You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘American Horror Story’ Cinematographer Michael Goi Talks About His Start in Hollywood

Michael Goi is a four-time Emmy nominee, most recently for “American Horror Story,” and a former president of the American Society of Cinematographers. When the Chicago native was at Columbia College, he shot 125 films in four years, a record for the school. He thought about being an editor, but realized early on that he loved to shoot. “I love the dynamic of being on a set. I love that vibe,” he says. His earliest mention in Variety was Jan. 15, 1988, when he was DP on his first feature film, “Camper Stamper” (released as “Moonstalker” by the video company Complete Entertainment). Goi worked in Chicago on multiple films and commercials after he graduated in 1980, but a decade later he realized he needed to move to Hollywood. Since then, he has chalked up dozens of film and TV projects.

Did you have an early idol?

Robert Surtees. I saw “The Graduate” by accident when I was 8. My parents thought they were taking me to a cartoon festival, but that only played until 1 p.m.; then the theater went to its regular features. I’d never seen a movie with so much darkness, or with people pressed on the edge of the frame. I became fascinated, and went back to see it 100 times in the movie theater. I started shooting 8mm when I was 8, and bought my first 16mm when I was in high school.

Was “Moonstalker” your first paying job?

No, when I was in high school I was paid a modest sum to shoot Spanish commercials on spec. Then I did an industrial film for Sears. “Moonstalker” was my first feature. [Writer/director] Michael O’Rourke and I became friends and enjoyed working together. The film was shot in 12 or 13 days for $125,000.

When did you move to Hollywood?

In 1991. It became clear that if I stayed in Chicago, I was always going to be on the B- or C-camera crew. It took a lot to decide to move to L.A. I didn’t know anybody. And there was a recession. Most film companies had no money. I’d done six features and 300 commercials but could not get a job. Two cinematographer friends gave up. Finally I got a job as a grip on a low-budget
martial-arts movie in Vegas. So I was on the set. Then those producers did another project. That’s how it happens: You work for no money with a crew, then when those guys land another film, they say, “We worked with this guy; he’s good,” and it spreads.

So persistence paid off.

Persistence is one of the most important qualities in a career. One of those other two cinematographers was an amazing talent, but he wouldn’t do anything “beneath him.” So he didn’t work. I refused to give up. And I diversified. To one group of people, I was the guy who worked on martial-arts films. To another group, I was the guy who had shot tons of softcore. I was also experienced in edgy and independent films. This meant being able to keep working and to advance.

Any other advice?

Nobody makes it on their own. You need to establish contacts with people. I always say, “It’s not who you know; it’s who knows you.” People need to get over their fear of contacting people.
Eventually, it becomes easy. Also, learn to love interviewing for a job. It’s my favorite part of the business. You’ve read the script and the project, at that point, is perfect in your mind — at its purest. Most people in interviews are afraid they’re going to say the wrong thing. They try to read the room so they can tell interviewers what they want to hear. Don’t do that — they will think you don’t have any original ideas.

More TV

  • John Stankey

    AT&T's John Stankey: TNT, TBS to Boost Unscripted Volume as WarnerMedia Invests in HBO Max

    The march to the launch of HBO Max in May is driving changes across WarnerMedia. John Stankey, AT&T chief operating officer and WarnerMedia chairman, told investors on Wednesday that cable powerhouses TNT and TBS will lean into more unscripted programming as WarnerMedia steers its investment in high-end scripted programming to the nascent subscription streaming platform. [...]

  • BBC to Cut 450 Jobs in

    BBC to Cut 450 Jobs in News Division

    The BBC is to cut 450 jobs in its news operation as part of a cost-cutting exercise. The BBC, which remains the U.K.’s most widely consumed source of news, said it planned to reorganise its newsroom along a ‘story-led’ model, focusing on news stories more than on programmes or platforms. This is designed to reduce [...]

  • Bud Light Asks Super Bowl Viewers

    Bud Light Asks Super Bowl Viewers to Pick the Ad They Want to See

    Most Super Bowl advertisers put a glitzy commercial in the game and hope for the best. Anheuser-Busch wants viewers to have a stake in the pitch that gets presented on Game Day. Bud Light made two different ads starring Post Malone, and is asking fans to help pick which of the pair ought to run [...]

  • good-morning-america-strahan

    At 'Good Morning America,' Robin Roberts Maintains Her 'X-Factor'

    Robin Roberts used to play basketball in college. She says she’s still building muscles while working at “Good Morning America.” The ABC morning program is many things all at once. It’s a news program. It’s a pillar of the economics of ABC’s parent Walt Disney. And increasingly these days, it is a broader media entity [...]

  • Gabrielle Carteris SAG AFRA PRESIDENT

    SAG-AFTRA Unveils Guidelines for Intimacy Coordinators

    SAG-AFTRA has unveiled the guidelines for intimacy coordinators who are on sets when union members’ work involves nudity and simulated sex. The union released “Standards and Protocols for the Use of Intimacy Coordinators” on Wednesday, six months after announcing that it would standardize the guidelines for such scenes. “SAG-AFTRA believes that implementation of these standards [...]

  • BTS The Late Late Show with

    BTS Goes Into the Woods With James Corden for 'Black Swan' Live TV Debut (Watch)

    BTS took James Corden back into the woods for the live television premiere of the group’s new “Black Swan,” unfolding on a deep-forest set two nights after their Grammys debut, which was also the subject of a short interview on the late-night show. Speaking of their appearance on the Grammys, the group said, “Everything about [...]

  • Verizon Fios to Carry Bloomberg Television

    Verizon Fios to Carry Bloomberg Television

    Verizon Fios will start to offer Bloomberg Television as of January 29, extending the U.S. reach of the business-focused news network. Fios TV customers can be found in New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston and other homes on the east coast,. Bloomberg says its TV network is available in more than 433 million homes worldwide. Bloomberg [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content