ASC Close-Up: Uta Briesewitz

The cinematographer discusses her career, outlook and inspirations: “The ASC is a place of continuous education, exchange with colleagues and encouragement for the next generation.”

ASC Staff

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you? 
Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night, The Story of Adele H and The Man Who Loved Women. Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, shot so beautifully by Tonino Delli Colli, AIC.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire? 
As a young woman, I was so intrigued by Michael Ballhaus [ASC, BVK], this German cameraman who got to shoot movies in Hollywood — some of the most amazing films to this day. 

What sparked your interest in photography?
I have vivid memories of sitting in rye fields with my father on vacations, and painting watercolors of windmills and lighthouses. I love working with people, though — so when the time came, I decided on a career that allowed me to create images through collaboration. 

Where did you train and/or study?
After interning at a German TV company, I attended the DFFB — Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin — while working as a freelance operator/cinematographer for television. I then applied for the directing program at AFI, with cinematography as my second choice. AFI accepted me to the latter. Looking back, I feel grateful to AFI for making that decision for me. 

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
The cinematography teacher I remember most from my time at AFI is Denise Brassard. She gave us consistent guidance and was always available for us. I revisit AFI when my schedule allows, either to teach a class or talk to the students there. I try to make myself available to students who are looking for guidance. 

What are some of your key artistic influences?
From my work as a painter, I learned attention to detail and to trust my intuition, both of which strongly apply in my work as a cinematographer. 

How did you get your first break in the business?
Executive producer Robert Colesberry hired me — a young woman with no TV-series experience — to shoot the pilot for HBO’s The Wire. He changed everything for me. To this day, HBO gives young women incredible opportunities. Robert used to say he was good at finding new talent. I still feel humbled that he considered me such a talent. 

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Every day that you end up making because your crew hustles like crazy for you is a satisfying and deeply rewarding moment. As a cinematographer, you are nothing without your crew. 

Have you made any memorable blunders?
The first day I met Michael Kenneth Williams, who played Omar on The Wire, I complimented him on the great scar the makeup department had put across his face, just to be corrected by him that it was actually real. Luckily, he had a good sense of humor about it. 

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
You are only being judged by your worst day, not by your best. 

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Great television is being produced these days. Ozark, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Alienist and The Deuce — to name just a few — are shows that feature both courageous performances and beautiful, inspiring cinematography.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
Genres that re-create the past or look into the future, and apocalyptic genres, put me into a world that I wouldn’t get to experience if it weren’t for all the incredible artists that are needed to pull off such visions. As a cinematographer on such projects, I consider it an honor to be the one who gets to capture these worlds. 

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Even though I have been directing for the last couple of years, I will always consider myself a cinematographer as well. I always wanted to do both. Besides wanting to become a painter, writing is something I would like to explore more.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Stephen Lighthill, along with Nancy Schreiber and David Stump. I’m very grateful to all of them.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
The ASC is a place of continuous education, exchange with colleagues and encouragement for the next generation. I recently had a great experience on a panel at the ASC Clubhouse — specifically aimed at women in the industry — helmed by Cynthia Pusheck, ASC, who is doing an amazing job bringing us all together. When working as a cinematographer, you don’t usually get to meet many of your colleagues on the job, and the ASC brings us together. I am lucky to be part of a really wonderful and inspiring community. 

You'll find more about Briesewitz here.
Portrait by Lacey Terrell

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