“Feeling Good!”

I’m so thrilled and excited moving into these last few weeks of September; I know the Emerging Cinematographer Awards are upon us. This is not just a minor awards event; it really has helped shape the landscape for up-and-coming craftspeople within our Guild – both in terms of their careers and esteem in their craft.

And that last bit about esteem cannot be undervalued.

Clearly, the director of photography does not have the same stature as when I was starting out and able to see some of the giants of our craft working on set. Part of that erosion is due, in part, to advancements in technology – itself a double-edged sword, as the strides made in digital cinematography have vastly increased the opportunities for image making in our industry.

I have said before (and this may be sacrilege to some): I am not nostalgic about the end of the film era. The ability to hone one’s talents is now much easier, and a voracious worldwide market provides young DPs the opportunity to tell visual stories in ways my generation never dreamed. Film, most certainly, is an endangered species; yet because of an aggressive recent campaign by a group of dedicated filmmakers (along with Kodak’s involvement), it will remain an option in the marketplace for the near future, which is great news.

Regardless of the media used, what is key about the legacy of the ECAs is the relationships these young cinematographers are forging with directors while making these award-winning short films. Our ECA winners learn early that theirs is a partnership, and that the cinematographer should be at the director’s side every possible moment to help in the visual execution of the story.

If a director of photography is buried in a tent somewhere, or is more preoccupied with operating the camera, the opportunity to fully engage in that creative process is diminished. Yes, I know there are many wonderful cinematographers who operate the camera (particularly those not raised in the U.S. system). But there is a reason why the Hollywood system has developed the way it has and why we so value a dedicated camera operator to perfect movement and guard over the integrity of the frame’s composition.

This all takes us back full circle to the impact of new technology: how, in a world where movies are made on monitors, and not, as I grew up with, through the lens, the camera operator and the digital imaging technician (DIT) are vital to the success of the cinematographer. The DIT has the ability and talent to grade images alongside the director of photography before they become dailies. He or she is not only capable of helping to design and implement a workflow that can save time and money for the production, but also gives the director of photography more control over the images than we ever imagined.

One of the most difficult jobs on the set today is being a camera assistant. Through experience, the assistant has had to learn how to carry focus in near-impossible situations, while watching a monitor, no less! Today’s ACs share no lack of talent or ability to stay on beat artistically and still run their departments, and I think that shines through in these many wonderful ECA-winning films the Guild showcases this month.

Yes, the world is changing. And we need to embrace that change and make it ours.

 

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

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