When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
In the mid-1950s, I saw a little Western called The Ride Back, shot by Joseph Biroc, ASC. I was so entranced by it that I went back to see it five times. It’s a very simple story in black-and-white, but the visual impression it made has stayed with me ever since.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Four have truly moved and inspired me with their vision: Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC; Néstor Almendros, ASC; Sacha Vierny; and Sven Nykvist, ASC. In their hands, the simplest of tools produce the most emotionally moving images.
What sparked your interest in photography?
I had a Bell & Howell Filmo Turret-8 from about the age of 10, and I shot and developed all my own black-and-white film. I was mostly interested in filming locomotives! When the very first edition of the American Cinematographer Manual came out, in 1960, I grabbed it. Everything changed. It was a window into a new world! I pretty much memorized it.
Where did you train and/or study?
In 1963, I was majoring in bacteriology at UCLA — I nearly have a degree in it! — when one day, I had an epiphany: I should be studying film! And from that day on, that’s what I did. I was privileged to be in the UCLA film school when ASC members Charles Clarke and James Wong Howe were teaching there.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
I count five: My mother and father, who showed me how to draw; Charles and Ray Eames, who taught me how to see; and Stephen Burum, ASC, who showed me what it takes to be part of the camera team.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
I love the painters Georges de La Tour, Harvey Dinnerstein and John Sloan, and the photographers David Plowden, Michikazu Sakai and Brassaï. The light, composition and style within their works have been inspirations to me.
How did you get your first break in the business?
Just out of the Army, I worked for Charles Eames for 11 years, doing every kind of photography, but my first break into ‘real’ movies was in 1978, when John Dykstra [ASC] called from Apogee to ask if I wanted to come work for him on ‘this screwy thing we’re doing called Battlestar Galactica.’ I’ve been doing effects photography ever since!
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
I think that any time one can work with a talented and enthusiastic crew, shooting something we really have faith in, is memorable.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
Quite a few, and almost every one was because I didn’t listen to somebody who knew more than I did. Listen! Heed!
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘Never ask the crew to undo something they have already done!’ And, ‘Always finish the day leaving a shot ready to start right away the next morning.’
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
I eagerly read everything that Jasper Fforde writes. What a great imagination (and he used to be a first AC)! Also, I’ve just finished reading Craig Cabell’s Dennis Wheatley: Churchill’s Storyteller and Tjeerd Van Andel’s Tales of an Old Ocean.
Do you have any favorite genre, or genres you would like to try?
I’d like to shoot a feature-length stop-motion puppet film and/or just about any project directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I’d love to be on the scientific staff of a marine research vessel. I haven’t lost my love for the sciences!
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Stephen Burum, Mat Beck and Peter Anderson.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
Being accepted into the ASC is absolutely the highest honor a cameraman can receive, and it has been a dream of mine, now fulfilled, for as long as I have been in film.