The true Artists of the movies
May June 2011
by Courtland Shakespeare
The camera is a genuine time machine. It can capture the most subtle flicker of emotion across a stoic face or the blast of ignition from a bomb in the desert. The recording can also be kept forever so it can be shown to audiences in the distant future.
It can be any kind of camera, old or new, big or small, or celluloid or digital. It’s really not the camera that matters, however, but the person or the crew who is running it. It’s more about the cinematographer or the director of photography who is capturing the image. Especially in the world of entertainment, every aspect of capturing the image and every element the camera sees is set up, interpreted and controlled by brilliant and creative talents.
There are “societies” of cinematographers around the world dedicated to preserving and maintaining the integrity of the craft. Don’t forget, the Oscars® are handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They are awarded to the people behind the camera - not just the actors who perform in front of it.
The ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) is one of the earliest. It goes back to the early part of the 20th Century when movies were still new and silent. Formed in 1919 by members of the Static Club in Los Angeles and the Cinema Club in New York, there were only 15 members. Today, there’s just over 300 active, full members. The British Society has just about 100 full members.
We have our own trade society here in Canada - the CSC (Canadian Society of Cinematographers). It was formed in 1957 by a small group who wanted to establish a national identity. Of course, it was difficult getting our national government in Ottawa to allow an association to call itself “Canadian.” It took three years to be officially recognised. At their annual convention in 1960, the president of the society, Bob Brooks, made the official announcement. They received a telegram from the Secretary of State granting the CSC its federal charter. It was sent to them “collect.”
This past April, the CSC held their 2011 gala awards ceremony at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto. Nicolas Bolduc received top honours for Feature Film Cinematography for La Cité. Our own Peter Rowe (of Mississauga) took first prize in the Lifestyle/Reality Cinematography category for Angry Planet. He also won last year in the same category.
Peter Rowe CSC also produces and directs the show (three seasons) and was nominated for a Gemini Award for Best Direction in a Reality Show. He has been making films and television in Canada for over 40 years including writing and directing films for For the Record, E.N.G., The Adventures of the Black Stallion and My Life as a Dog.
He was recently interviewed for the January 2011 edition of Canadian Cinematographer magazine. You can read the full article at www.csc.ca
Rowe has a lot of great stories including how he assisted legendary cinematographer Richard Leiterman at the Isle of Wight 1970 rock festival where Jimi Hendrix was performing for the last time. Leiterman, of course, also shot Don Shebib’s Goin’ Down The Road.
Rowe has a lot of history with many other filmmakers including sharing a Moviola with David Cronenberg. He got to edit during the day while David used it at night. This was during the early days of the Canadian Film Development Corporation - now called Telefilm Canada. Be sure to check out Rowe’s website for lots more information at www.peterrowe.tv
Another great Canadian movie story is told by Chris Oben CSC Associate Member, who got to work on TRON: Legacy 3D. He was invited to join the main camera department for what would be the biggest budget digital 3D film made in Canada.
They used Pace-Cameron 3D rigs (as invented by our own James Avatar Cameron) as well as other cameras to shoot the film at the Canadian Motion Picture Park in Vancouver, BC. The cinematographer in charge was Claudio Miranda ASC, who was nominated for the 2008 Academy Award for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Oben ended up being one of the lighting/cameraman as well as the DOP (Director of Photography) on the EPK (electronic press kit) extras on the Blu-ray disc. Read his fabulous story about working on the production in the April edition of Canadian Cinematographer.
Another CSC cinematographer who has been using the Pace Fusion 3D system is Glen MacPherson. He’s also a member of the ASC and has been working for 25 years with some of the industry’s top directors. Last year, he shot Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D directed by Paul W. S. Anderson whose wife, Milla Jovovich, stars in the film.
With over 50 titles, MacPherson has worked on movies and shows including Doctor Who and international productions including Romeo Must Die starring Jet Li as well as Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo (2008). Apparently Glen was the only shooter Sly wanted to work on the project.
Directors and cinematographers are the most critical partners on a film. Together they create the vision and invent how it looks and how it gets shot. One of the most famous teams was Orson Welles and Gregg Toland who made Citizen Kane in 1941. Considered one of the greatest films ever made, Welles and Toland made history with their truly extraordinary and innovative camera work. Many cinematographers credit the films of Welles as their inspiration for why they got into the business.
Also regarded as perhaps the finest cinematographer of all time is Jack Cardiff. He was the first cameraman to shoot in Technicolor. He was nominated four times and won an Academy Award for Black Narcissus (1947), but may best be known for The Red Shoes (the following year) and John Huston’s African Queen in 1951. He was awarded an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2001.
We can’t leave out Stanley Kubrick who made use of Garrett Brown’s motion stabilizing invention (we call the Steadycam today) in The Shining. It was very new and unfamiliar at the time.
A photographer himself, Kubrick was always looking for new technology to improve and advance the art of motion pictures. His 1975 film Barry Lyndon was the first time a movie was shot using actual candlelight without any additional light. It was truly a technological milestone.
There is a long list of wonderful, creative people including Conrad L. Hall, Geoffrey Unsworth, David Tattersall and Janusz Kaminski who have brought us to where we are today. Check out www.theasc.com, www.bscine.com and www.csc.ca for more information.
Incredibly, one of the finest cinematographers working right now has been nominated eight times for an Academy Award including The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country For Old Men and True Grit. Roger Deakins has won a long list of awards from all around the world, but never an Oscar. He’s in good company though. Citizen Kane didn’t win a cinematography award either.