ASC International Master Class Launches in Toronto

Mark Dillon

The Toronto session's participants, including ASC instructors Bill Bennett and Guillermo Navarro (front, center) and Fred Elmes (seated behind slate, to right) and (at far left) Rene Ohashi, CSC and Bert Dunk, CSC.

ASC International Master Class

It’s a wrap for the inaugural ASC International Master Class, held in Toronto, Canada, and initial feedback bodes well for the program’s global expansion.

Photos by Frederic Ansaldo & Suzhe Li

The first ASC International Master Class event — held December 2-4 in partnership with ARRI — was structured similarly to the Master Classes the ASC has been offering in Los Angeles for the past several years. The weekend kicked off with a meet-and-greet dinner at rental and service shop Sim Digital, which was attended by participating ASC members, ARRI representatives and the 30 students who enrolled in the sold-out event.

On Saturday, the venue shifted to Sheridan College's Screen Industries Research and Training Centre (SIRT) — a soundstage for cutting-edge experimentation located at Pinewood Toronto Studios — and on Sunday afternoon participants evaluated the footage they shot and contributed to the DI coloring portion of the course held at the Sim Group post shop Pixel Underground.

The ASC instructors were (from left), Fred Elmes, Guillermo Navarro, Sam Nicholson and Bill Bennett, who were greatly aided by Rene Ohashi, ASC, CSC and Bert Dunk, ASC, CSC, who both served as ASC Ambassadors throughout the weekend.

Seeking to expand the Society’s education and outreach events beyond Los Angeles, ASC president Kees van Oostrum, who created the ASC Master Class program, believed Toronto would be the perfect place to start. "I've done a lot of work in Toronto over the years and have a lot of friends there," van Oostrum says. "I felt very confident about the people there, such as [Sim Group founder and vice chair and ASC associate member] Rob Sim, and saw it as a safe haven for us to stage the first one and I think it worked out great. The facility there is sensational and that all helps to give the program a cachet we like it to have in terms of quality."

Scroll through for pics from the event:

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It also helps that so much top-tier work is shot in Toronto and ASC members are often in town. Timing of the session was such that Academy Award-winner Guillermo Navarro, ASC, AMC (Pan's Labyrinth) was in Toronto prepping the pilot for the upcoming CBS series Star Trek: Discovery and was available to lead one of the classes.

"I like to keep the quality of the Master Classes as high as we've been having it, which means occupying it with people from the A-list who are currently doing movies and TV," van Oostrum adds. "That sets us apart from other educational courses, however many there are that might be of great quality. Nobody else can offer the talent we can."

Navarro's instruction included lighting a dramatic scene.

Navarro's session included staging an improvised dramatic sequence with a fair-skinned actress and dark-skinned actor, each requiring particular lighting needs. After speaking about his own work, Navarro allowed the Master Class students — who were admitted to the program based on an "intermediate-to-advanced skill set" — to take charge of lighting and shooting, which saw them get hands-on with a large-format ARRI Alexa 65 camera.

If their efforts didn't always work out as well as they would have liked, Navarro considers it a valuable learning experience. At the DI portion of the program, he wanted to dispel the urge to make significant changes to the look after the fact, inspiring the student cinematographers to commit on set. He also wanted his session to focus more on approach than technology.

"Some people teach recipes, and that reroutes students in the wrong way," Navarro said ahead of the event. "Students have to come up with their own ideas. The technique is at your service; you're not at its service. But that's hard for students to learn sometimes because they're hungry to know how to do specific things and what is right and what is wrong. I make exercises where one scene can be shot in very different ways."

While Navarro just happened to be in town, commercials expert Bill Bennett, ASC stopped off on his way home to Los Angeles from Beijing, where he was giving a presentation about high-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging for online platform iQiyi.

At the podium, Navarro begins the lecture position of his session.

