Where Talent Meets Opportunity

How hard is it to get a break in this business? How many times have I asked myself that question over the course of my long career? As anyone in this freelance industry knows, it is a refrain that comes and goes throughout one’s working life, but at the beginning, that question is most pertinent. As film schools around the world graduate more shooters each year with some of the qualifications to do the work we do, the competition for jobs gets all the more fierce. So what can we, as a labor union, do to enhance the lives of the undiscovered talent in our Guild?

We can hold a ceremony called the Emerging Cinematographer Awards (ECA), that’s what. The event takes place the last Sunday in September in Los Angeles. And while the ECA has been around for more than a decade, it’s only in the last few years that the event has taken on the mantle of a true showcase for our members.

The qualifications, of course, are that the entrants can’t already be classified in this Guild as a cinematographer. The intent is to help those ready to make a career transition. Any change in a career is tremendously hard because it requires a true commitment to chase what it is you want to or believe you can be.

The short subject projects (completed within the previous year) that make up the ECA provide exposure for every other classification in our union. Films are judged by a national blue-ribbon panel of our members, which comes up with 10 top examples (eight honorees and two honorable mentions). All of the honorees are ready to make the transitions to become working cinematographers.

The festival hardly exists in a vacuum. Honorees receive a seminar for a day with a handful of industry agents to learn the ins and outs of this business and help jumpstart their careers. They’re also given prizes from the event’s sponsors — like camera rigs, film, post-production costs, software and hardware — who believe the event highlights the future of cinematography. The sponsors’ generosity allows the Guild to not only stage the September showcase in the heart of the film and television industry, but also helps the honored films travel around the country, and as far away as Poland, where they are screened at the premiere cinematography festival, Camerimage. This year, for the first time, ECA-honored films also will be screened at Museum of the Moving Image, in New York City, with the same kind of community involvement put forth in Hollywood.

I can’t describe how pleased I am that this event gets bigger and more important each year, and the list of sponsors gets more numerous. The pride that the Emerging Cinematographers Awards creates within the Guild, and within the larger community of union filmmakers, is tremendous. It is the gift that keeps on giving. So many past Guild members have said that being honored with an ECA has positively impacted their careers. And, they’ve all added, how they, in turn, want to help mentor and interact with each new crop of honorees. The words they use to describe the Emerging Cinematographer Awards could not be more resonant: “It’s not impossible to get a break,” they all say. “It really can happen.”


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