“Tell Me Again…”
Cinematography and cinematographers are on the ascendency, and one simple proof is the popularity and longevity of Camerimage, the world’s only film festival devoted entirely to cinematography, which this month celebrates its 25th year.
Having said that, there is some irony at play, because while cinematography has never been more noticed, talked or written about (or given so much love by critics and audiences alike), the advent of new technology has created the impression that what we do is easily achieved. In fact, we have to continually remind the world that there are very unique skills and talents required to tame today’s image-making processes that go far beyond just “really cool new technology.” The idea that images can just be captured onto a chip by pointing the camera and pushing the button, and then, perhaps, fixed later in post-production to match the director’s vision, is a completely false interpretation of the value this Guild holds to any type of production. That’s why reminders like Cameraimage, and more specifically, cinematic talents like the Guild’s own, John Toll, ASC, who will be honored at Camerimage as the cinematographer of the year, are essential to combat, correct, and educate such wayward myths and clichés.
John’s body of work is, of course, extraordinary. His two Oscars were for epic films (Braveheart and Legends of the Fall) that rose to another level of visual storytelling because of his subtle touch. But that kind of sensitivity on the set is present in all areas of John’s life. I’ve known him for many years and we’ve worked closely together as officers in this union, and as board members of the ASC; his quiet command of all he surveys makes for a life that needs little extraneous machination, on or off the set. Simply put, John has a gift for hitting the right notes no matter the stage he’s on.
Celebrating John Toll’s life and work at Camerimage is good for cinematography in every possible way. Consider that John’s rapid embrace (and ease of use) with new technology, which is always at the service of great storytelling, is a wonderful way to remind the world of our value to this industry. Last year, for Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, John created a 3D/4K image at 120 frames per second, with cameras weighing as much as 120 pounds. That kind of visual fluidity, marshaled under those circumstances, speaks volumes to his mastery, of course, but it also says a lot about the heart and soul of this membership. John Toll is a premiere example of the kind of character and talent that it takes to do this work, no matter the job name on the call sheet.
When technology intervenes to change our jobs, as it continually has, literally overnight, it creates a very short learning curve for any crewmember to adapt. Look at the work of the camera assistant and the sheer amount of knowledge, craft and talent now required to transition from the steady predictable workflow of film to the inherently opaque journey that is digital capture. Preparing for (and succeeding at) such transitions isn’t necessarily a natural occurrence. It must be developed throughout a career, whether that’s as an assistant, an operator, or a digital imaging technician. And, especially for what we do as cinematographers, the skills to swiftly adapt are nurtured by education and experience, and can become (hopefully) as natural as breathing.
In the last fifteen years, every area of this industry that involves ICG members has gone through tremendous changes. Examples of extreme transitions abound on set with capture systems/devices, color-management tools, and workflows, of course, but how about the challenges our publicity members have faced with new communication technologies like a voracious digital universe that thrives on 24/7 social media and scavenging information pre-release of a project?
For all of these reasons, it’s key the International Cinematographer’s Guild stands tall and united as a reminder (one among many) of the inherent value union crewmembers bring to a rapidly changing and ever-more complex industry.
Steven Poster, ASC
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600