×

American Society of Cinematographers Celebrates Centennial With Eye Trained on Future

A century ago, a group of 15 filmmakers gathered for camaraderie, to exchange ideas and solve technical issues. They were members of the Cinema Camera Club and the Static Club of America, the latter group named after the cause of mysterious white flashes showing up on exposed film.

Movies were silent then, the cameras were hand-cranked, and the film was sometimes developed in a bucket. The organization they founded, the American Society of Cinematographers, is often cited as the first of its kind and the inspiration for many similar clubs in Hollywood and throughout the world. Today, the ASC is stronger than ever, with 390 international members and more than 200 associate members who work in related fields.

The ASC is known for its magazine, industry standard handbook, and its annual awards show, now entering its 33rd year. The society’s technical committees work closely with manufacturers, post pros and studios to develop standards and practices that streamline production while faithfully delivering the filmmakers’ vision as intended. To camera pros around the world, the ASC’s greatest importance may be its advocacy for the primacy of image quality and control – both technical and artistic.

The ASC’s protests recently played a key role in reversing what many saw as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ decision to tighten the Oscars telecast at the expense of certain crafts, this year including cinematography. With the entertainment industry undergoing fundamental transformations — analog to digital, broadcasting to streaming, traditional exhibition to Imax and iPhones — the ASC is well-positioned to guide visual storytelling into the future.

“That’s why education is crucial for us,” says ASC president Kees Van Oostrum. “It’s so easy now to get an image, but that’s only 5% of what we do. The other 95% is in deciding about the narrative aspects of an image, the composition, the movement and light and color. That’s a prerogative of the cinematographer that was there in the beginning, and it will always be there, and it should be respected.”

Ellen Kuras (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), a member of the ASC since the late 1990s, says it has been valuable to her as a source of peer support, and, as technology has changed, as a defender of artist rights. “Filmmaking is increasingly open to a lot more people, many of whom are not necessarily versed in the craft,” says Kuras, a cinematographer on Martin Scorsese’s upcoming “Rolling Thunder Revue” documentary and one of the directors of “Catch-22.”

“The ASC’s role in deciding how we handle the technology, how we standardize it and draw the boundaries, is very important for maintaining artistic integrity. When access to the tools was limited, the creative aspect of our work was more protected. As a large, influential body of artists speaking with a unified voice that counts for something, the ASC can make a stand, and defend the integrity of our work.”

For Academy-Award nominee Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Dunkirk,” “Interstellar,” “Spectre”), the society’s initials always had a magic ring.
“When I was studying in Poland, old issues of the magazine were passed from student to student,” he says. “The ASC Manual was undoubtedly one of my most valuable possessions. Not only was the ASC a club made up of people who created unattainable camera heroics, but it represented knowledge and the commitment to carry that wisdom further.”

Even though “its membership is comprised of the biggest names, it’s not turned inward in exclusivity,” he says, “and is constantly reaching beyond to both learn and educate. The biggest pleasure and benefit of my membership today is exactly that: sharing knowledge with colleagues,” says Van Hoytema.

That instinct for cooperation, alive in 1919, still animates the ASC a century later as it goes forward.

More Artisans

  • Game of Thrones Iceland TV Incentives

    Iceland Offers Productions Majestic Landscapes, Stunning Architecture and a 25% Rebate

    Few places on Earth contain the natural majesty of Iceland. The Nordic island, nestled between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, holds some of the most breathtaking natural wonders on the planet: the fiery pyrotechnics of live volcanoes, steam curling up from natural hot springs, vertiginous drops from oceanside cliffs and waterfalls cascading into [...]

  • Schitt's Creek Wigs

    'Schitt's Creek': Inside Moira Rose's Iconic Wig Collection

    Moira Rose, the family matriarch of cult classic “Schitt’s Creek,” is known for several things: her pronunciation of the word “bebe,” her love for her TV family (and sometimes Alexis) and her countless vibrant wigs. Played by the always delightful Catherine O’Hara, each episode (and wig) is a joy to witness on screen. “I think [...]

  • Kira Kelly Cinematographer Queen Sugar

    'Queen Sugar' DP on How Ava DuVernay Encourages Creativity on the OWN Series

    Cinematographer Kira Kelly, who earned an Emmy nomination for her work on Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” feels that her time spent on nonfiction projects over the past two decades has improved her ability to cope with the demands of shooting narrative fare.  The scaled-down resources — often just Kelly and maybe a focus puller or a [...]

  • 'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Fashioned 1980s'

    'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Put a Decadent Twist on Opulent ’80s Style

    Set against the backdrop of London’s early-1980s cultural renaissance, British auteur Joanna Hogg’s exquisitely sculpted and critically acclaimed “The Souvenir,” which A24 has been widening in platform release for the past month, follows film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her gradually destructive romance with the magnetic Anthony (Tom Burke). “We didn’t want a film [...]

  • Legion

    How Production Designer Marco Niro Created a Visual Climax for FX's ‘Legion’

    FX’s “Legion” has always drawn inspiration not only from the Marvel “X-Men” comics on which it is based, but also from the weirder corners of pop culture. When creator Noah Hawley cast “Downton Abbey” star Dan Stevens as the lead — David Haller, a mutant whose telepathic powers have been misdiagnosed as mental illness — [...]

  • Luciano Pavarotti

    Ron Howard Turned to Editor Paul Crowder to Make His 'Pavarotti' Documentary Sing

    Ron Howard is fast becoming a noted music documentarian: His 2016 film, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — the Touring Years,” released by Abramorama in theaters and Hulu on television, was a Grammy winner. His follow-up is “Pavarotti,” a doc about the man who became one of the most successful and beloved opera singers in [...]

  • Lesley Barber Film Composer

    How 'Late Night' Composer Lesley Barber Channeled Paul Shaffer for Talk-Show Theme

    When director Nisha Ganatra started planning “Late Night,” the new Emma Thompson-Mindy Kaling film about a failing late-night network talk show, she knew she’d need a house band and a theme for the program. Her first call was to composer Lesley Barber (“Manchester by the Sea”), with whom she had worked a few years ago on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content