When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Joan of Arc (1948). I was 11, and I watched Ingrid Bergman in a Long Beach theater twice a weekend for a month. I also loved the Buck Rogers serials.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
The work of Robert Surtees [ASC] was the real deal, realism on the screen, much like the work of Haskell Wexler [ASC]. Also, who could forget Billy Fraker [ASC], Ph.D.?
What sparked your interest in photography?
I always seemed to have a camera in my hand. I had nine aunts and uncles and 25 cousins in Los Angeles, and I was designated the family photographer.
Where did you train and/or study?
I studied fine-art photography at Los Angeles City College, and then I studied cinema at USC and did a final year in UCLA’s theater-arts program.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Ralph Woolsey [ASC] was my main cinematography teacher at USC, and Robert Surtees kept me on the straight path as my mentor. He mentored me while he was training his son, Bruce.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
Raphael’s natural-light paintings, Edward Weston’s black-and-white prints, and the work of Charis Wilson, Weston’s wife, muse and printer.
How did you get your first break in the business?
In my first year after college, I shot a documentary short about Craig Breedlove’s land-speed record, The Spirit of America, which was nominated for an Academy Award. I met Nelson Tyler and other great pilots like Dave Jones, James Gavin and John Sarviss. I was typed as ‘a jock cinematographer’ and was picked to shoot second unit for Micky Moore, the greatest second-unit director; we made 30 action films together over 35 years. John Sarviss and I are still shooting aerials after 28 years as a team, most recently for Jack Green [ASC] on Left Behind.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Seeing an entire audience jump out of its chairs during Jaws when the dead man’s head appeared in the hole in the side of the fisherman’s boat. I was the underwater cinematographer, and we shot that in [editor] Verna Fields’ swimming pool after the answer print was finished!
Have you made any memorable blunders?
I made arrangements to do a short film with Marlon Brando on his Tahitian island during his son’s 12th birthday party. The location was a rundown dental clinic given to Marlon and his wife. The idea was to film Marlon as he walked around and explained the history of the flowers growing there, the clinic and his family village. The Kodachrome I loaded in the camera was the wrong speed. Enough said.
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘Never say no!’
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Storaro’s Scrivere con la Luce (Writing with Light) trilogy and Zoom magazine, the finest in fine-arts photography.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
Anything black-and-white. I love to experiment with digital cameras like the Red Epic-M Monochrome.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I would be a practicing artist and teaching fine-art black-and-white photography.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Vilmos Zsigmond and Owen Roizman.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
It has allowed me to associate with the world’s best cinematographers. I’m proud to be a member of the good ol’ boys, as Conrad Hall [ASC] used to say. Cinematographers are a brotherhood.