When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
As a boy in London, the Bond films were a thrill. The Magnificent Seven (1960) also made a big impression on me. Then came French film, Truffaut and Godard particularly.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Geoffrey Unsworth [BSC] came from very conventional black-and-white movies yet somehow evolved into a magnificent color cinematographer; Cabaret and Tess are extraordinary. I can watch [BSC member] Guy Green’s work in Oliver Twist again and again, as well as Bob Krasker’s unforgettable work in the The Third Man. Recently, I watched an original print of Max Ophüls’ La Ronde, with magnificent cinematography by Christian Matras. So many films, so little time.
What sparked your interest in photography?
I seem to have been born with it. I remember, as a child of maybe 5, watching in dismay as my father tried to load an 8mm camera.
Where did you train and/or study?
Guildford School of Photography, but I dropped out to work as a photographer on Fleet Street. Later, I studied film at the Royal College of Art London.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Karel Reisz gave me wonderful advice in which he enjoined me to spend more time lighting the actors than the sets.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
The photography of Irving Penn, Robert Capa and Edward Steichen; the reportage photography of Life Magazine and Paris Match from 1935 to 1975; the landscapes of Joseph Turner; and, of course, the Post-Impressionists. Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is the painting I’d most like to steal.
How did you get your first break in the business?
I was smuggled into an animation company in London by a friend who got me into the British union as a Rostrum cameraman.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Being kissed on both cheeks by Mike Nichols after rather good dailies on Angels in America.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
Many. They never seem to stop.
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
My gaffer in England, Martin Evans, advised me to say nothing during the first three weeks of production, to just watch and listen. I wish I had followed his advice more closely.
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Book: Matterhorn by Karl Malantes. Film: Although not recent, Casque d’Or (1952) by Jacques Becker, which I saw for the first time two weeks ago at the Pacific Film Archive. Artwork: Man Ray and Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism, an exhibition in San Francisco.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I would like to shoot a documentary again. I haven’t shot one in decades.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I would be an emergency-room physician.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Howard Schwartz, Jordan Cronenweth and Vilmos Zsigmond.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
I have always been something of a loner, and ASC membership has brought me into the company of many fine cinematographers whom I greatly admire.