Bennett, who has taught at all previous ASC Master Classes, has particularly expertise in car photography. He screened his reel and addressed topics including infrared shooting and using stand-in cars that would be replaced with CG models, which he pointed out is commonplace. He also covered tricks such as how to keep the camera's reflection off a shiny car. His session ended with the group lighting a model Ferrari.

"I do it with a car 13 inches long so we can build the lighting setup in 15 or 20 minutes," Bennett explained in advance. "But all the techniques scale and are applicable to lighting any reflective product — a cell phone, computer, tool, kitchenware, beer can or wine bottle — which you do in a commercial packshot. People have found this useful. I've run into cinematographers two to three years later who say, 'Two weeks after I took your class, I was confronted with XYZ and I knew exactly what to do.' That's very rewarding."

Frederick Elmes, ASC (Blue Velvet, Paterson) flew in from New York specifically for the Master Class event. The subject of cars was also central to his demonstration, which involved shooting the two actors in a car in the studio, and moving lights to create the illusion of driving through a city at night.

"We talked about doing it in the studio versus a real location and the advantages of one way over another," Elmes said the next day. "A couple of the students had tried it before but this was a step further. I've worked on these techniques before but I showed the students you have a choice: you get to shape the color and the light and how you want it to feel."

Flanked by the monitors (center), Sam Nicholson details his approach to greenscreen work.

This was Elmes' first ASC Master Class, which he qualifies as a good experience. "I love hearing the questions and I love getting people involved in the discussion," he said. "I learned things and hopefully the audience learned something also."

Sunday also featured VFX veteran and cinematographer Sam Nicholson, ASC — founder and CEO of VFX shop Stargate Studios — showing some of his company's film and TV work. He screened sequences incorporating what he termed "invisible" VFX — such as crowd duplication and digital backgrounds for the History Channel movie Gettysburg (2011), shot by Michael Snyman — and the more obvious stuff such as the brain-bashing and disembowelling seen on on The Walking Dead. Nicholson then demonstrated lighting actors for compositing over a digital background.

Attendees included locals as well as other Canadians from Vancouver and Quebec, and some who came from warmer climes including Miami. Toronto's Rob Pilichowski, a documentary and branded-content shooter who has attended other non-ASC workshops, calls the event "probably the best I've been part of. Being able to meet and work with some of my peers was great, but the highlight was learning from such renowned cinematographers as Fred Elmes and Guillermo Navarro."

The class screens footage during the DI session held at Pixel Underground.

Tom Delamere, who works for Sim-owned PS Production Services — which supplied lighting and grip gear — adds, "Each ASC member brought something else to the table. Fred showed the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into a scene with his practical demonstration of a car setup. Guillermo was theoretical and philosophical with his presentation. Bill brought his highly visual, technical approach, and Sam showed us the business side talking about his company."

Toronto's Josh Henderson, a cinematographer and operator in various platforms, says, "There was a lot to gain from master cinematographers showing their work and discussing how they approached it and the challenges. On top of that, we could interact, raising thoughts and questions. It was also really gracious of the ASC instructors to sit in on the other instructors’ sessions and occasionally participate, raising questions from their point of view. They have such varied backgrounds and experience that when they interacted, it was magical."

Rob Sim was a happy contributor. "We feel it is very important to be involved in the ASC Master Classes, as it gives us the opportunity to meet emerging cinematographers in our facility and to contribute to the film community by providing training and technical expertise," he says. "The weekend was a success and a great way to kick off the ASC International Master Class series."

"Kicking off" seems right, as the ASC is contemplating other locales around the globe for future International Master Class instalments. "We’re talking about Beijing, Brazil, Munich and London," Van Oostrum reveals. "We’re doing this in conjunction with ARRI and everybody including ourselves is waiting to see how this one went down, but I have no doubt everybody is going be happy. In the next couple of weeks we’ll find out what our next target is."

Nicholson and Bennett are at the center of the group, with Rene Ohashi and Bert Dunk just to their right.

Information about future ASC International Master Class sessions will be posted here when available. Stay tuned for updates. Below is a brief glimpse of sessions held in Los Angeles.

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