ASC Close-Up: Donald A. Morgan

“I love being able to reach out to our new talent, offer information, and show our youth the beginning of the ropes.”

ASC Staff

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
As crazy as it sounds, the black-and-white movie The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
[ASC members] Allen Daviau, Dante Spinotti and Dean Semler. 

What sparked your interest in photography?
When I would go on off-road trips with my Jeep club and take sunrise and sunset photos. 

Where did you train and/or study?
I trained as a lighting director at the TV station KTTV in the late ’70s. 

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
[Lighting directors] Tommy and George Schamp on Playhouse 90. I met them at Metro Media.

Donald A. Morgan, ASC (Photo by Nicola Goode)

What are some of your key artistic influences?
LED technology and better chip cameras. The freedom to experiment. 

How did you get your first break in the business?
I started in the mailroom at Metro Media — KTTV Los Angeles. Tommy Schamp wanted to know if I was interested in moving to stage as an electrician. 

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
My most recent project, which I just finished, was the series The Ranch for Netflix. We started playing around with chiaroscuro — and because it was an interior-as-exterior show, our gaffer, Antonio Soriano, began to keep track of the seasons and the phases of the moon. In the third season, we changed the backdrop lights to NBCUniversal LightBlades, and it became a study of light and dark, where the lighting became a character. 

Have you made any memorable blunders?
It’s getting late going into our 12th hour, and everyone is tired. We block the scene, we set the shots and light it — well, I thought I lit it... The lead actress steps in, we shoot it, and then I wake up!!! I fell asleep. On the last shot. We were breaking everything down and it was a wrap! Needless to say, it was a post nightmare. We spent two hours fixing the damn shot! It’s a must — no sleeping on the job! I didn’t get fired, but I could have.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
“You can be great on paper, but where you will learn your craft is on your feet. Now, go get it!” — Tommy Schamp. 

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
My wife and I went to Europe this summer, [traveling] between the Vatican and the Uffizi and experiencing lovely cathedrals and museums. It was very moving. 

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I like dramas and action movies. I would like to try a multi-camera drama, and I have always wanted to do commercials. Spike Lee, by chance, put me on A-camera Technocrane on a Pepsi commercial with Beyoncé, and that was a blast!  

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I’ve played bass since grammar school — music is in my blood. My dad was a bassist who played with Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan. I also studied architecture and color separation for printing while I was in college. 

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Brianne Murphy, George Dibie, Bobby Liu and Tony Askins.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
The ASC is a great professional community with a wealth of knowledge. I love being able to reach out to our new talent, offer information, and show our youth the beginning of the ropes. 

Morgan will be honored with the Career Achievement in Television Award for his exemplary body of work during the 34th Annual ASC Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography Awards on January 25, 2020.

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