In his sixth year as president of the American Society of Cinematographers, Richard Crudo — who initially reigned over the invitation-only organization from 2003-06 and was re-elected in 2013 — has been a first-hand witness to revolutionary changes in the business, and has rubbed shoulders with many of the greats. At least three of those d.p. titans — Haskell Wexler, Vilmos Zigmond and Miroslav Ondrícek — died over the past year.
Their loss will be acknowledged Feb. 14 at the ASC’s 30th annual kudofest at L.A.’s Century Plaza Hotel. “Ordinarily we don’t do that at the awards, this is going to be the first time,” Crudo says. “It would be really irresponsible not to acknowledge these people.”
At a time when shooting on film is likened to etching a recording on vinyl, with only one film processing plant left in L.A., lensers and their collaborators nevertheless press on in formats they deem best for the subject. Among the entries in this year’s ASC feature category alone, two were shot on film (16 mm for “Carol,” 35 mm for “Bridge of Spies”) and the other three on digital (the Arri Alexa on “Sicario” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the new large-format Arri Alexa 65 on “The Revenant”). Then there’s “The Hateful Eight” (not nominated) captured on 65 mm Panavision, about as rare as the California condor.
“I like to think that you fit the punishment to the crime,” Crudo says. “The material and the director’s ideas always dictate how you approach something. It’s interesting that this year there are so many formats on display. But you have to remember these things are just tools. And it doesn’t matter to the audience. They only know what they’re looking at.”
|“I always say there’s more unrecognized talent out there today than ever before… And they don’t get the notice they deserve.”|
The ASC, with Kodak and Fuji among its biggest longtime supporters, has always been an ardent champion of film. But Crudo acknowledges the medium’s daunting limitations, both practically and economically.
“On a certain level it might discourage people,” he says. “There’s no more laboratory in New York, London, Rome. You have to go a long way to get your film processed these days. Laboratory is a very finicky operation. You can’t just open a lab two nights a week and expect it to be consistent. It’s needs very precise management. And that is an issue.”
But cinematographers are built for speed and endurance. Take nominee John Seale (“Mad Max: Fury Road”): When he was honored with the ASC’s Intl. Achievement Award in 2010, he was all but retired. But the Aussie d.p., hale and hearty at age 73, is the perfect example of an old dog learning new tricks. When asked how Seale does it, Crudo is unequivocal.
“He’s a cinematographer! This is what we do!” he exclaims. “Look at Haskell Wexler right up until the bitter end. He had four projects going. The personality that’s drawn to what we do is atypical in terms of most occupations, certainly within the film business itself. I think the job keeps you young at heart, young in mind. Because regardless of how many times you’ve done it, every time out it’s like you’ve learned something new and you’re doing it again for the first time.”
And if there are only a handful of d.p.’s that are as well known as the directors and actors they work with, including current ASC nominees Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki and Roger Deakins, their younger counterparts, as well as the stellar work being done in television on series like the twice-nominated “Gotham” amounts to a buried treasure of gifted practitioners of the craft.
“I always say there’s more unrecognized talent out there today than ever before,” says Crudo, whose own work on such shows as the lamentably departed “Justified” points to the TV medium’s emerging primacy. “Just on hourlong episodic stuff on television, you see some incredible work by some guys you haven’t heard of or only heard of a little bit. And you think, ‘this guy should be right up there at the top of the profession.’ And they don’t get the notice they deserve. It happens all the time.
“There’s a lot of guys walking the streets who could play centerfield for the Yankees, but only one guy does it every 10 years,” adds Crudo. “It could happen to anybody who has the talent.”