When you were a child, which film made the strongest impression on you?
Many films of the late ’30s and ’40s impressed me. It’s hard to pick just one, but some notable black-and-white pictures that come to mind are Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Long Voyage Home, The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Magnificent Ambersons. The incredible look of Technicolor was evident in Gone With the Wind, which was outstanding in a time of black-and-white.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
As my career was starting, I particularly admired ASC members Gregg Toland, Harry Stradling Sr., Lee Garmes, Ernie Haller, Stanley Cortez and Hal Rosson, and BSC members Freddie Young, Jack Cardiff, Geoffrey Unsworth and Guy Green. Some present-day cinematographers I appreciate are [ASC members] Allen Daviau, Haskell Wexler, John Seale, John Toll, Jack Green, Gordon Willis, Owen Roizman and the late Connie Hall.
What sparked your interest in photography?
At first, photography was just a hobby. I was hoping to be a naval architect but my math was not up to par, so I was advised to change my major. I switched to the High School of Industrial Arts in New York City, which then was the only school in the country that taught both still photography and filmmaking. I majored in photography and eventually segued into film.
Where did you study and/or train?
During my last year of high school, I took a part-time job that later became a full-time position with a commercial/industrial film company called Hartley Productions. I got a ground-floor, hands-on education on everything related to filmmaking, in 16mm and 35mm. I remained there for 11/2 years and then became a freelance assistant cameraman; I worked on commercials, documentaries, industrials and, eventually, feature films and television.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
I was fortunate to work with the marvelous documentary cinematographer Peter Glushanok, and also with ASC members Torben Johnke, Joseph Brun, Gerald Hirschfeld, Jack Priestley, Harry Stradling Sr. and Lee Garmes. These were my mentors and teachers as I came up through the ranks, and I learned a great deal from each of them.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
I worked with some of the top directors in the business and absorbed their techniques, and we worked together to achieve the artistic effects they desired. I enjoyed collaborating closely with directors to achieve a mutual understanding about lighting and composition in order to make their films as interesting and exciting as possible.
How did you get your first break in the business?
I was recommended by a cinematographer named Jack Etra, whom I had assisted, to shoot a pair of television documentaries about two West African nations emerging from colonial rule. It was an exhilarating experience, and I’m very proud of those films.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
On most projects, the satisfaction came from knowing I had done my very best. While shooting the series Kojak in New York, I worked with many different directors and often received their praise for a job well done. My work on that show led to three of my five Emmy nominations.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
I was in London shooting some commercials, and the director wanted a scene lit in a very low key that suited his eye. I tried to explain that the exposure would not be sufficient, but he insisted I shoot it his way. Sure enough, the result was unacceptable, and I got the blame. The lesson? In most cases, you should follow your instincts.
What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
From Harry Stradling Sr.: ‘Never be afraid to take a chance. It may be the best thing you ever did.’
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
I currently teach cinematography at one of the local colleges on Long Island, which allows me to screen many of the older pictures that inspired me. Films like Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil and Paths of Glory remain just as significant today, and they are excellent learning tools for aspiring filmmakers. There are many well-photographed contemporary films, but a few that come to mind are the Godfather trilogy, Road to Perdition, The Girl With the Pearl Earring and A Very Long Engagement. Each projects to the viewer a definite feel for the eras of their stories. One of my favorite inspirational artists is Edward Hopper, whose published works illustrate many of the elements of lighting, color and composition that influenced my work.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
It’s hard to say. What I admire is when a cinematographer can replicate a look of a certain period, as Eduardo Serra, ASC, AFC did in The Girl With the Pearl Earring.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I probably would have been stuck with my father as a partner in his garment business, which I detested! My father was great, though, and he became very proud of my success in the film business. It wasn’t ‘my son, the doctor,’ it was ‘my son, the cinematographer!’
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Gerald Perry Finnerman and Harry Stradling Sr.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
In 1943, I read my first issue of American Cinematographer, which featured many of the fine cinematographers of the time. I knew right then that I wanted to be an ASC member, which became one of my career goals. The day I was accepted was one of the most memorable of my life. The camaraderie of being in the company of such talented individuals is something I never expected, and I’m honored and happy to be a part of such a distinguished society. To top it off, I am proud to note that my son, Michael Negrin, is also a member.