The slate of nominees for the 31st annual American Society of Cinematographers awards event includes a slew of fresh faces. Perennial noms to Roger Deakins and Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki have this time gone to first-time contenders Bradford Young (“Arrival”) (pictured above), James Laxton (“Moonlight”), Linus Sandgren (“La La Land”), and Greig Fraser (“Lion”), with Rodrigo Prieto (“Silence”) the only repeat nominee in the feature category.
The ASC Awards began with fewer than 100 attendees more than three decades ago, with Gregory Peck as the host. The goal was to improve the movie world’s understanding of what constitutes quality cinematography, and why it — and its practitioners — are important. More than 1,800 are expected to attend this year’s event.
“Recognition by the artists of the ASC is the greatest honor I can think of,” says Sandgren, who also lensed “American Hustle” and “Promised Land.” “Many of the ASC members are my greatest heroes, and the inspiration for my work.”
Denzel Washington will be feted with the ASC’s Board of Governors award. Career awards will go to DPs Ed Lachman (“Carol”), Philippe Rousselot (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”), Ron Garcia (“Twin Peaks”), and Nancy Schreiber (“The Nines”).
The episodic television competition has been split into commercial and non-commercial categories, reflecting current production realities. The latter recognizes work for such outlets as HBO, Showtime, and Netflix. Noms went to John Conroy for an episode of “Penny Dreadful,” David M. Dunlap for “House of Cards,” Anette Haellmigk for “Game of Thrones,” Neville Kidd for “Outlander,” and Fabian Wagner for another episode of “Game of Thrones.”
In the commercial episodic bracket, the nominees are Tod Campbell for an episode of “Mr. Robot,” John Grillo for “Preacher,” Kevin McKnight for “Underground,” Christopher Norr for “Gotham,” and Richard Rutkowski for “Manhattan.”
In the running for a statue in the movie, miniseries, or pilot for television competition are former winner Balazs Bolygo for a chapter of “Harley and the Davidsons,” Paul Cameron for the “Westworld” pilot, Jim Denault for “All the Way,” Alex Disenhof for “The Exorcist,” and Igor Martinovic for an installment of “The Night Of.” Of the 15 recognized for television imagery, only six boast previous ASC nods.
A wide range of formats is represented in the feature competition, including 35mm and 16mm film emulsion in “La La Land,” 35mm film and Alexa 65 digital in “Silence,” digital anamorphic for “Moonlight,” and more standard digital formats for “Arrival” and “Lion.”
“The format is a huge part of the look of the film,” says Sandgren. “And look is all about which emotions you want the viewer to feel. Each project needs to be addressed in its own way. The more formats we have to choose from, the easier it is for us to precisely evoke the right feeling.”
In the case of “La La Land,” Sandgren and director Damien Chazelle were inspired by classic musicals to tell the tale with bold colors and long, flowing takes. “But we tried to take it even further, to be even more three-dimensional in the space, which we could do thanks to more modern techniques and tools like the Steadicam and the Technocrane. We tried hard to make the camera feel like a musical instrument.”
Prieto, previously nominated for “Frida” and “Brokeback Mountain,” says he and director Martin Scorsese agreed immediately that “Silence” should be captured on film. Some low-light scenes — about 20% of the film — were captured digitally on the large-format Alexa 65. “I feel that film has incredible depth for nature, and so much of the story is about being surrounded by nature,” says Prieto. “We did not want romantic, idealized images.”
The line between TV and features continues to blur as bigger features reach for a more immersive experience while at the same time TV adopts cinematic sweep and imagery. Perhaps the ASC’s steady advocacy for the importance of cinematographers and their work is bearing fruit.
Cameron, who was nominated in the feature-film category in 2005 for “Collateral,” says the “Westworld” project gave him plenty to work with, including classic Western exteriors and a futuristic underground robot manufacturing operation. “I knew the project needed scale, and we did everything we could to develop a large, cinematic feel,” he says.
According to Kidd, “Delivering the best quality pictures is a sales point for Netflix. It’s a bit Wild West right now, but in some cases, we are shooting high dynamic range 4K, and people are going to be blown away when they see it. HDR opens a whole new world of realism. You’re seeing so much more of the picture.”
Haellmigk, who works with HBO on “Game of Thrones,” says, “I have a feature film background, and I bring that mentality to my work in television. Television production has changed so much during the past few years, becoming more demanding and challenging. It takes a lot of passion to accomplish a high level of quality every week on a television schedule, and I look for that passion and enthusiasm when gathering my crew.”
“When I read something now, I try not to think of it as TV or a feature film,” Cameron says. “It’s about the content and the people involved. There may have been a stigma with television in the past, but that has changed. ‘Westworld’ was a great experience.”