The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Emmy Awards
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ASC Close-Up
Kenneth Zunder

Kenneth Zunder, ASC

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

Lawrence of Arabia [1962]. I was 11 years old and witnessed an epic.

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

Bob Richardson [ASC], for his screaming-hot toplight in JFK; Conrad Hall [ASC], for making a movie about chess so damn interesting; Phil Lathrop [ASC], for allowing me to learn firsthand the importance of being a gentleman; and Robert Liu [ASC], for his positive energy and spirit.

What sparked your interest in photography?

I took a class in college called Art and Visual Perception taught by Rudolf Arnheim, who wrote the great book Film as Art.

 Where did you train and/or study?

I studied art history at Harvard and documentary film at Stanford.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

[ASC members] Phil Lathrop, Tom Del Ruth, Robert Liu and Bill Butler.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

Dziga Vertov’s early Russian film Man with a Movie Camera showed me the importance of placing the camera in just the right spot. Raising Arizona showed me that lenses can be funny. Also, the brilliant, unobtrusive cinematography by Roger Deakins [ASC, BSC] in The Shawshank Redemption and Emmanuel Lubezki [ASC, AMC] in A Little Princess.

How did you get your first break in the business?

In 1978, I was lucky enough to be in one of the few camera training programs run by Camera Local 659 and the AMPTP.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

Back in the day when we shot film, there would be that moment when you took a chance, lost some sleep and were pleasantly surprised the next morning at the lab. (You were too nervous to wait for lunchtime dailies.)

Have you made any memorable blunders?

On my very first episode as director of photography on thirtysomething, we had a scene in a hospital that I lit for day, and during take one, I realized it was a night scene. Luckily, the window was out of frame and the gaffer could turn off the Junior without anyone detecting my mistake.

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

‘Respect everyone, listen to everyone and care about every single detail.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

The paintings of Edgar Degas, for their composition; Emmanuel Lubezki’s movie Gravity, for cinematic authorship; and Richard Ben Cramer’s book What It Takes, for its illuminating detail.

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

I would love to go back in time and shoot either Ben-Hur or a Busby Berkeley musical.

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

I would be a lawyer prosecuting white-collar criminals.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Phil Lathrop, Robert Liu and Gerald Perry Finnerman.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

Each time I go to the Clubhouse, I am reminded that the greatest cinematographers are often great people as well. I am always humbled in their company.


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