When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
I was 11 when I saw a 16mm screening of On the Waterfront (1954) in a crowded church-basement hall in Montclair, N.J. The film’s visceral, organic, in-the-moment feel had a profound impact on me.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Conrad Hall, ASC, for being a brilliant, eclectic visual storyteller; Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC, for his operatic camera and inspired use of color; Gordon Willis, ASC, for his bold, expressionistic camera and daring in the world of darkness; Chris Menges, ASC, BSC, for exquisite location photography and catching the moment; and Chris Doyle, HKSC, for his anarchist visual energy and celebration of beauty.
What sparked your interest in photography?
I recall struggling with a Bell & Howell projector that seemed twice my size in elementary school, going up and down stairs to screen films for the primary-school kids. The power of the image it projected made a very strong impression on me.
Where did you train and/or study?
I double-majored in mass communications and international relations in college, and during my senior year, I decided my future was in motion pictures — it encompassed my interest in arts and humanities, as well as my passion for photography. I went on to New York University’s graduate-film program.
Who were your early mentors?
Director Lee Rothberg, who hailed from the ‘golden age’ of television and was also an ace camera operator with a terrific eye for composition and a great feel for camera movement. Also, a gaffer named Bill Lister honed my knowledge of lighting with both hard and soft sources.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
Growing up in a household of professional opera singers gave me a deep appreciation for and love of music. My father never really understood the filmmaking process until I took him into an editing room. There, he came to understand how time signature and tempo, phrasing and color, and mood and tone influence my medium. When I’m doing research for a project, I reference artists such as Caravaggio, Edward Hopper, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Gordon Parks, depending on what’s appropriate for the project.
How did you get your first break in the business?
I saw an ad tacked on the school bulletin board that said ‘PA/Stage Manager Wanted.’ I turned up at Lee Rothberg’s commercial-production house and almost walked out when I saw 20 other starving students standing around the lobby.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
In 1993, while working on HBO’s documentary Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World, I was escorted to a secret location in Johannesburg, South Africa. When Nelson Mandela, who was soon to be the first freely elected president of South Africa, walked into the room, I was completely taken by his aura. He could immediately read the people around him and make them comfortable.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
It was a World Wildlife Fund documentary shoot in El Salvador. In Miami, I packed extra batteries and a charger with the lighting and grip equipment. We arrived in El Salvador, but our equipment stayed in Miami. As our van chugged through San Salvador, all we found were heavily armed soldiers and very out-of-date batteries that weren’t compatible with our camera equipment. Fortunately, we were able to jerry-rig the batteries to our partially cannibalized camera. When you’re going to a third-world country, always keep your equipment with you!
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Lee Rothberg’s mantra: ‘Keep calm, cool and collected at all times.’
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Music: Alexa Wilding’s recent release, Bridges. (She’s my daughter!) Books: Emerson: Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr., and The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Art: Neue Galerie’s exhibition Brücke: The Birth of Expressionism in Dresden and Berlin, 1905-1913.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
A fantasy, a period piece and a Western.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Sol Negrin, Gerald Feil and Wally Pfister.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
Through ASC members past and present, I have the ability to tap into the history of an industry I love. There’s something magical about when we get together and talk about what we do. There is camaraderie, but there is also the important ability to access a fellow ASC member if I’m backed into a corner and need help.