Daryn Okada ‘Never Dreamed’ He Would Be President of American Society of Cinematographers

Daryn Okada CInematographer Variety Artisans
Catherine Ledner for Variety

Daryn Okada knew he wanted to be a cinematographer from an early age. Having never gone to film school, he is largely self-taught, finishing high school early to go work on sets. “I never wanted to start at the top,” he says. “I wanted to learn the crafts to become an artist.”

That’s exactly what he did, to high acclaim. Okada has served three one-year terms as president of the American Society of Cinematographers, and has been on the Academy’s Science & Technology Council and its Board of Governors.

Okada seems to find such honors a little unreal. “At the ASC,” he says, “the strangest thing was, I would have never dreamed of being a member of the place, much less being the president. It wasn’t my idea. Same thing with the Academy: I would have never dreamed of being a member of the Academy, much less last year of being a member of the board.”

Okada boasts more than 30 film credits, many of them hit comedies such as “Mean Girls” and “Baby Mama.” Recent TV credits include 31 episodes of “Castle.”

It’s all the more remarkable given that Okada was paralyzed for months after a 1984 helicopter crash during a shoot. Once Okada could walk again, director Steve Miner helped him restart his career, hiring him for the ambitious but short-lived ABC drama “Elvis,” and then for the Depression-era indie drama “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken.” Okada shot much of the film with available light.

“After it was over,” Okada says, “I was getting all these questions about how we were able to make the movie look so good without the same kind of budget everybody else had.”

His aptitude for technology goes back to his school days in the San Gabriel Valley. His fellow DPs often turn to him to explain new innovations, not least because he’s good at explaining tech simply and clearly. “I’m not obsessed with technology,” he says.

“I look at it as a tool because I like being out there shooting and dealing with people.”

Guilding Laughs
Okada, president of the ASC from 2006-09, frequently works on comedies.
American Reunion (2012)
2012 The fourth theatrical film in the “American Pie” franchise
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (2008)
The second movie in the franchise shot in Amsterdam, Louisiana, and Toronto
Mean Girls (2004)
The beloved teen comedy starred Lindsay Lohan
In a Child’s Name (1991)
Okada earned an ASC nom for cinematography in a miniseries