16mm reversal and pushing to 2,000 ASA. I did not consider the limited latitude of a night exterior in Venice, where I was working with gondolas and actors in a 17th-century drama. Later, all I could see in the shot were the torches the actors were holding.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
It was actually given to my son when he was getting ready to direct his thesis film at the American Film Institute. Jay Fortune, a New York gaffer I’d just completed a film with, suggested to him, ‘Don’t lose your sense of humor, even when everything seems to be going in the opposite direction.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Photography by Robert Frank and Nan Goldin. I’m inspired any time I visit a modern-art museum. I still refer to Stanley Kubrick, and what about Fellini’s 81⁄2?

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
Movies where I can use a lot of shadows. I did a Western with Sam Raimi some time ago, and a musical in Italy with Gabriele Salvatores 25 years ago. I would like to do those genres again.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Climbing mountains or farming.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Allen Daviau, Vilmos Zsigmond, Steven Poster and Vittorio Storaro.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
I still remember how proud I was when I moved to the United States, in 1997, and was accepted into the ASC. I got to know Tonino Delli Colli, AIC when he came to L.A. to accept the ASC International Award. The ASC offers inspiring guidance and is a continuous reference for me.

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