When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
It has to be It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Blame it on the Southern drive-in and all the Saturday nights my parents took me to the movies.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Mother Nature at magic hour and sunrise. As for mortals, [ASC members] Owen Roizman, Vilmos Zsigmond and Vittorio Storaro have inspired me as a human being and as a cinematographer.
What sparked your interest in photography?
Growing up in provincial Georgia and then being exposed to a vibrant, global culture in Montreal opened my eyes to escapism through photography.
Where did you train and/or study?
Ohio University, the Maine Media Workshops, and Atlanta film companies where I spent summers working for free.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
At Ohio University, Joseph Anderson (an assistant director for Kurosawa) and David Prince. In Maine, Vilmos Zsigmond, direct from Mobile, Ala., after Close Encounters.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
My mother’s garden and the color, architecture and composition of her flower arrangements (Ikebana), and a Pygmy hut in Uganda with its light and shadows.
How did you get your first break in the business?
Monroe Askins, ASC plucked me to be a loader (my first time) on a film in Atlanta, House on Skull Mountain. Monroe emphasized that every position on the crew was important and integral. I never looked back!
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
I was in Bratislava, observing through the Moviecam Compact’s short eyepiece (with fluid head) as Rutger Hauer played with the light I had created, stepping in and out of the shadows. I was smitten.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
I once used ‘green’ HMIs that couldn’t be dialed out on an ancient stone stairway, which you can see forever in the movie Omega Doom! From then on, I always checked for color temperature depending on the age of the bulb.
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
At the bottom of a silver mine in Park City, Utah, 1½ miles underground, Garland Wilde intoned, ‘Don’t be afraid of the dark.’ You can take that advice anywhere.
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
The James Turrell retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He’s a cinematographer from the future/past. Oh, how he writes with light. Also, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which I recently read from cover to cover. I was imbued with windmills, brio, and boundless spirit, the ethic of every cinematographer.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
A 70mm Ben-Hur-style home movie in silvery black-and-white starring my family, Pablo, Milena, Robert and Rachel. Growth spurts and relationships in the spirit of the Marx Brothers!
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I’d be the fifth Beatle, a soccer coach for FC Barcelona, or a pilot for Virgin Intergalactic.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Michael Goi, Ken Zunder, Bob Primes and Vilmos Zsigmond.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
When I pull up to the ASC Clubhouse and the gate opens for me, I smile broadly. It opened for me! I enter among giants; I enter among equals. A feeling of wholeness comes over me. Being invited into the yurt of cameramen creates a calmness and sense of peace. The ASC recognizes our eternal youth as cinematographers, and I must live fully … and with loyalty, progress and artistry.