When I connected with Dennis Smith, ASC, he was flying his mother, age 84, to Provo, Utah, to visit family, including her 10-month-old great-granddaughter, whom she would be seeing for the first time. Dennis says that getting his pilot’s license at age 59 was like going back to medical school. “It’s so learning-intensive. Eighty percent of what you learn is not necessary to fly an airplane, but you need to know it in order to pass the written test, the verbal interview and the practical flying test. Flying is a freedom that has shrunk my world. My wife has relatives up in the Bay Area, and we’ll hop in the plane and get there in 90 minutes instead of doing a five-hour drive; we’ll have lunch, visit for the day and come back. I can fly to San Luis Obispo or Rancho Murrieta and have breakfast with a friend. It’s spiritually freeing to break the bounds of gravity and get up there where you can clear your head and leave everything behind.”
Joaquin Sedillo, ASC, recently finished a five-year run that included shooting more than 50 episodes of Glee. When the show was on hiatus, he would wrap Glee on a Friday, head to the airport, and start shooting the following Monday in Atlanta on Single Ladies or another production. How does he maintain the energy? In part, he says, he gets inspiration from mentoring young filmmakers. Among the many aspiring cinematographers he has helped are interns in a program run by the Television Academy Foundation.
The director-cinematographer relationship is often compared to a marriage. For Checco Varese, ASC, this definition is sometimes literal. He recently completed work on The 33, directed by his wife, Patricia Riggen. The film, which stars Antonio Banderas, tells the story of the 33 miners who were trapped underground in Chile for 69 days in 2010.
Tobias Schliessler, ASC, spoke with me during a break from his 11-week prep for Beauty and the Beast, a live-action musical based on Disney’s 1991 movie, which won two Oscars and became the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture. The live-action version is being directed by Bill Condon and will include extensive CGI for dancing candlesticks and the like. Careful planning in framing, blocking and choreography, all timed to the music, is required. The 17th century setting means a lot of candlelight and torchlight, and Tobias is reteaming with Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, the theatrical lighting designers he worked with on Condon’s Dreamgirls (2006).