“Unbroken Circle”

Fall is my favorite time of year. Not because of the cooling L.A. temperatures, or the falling leaves and crisp air. It’s Emerging Cinematographers time, once again, and I’m so enthusiastic about the new talent I see year in and year out.

In fact, one of the reasons the ECA’s receive so much industry support – dozens of vendors and manufacturers coming in as sponsors at all levels of aid – is that a lot of other people are equally enthusiastic about seeing what the next generation of cinematography looks like. Getting noticed in this business has always been about intense perseverance and drive. But today there is a voracious worldwide market for filmed media that has increased the chance that dedicated perseverance will pay off by many more multiples than in the past. There’s (literally) a platform for everyone.

Timing and good fortune continue to play vital roles in developing (and sustaining) a career as a cinematographer, as well. I don’t use the word “luck,” because I think that’s a different quality. Having someone of merit and standing look at your work and see its quality and potential can be a fortunate opportunity. And the history of the ECA’s has revealed just how many of these developing artists have capitalized on those opportunities, often in the arena of episodic television.

Names that come to mind throughout the ECA’s 17-year history include Cynthia Pusheck (Revenge, Brothers & Sisters), Todd Dos Reis (Necessary Roughness, Entourage), Ken Glassing (Glee, CSI: Miami), Christopher Probst (2nd Unit DP on the CBS pilot Limitless, whose story is featured this month) and Eduardo Enrique Mayén, who is the subject of this month’s cover story on the Amazon series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.

The careers of those listed above were buoyed by winning an industry award like the ECA; and, certainly in the case of a more recent honoree, like two-time ECA winner Mayén, success has been helped by new platforms for the small screen, namely streaming media. Other industry awards that parallel the ECA’s, and those that many Guild members have won, include the Student Academy Awards and the ASC Student Awards. Like the ECA’s, they are goals, destinations in a way, that can have great impact on a career in the making – both externally and internally.

What do I mean by that? Getting spotted in a crowd is the clear external benefit of winning an industry award. But these honors also provide a level of personal confidence and swagger, if you will, at a time in one’s career that most people are never afforded. ICG members who have done ECA-winning short films – assistants, operators, and DIT’s – not yet recognized for their talents as directors of photography – have been given an open door through which to step that is not revealed to everyone. Quite often, it leads to being part of the best television the industry has or is yet to produce (as well as to success in commercial and feature production, like that experienced by New York-based ECA winner Sam Levy).

One other aspect that might not be apparent with our ECA honorees is that many have been mentored by established Guild DP’s. The year Mayén won his first ECA award, in 2008, he was loading film for four-time ASC winner and two-time Emmy-winning DP Robbie Greenberg, ASC. Prior to that Mayén was working with Oscar-nominated DP Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC. No matter who you are or at what station you are in life, Local 600 cinematographers welcome the chance to help emerging members enhance their craft; certainly that has been the case with many of the amazing ECA shorts.

I have often said that I willingly share every secret that I have about how to capture a photographic image, because I know that in the long run, no one is going to do it the same way as me. It’s a level of security and understanding that proudly states, “Everyone has their own aesthetic, instinct, and approach to do what they think is the best in any given situation.”

One of my favorite parts of being a cinematographer is to mentor a crewmember over a successive series of projects. Right now that individual is Rohan Chitrakar, who has become a premier digital imaging technician and is striving toward becoming a terrific cinematographer. Rohan will often call me to help find solutions to problems he’s working on, which in turn, brings me back to the beginning of my career, when I looked to veteran DP’s for answers to my photographic challenges.

That’s what’s known as an unbroken circle. And it goes to the very core of what this Guild, and the ECA’s, represent.

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