June 2016 ASC Master Class
Jacek Laskus, ASC conducted a morning of lecture and discussion at the ASC Clubhouse.

ASC Close-Up: Jacek Laskus

The cinematographer discusses his beginnings, mentors and creative inspirations: “The ASC is a huge part of my life. It helps me stay involved in my craft and facilitates conversations with fellow ASC members.”

ASC Staff

Above: Jacek Laskus, ASC, PSC (Photo by Jessica Miglio) Top: Laskus teaching the ASC Master Class.

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you? 
The original The Magnificent Seven. My father loved Westerns. After seeing the film, I took my plastic revolvers and kicked the door to my parents’ bedroom with such force that the glass in the door shattered. The power of film. When I grew up a bit, it was Antonioni’s Blow-Up and Fellini’s 8½.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire? 
Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC for The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris; Sven Nykvist, ASC for Persona; Gordon Willis, ASC for The Godfather; and Robert Elswit, ASC for There Will Be Blood and Nightcrawler
What sparked your interest in photography? 
I was given my first camera — a Russian version of a Rolleiflex — early in life. Realizing I would not be good at painting or drawing, there was no return. An addiction to capturing form and expression of the human body and faces. 
Where did you train and/or study? 
I studied cinematography at a four-year graduate program at the Polish National Film School (PWSFTviT) in Lodz. 
Who were your early teachers or mentors? 
My mentor was Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi, known for such films as The Constant Factor. My main cinematography teacher was Mieczyslaw Jahoda, who photographed The Saragossa Manuscript and Black Cross, among other films. British cinematographer Manny Wynn helped me during my yearlong stay in London. He taught me a great deal about framing my images. 
What are some of your key artistic influences?  
Mostly paintings and photography, and films by Luis Buñuel and Michelangelo Antonioni. The work of Pablo Picasso, Willem De Kooning, Giorgio De Chirico, Georges Rouault, Marcel Duchamp, Mark Rothko, Helmut Newton, Bill Brandt and Irving Penn. Easy Rider, The French Connection, The Conversation, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men. 
How did you get your first break in the business? 
Director Jill Godmilow asked me to shoot her docu-drama Far From Poland. On her set I met director Bill Sherwood, who was preparing for Parting Glances. That feature was a first for both of us, and also for Steve Buscemi. I first encountered Robert Altman while he was prepping Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. I got a job as a set photographer by showing him my black-and-white nudes. He later hired me as a cinematographer on The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. 
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project? 
When you are trying to solve a problem and you come up with a solution, and it works and helps the storytelling. Those moments are very satisfying. 
Have you made any memorable blunders? 
When I was just starting, I was a camera operator on a documentary about Jacques Cousteau. We were filming his arrival in Washington, D.C., and my job was to follow the mayor. I followed the wrong person. I thought I got some great footage, but it was unfortunately not the right stuff. 
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received? 
Think ‘outside the box’ whenever you can, but think ‘within the box’ when you must. Do not give up if you believe in yourself. Stay young with your concepts, ideas and energy. Learn, and share your knowledge. 
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you? 
Dunkirk has the energy of an abstract painting while portraying the horrors of war. It is close in energy to the paintings of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and the portraits of Georges Rouault. I was always very interested in how to translate abstract painting into film. 
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try? 
Drama and thriller.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead? 
I would be a chef. It gives me enormous pleasure to cook for my friends and see them enjoying the meal. Sometimes I feel they enjoy my cooking more than my photography or cinematography. 
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership? 
Kees van Oostrum, Theo van de Sande, Francis Kenny and Steven Poster. As head of the membership committee, Allen Daviau’s presence and energy really helped me get through the interview process. 
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career? 
The ASC is a huge part of my life. It helps me stay involved in my craft and facilitates conversations with fellow ASC members. I love contributing my knowledge to the ASC Master Class and being involved with the Spotlight Awards. Both are very close to my heart. 

You'll find his site here, and a story on his most recent feature, the drama Shot, here.

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