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Return to Table of Contents March 2009 Return to Table of Contents
TV Series
Robert F. Liu, ASC
Isidore Mankofsky, ASC
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Peter Wunstorf
Peter Wunstorf, ASC


When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
A Clockwork Orange (1971) had a profound effect on me. I sat in the lobby afterwards and just knew I was going to make films.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?

ASC members Gordon Willis, Rodrigo Prieto and Harris Savides, and so many more. Prieto is continually doing something fresh and new. Savides is forever simple and elegant, often using old-school methods. And Willis’ work in Klute, the Godfather films, Pennies From Heaven, and his eight films with Woody Allen is meaningful, innovative and so right for the story; his influence can still be felt today.

What sparked your interest in photography?
My father made 8mm home movies, and I started to experiment with his camera. I set up a studio in the attic and made a science-fiction film complete with in-camera titles, effects and exploding galaxies.

Where did you train and/or study?

I was not formally trained, so I learned mainly through reading books at the public library. It was there I discovered American Cinematographer; the library had bound volumes of back issues. After high school, I started knocking on doors. There was an opening at CKRD, a small-town TV station. I had nothing to show, but they needed to hire someone quickly. I realized early on how important a good attitude is.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

Ken Hewlett, CSC; Harvey LaRocque; and Suzanne Whitney taught me how to tell story with a camera and set me on the path to lighting. I will also always remember my high-school teachers Mr. Adams and Mr. Macarthur for their love of teaching and ability to connect with students.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

The work and ideas of Gordon Willis, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Edward Hopper, Egon Schiele, Thomas Eakins and Rembrandt, many photographers, and a lot of music.

How did you get your first break in the business?
It was on a movie called Hyper Sapien, photographed by John Coquillon, BSC. They needed an extra loader, and I was thrown into the hot seat. John was very encouraging. He was always sharing stories and explaining why he was doing things. It was a wonderful experience.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
A scene in which a little boy stands in a dark hallway leading to the afterlife, not the usual white light. Looking through the viewfinder, I realized it was exactly how I’d imagined it on my first read of the script. It came together effortlessly with two lights and a fluorescent practical.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
During filming of the pilot for Millennium, we were shooting in a strip-club set, and I arrived right at call time. I still needed to take some light off the walls but succumbed to the pressure to shoot. The next morning, I was called into the camera truck and had to explain why the shot didn’t look like I’d said it would.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘Be yourself.’ I was about to interview for the aforementioned pilot, and I was nervous. My good friend Dominique Fortin said, ‘Just be yourself; they will like you.’ I didn’t try to fake it. I thought it went badly, but in prep, the producer told me, ‘You came in and only spoke about the work, and that’s all Chris Carter cared about.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

Photographer Todd Hido, Edvard Munch at MoMA, The Spirit of the Beehive, and those early films by Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist, ASC, which I’d never seen. Also, authors Eckhart Tolle and James Hollis.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?

I would love to do an old-fashioned vampire film in black-and-white (no CGI or flying cameras), a hopelessly romantic love story, and a Woody Allen movie.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?

Hmmm … can you get paid for cooking and entertaining? Also, the more I get to know people, the more interested I become in psychology. Aren’t cinematographers also part-time psychologists?

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Steven Poster, John Bartley and Alan Caso.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

To become a member of the ASC is the greatest honor and very humbling. I’ve met some of my heroes, and they are such gentlemen. My first time in the ASC Clubhouse as a member, I mentioned Bullitt to William Fraker, ASC, and his eyes lit up. He spoke about it with such enthusiasm it was as if he’d photographed it yesterday! I look forward to meeting other members.

 

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