When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
High Noon, shot by Floyd Crosby, ASC, was the first film I ever saw; I watched it in a repertory theater in Paris called the Passy. Discovering black-and-white at age 7 was quite an epiphany. When I was 13, I skipped middle school to see The Innocents. I’m still traumatized by those images, which were shot by Freddie Francis, BSC.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Conrad Hall, ASC; Pierre Lhomme, AFC; Sven Nykvist, ASC; Georges Périnal; Robert Richardson, ASC; Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC; Bruce Surtees; and John Toll, ASC.
What sparked your interest in photography?
It came rather late. I was already a lighting cameraman working on corporate movies and short films when I discovered the physical, sensual pleasure of throwing light into a frame, like a bucketful not of water but of photons.
Where did you study and/or train?
École Louis Lumière Paris (cinematography) and École du Louvre Paris (art history).
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Bernard Lutic and Ricardo Aronovich.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
How did you get your first break in the business?
I was lucky enough to film Patrice Leconte’s first two projects after he transitioned from comedies to ‘auteur dramas.’ The second one, Monsieur Hire, still opens doors for me.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
It is always when I manage to solve a problem by finding an elegant, out-of-the-box solution.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
So many it’s embarrassing!
What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
‘But Denis, this is flat!’ That was said by corporate-movie director (and former cinematographer) Georges Pessis on my first day with him, after I had lit part of a Nestlé factory with a few Mini-Brutes and Redheads. It just blew my mind: light could be flat and therefore also not flat.
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
James Turrell’s works, a book on Caravaggio by Roberto Longhi, and the catalog for an exhibition called Future Cinema: The Cinematic Imaginary After Film.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres that you would like to try?
A Western, of course. I would also love to film a musical in Bombay and a kung-fu movie in Hong Kong.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I would be a surgeon or a psychiatrist. I actually started medical school with the idea to become one or the other.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Steven Poster, Willy Kurant and Peter James.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
To an immigrant, Hollywood can be a very lonely place, and being accepted in this great Society has given me the foster professional family I was missing. The generosity and modesty of its most eminent and very active members who include Bill Fraker, Victor Kemper, Woody Omens, Bob Primes and Owen Roizman is just amazing.