“A Breed Apart”

I want to talk about why it’s important for our industry (and Guild) to celebrate cinematography, and I have two great examples.

The first is the ICG-sponsored Emerging Cinematographer Awards (ECAs), which just celebrated its 19th year this past September in Los Angeles, and a few weeks later in New York City. The other is the international celebration of cinematography at the Camerimage Film Festival, the 22nd edition of which will be held in Bydgoszcz, Poland later this month.

Both of these events not only express to the global film industry and audience the importance of the position of director of photography, but also allow colleagues and peers to spend time with each other watching new work, discussing, arguing and, most importantly, coming together as friends around the most salient issues in our craft.

The obvious common thread that is woven throughout both these key events (despite being thousands of miles apart in completely different cultural settings) is that being a cinematographer is among the most generous “callings” of any in the entertainment industry. I see this time and again when I attend these celebrations, and it really makes me proud to have made cinematography my life’s work.

The ECAs give the world’s best DPs the chance to judge the work of Local 600 crewmembers – assistants, operators, and DITs – who are striving to become cinematographers. During the ECAs (and beyond), these new talents receive valuable counsel, advice, information and life lessons about making that transition from the most experienced directors of photography this Guild has to offer.

As for Camerimage, it’s a weeklong gathering of the entire spectrum of our art and craft – veterans, students, teachers, equipment support people, and much more. The best part about this festival is that a senior practitioner (like myself) will be talking to a group of students one moment, then at the next moment sitting in on a master class with Oscar-winning or – nominated artists like Janusz Kaminski, Wally Pfister, ASC, and Phedon Papamichael, ASC.

Of course, both of these events often screen movies of a non-narrative nature. And what is so evident in that respect is that the films of a great cinematographer in the nonfiction genre also have a level of expertise that raises the production standards of its subject. That’s clear even if the project is a microbudget, gear-challenged documentary done on a very constrained schedule.

I myself have gone back and forth between these two poles – commercial narrative and independent nonfiction – throughout my career. Most recently: a documentary on the Van Cliburn piano competition where I was the Consulting Director of Photography. The project provided me the wonderful experience of working very closely with one of the industry’s premier Steadicam operators, cinematographer Larry McConkey. Larry (literally) circled the globe in a week to document some of the contestants before the competition began. He was able to capture and interpret a visual quality that we had designed before he left. Our combined efforts flowed into a 14-day live streaming of the competition in Houston, even as Larry and director Christopher Wilkinson continued gathering footage.

The point here is that we were all committed to bringing a level of photographic quality far beyond what the project’s budget could allow. And I don’t know any of my peers or colleagues in the camera community who wouldn’t have given the same dedication and enthusiasm.

But then that’s just how directors of photography and our crews operate (no pun intended). We all give fully of our talents and experience – whether to a documentary like what I just described or at a film festival in Hollywood, New York and Poland – to creatively soar above the fold.

 

Steven Poster, ASC
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600