“My path to cinematography was initially indirect and even improbable,” says, ASC. “But as I look clearly at the strongest influences on my childhood, they are all well represented in the desire to make images and work collaboratively as a storyteller. The rest — if I’m honest — is a willingness to tackle hard work.”
Rutkowski attended Harvard College, and it was there that he met stage director and visual artist, whom the cinematographer calls “my greatest teacher.” Rutkowski spent his college summers working with Wilson on film- and video–based projects. He was later introduced to the Harvard film program, where instructors encouraged documentary technique and experimentation. “I dove in headfirst,” he says. “Buying a Bolex, I began making visually eccentric 16mm films which merged animation with live action and electronic music soundtracks,” and were often influenced, he adds, by Eastern European, New Wave and American Independent cinema.
Of this experience, he relays: “It was a great gift to have been able to learn on film — with its demands of exactness and learning sound recording on open reel and the skill of flatbed editing putting your footage tangibly there in your hands.”
After graduation, Rutkowski worked an internship at the, where he met , ASC, who would later become Rutkowski’s “first long-term employer.”
Rutkowski began his career in the camera department, serving as an AC for nearly 10 years. “It was important having the experience of starting from the ground up — loading film; then getting hired as a 2nd; then convincing [cinematographers] that I could be their 1st AC, which I viewed as a serious, detailed and creatively fulfilling position,” he offers. “I still look to my ACs for that dedication and seriousness and understand their challenges with each new project.”
The “true thrill,” he notes, “was to find a profession that merged many of the things I’d initially sought out — storytelling in changing contexts merged with a technical medium that exploited a beauty of engineering with an invisibility of technique.”
Rutkowski’s first mentor was, BSC, followed by Lachman; , ASC; ; and , ASC. Of Lachman, the cinematographer says, “the detailed and thoughtful approach Ed took to each project, along with his highly pitched perfectionism, are the singular most influential aspects in my approach to camerawork.”
Rutkowski transitioned into the role of director of photography on the indie feature Kill by Inches, followed by Interview with the Assassin, which earned a Best Cinematography Independent Spirit Award nomination. After photographing a number of features, the cinematographer shot the FX series Lights Out, which began his career in television “It was my first full season as a DP in that medium, and after initial trepidation about the demands to create images with meaning and set the tone for the storytelling over the months of a full season, it became a wonderfully fulfilling experience. It still is. I loved the intensity and daily evolving relationship with the cast and storyline, and I felt as intrinsic to the show’s ambitions as I ever had,” he offers.
The cinematographer’s credits include the series Boss, The Americans, Manhattan, Divorce, Falling Water, Castle Rock and Jack Ryan.