By Debra Kaufman
LOS ANGELES—The 30th ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography were held on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2015, at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, where 1,600 black-tie-clad cinematographers, industry experts and their guests were in attendance. Organized by ASC Awards Chairman and former ASC President Daryn Okada, ASC, the ceremony was again co-hosted by the inimitable Matthew Libatique, ASC and Delphine Figueras.
Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC won in the Theatrical Release category for his spectacular work on The Revenant. The award was presented by actor Javier Bardem; this marks the third consecutive win for Lubezki, who won last year for Birdman and the previous year for Gravity. Lubezki has also won in the feature category for The Tree of Life and Children of Men, making him the most awarded cinematographer to date in the ASC’s feature-film category.
“From my perspective, shooting Revenant was an amazing experience,” said Lubezki. “The most important thing was to have Alejandro [González Iñárritu] as director — his passion, his incredible energy. I have to share a big, big chunk of the award with him for taking me on that incredible journey.” He also gave a shout-out to actor Leonardo DiCaprio and many members of his crew.
The Television Series Award — which was presented by Drunk History creator and executive producer Derek Waters — went to Vanja Černjul, ASC, HFC, for the Marco Polo episode “The Fourth Step.” He thanked “everyone at Netflix and, of course, this amazing organization,” as well as “someone whose presence is missed tonight,” the late Haskell Wexler, ASC, who wrote a letter of recommendation for Černjul to attend the graduate film program at New York University, “an act that changed my life.”
Pierre Gill, CSC accepted the Television Movie/Miniseries/Pilot award — presented by actor Jamie Lee Curtis — for the Amazon pilot Casanova. Gill noted that in 2004, when he won an ASC Award for his work on Hitler: The Rise of Evil, he said from the podium that he wanted to shoot film until the end of his life. “That did not happen,” he noted wryly. “I was too young or naïve.” Thanking the director, producer and crew as well as Arri, Sony and Colorfront, Gill accepted the award as “the biggest honor for a cinematographer.”
The ASC Spotlight Award, which honors great cinematography in independent, foreign or art-house films, was presented by Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC. The award was a tie between Adam Arkapaw (who was unable to attend), for Macbeth, and Mátyás Erdély, HSC, for Son of Saul. “This is my friend’s first feature film, and we had a very limited budget but great ambition,” says Erdély, referring to director László Nemes. “We wanted to utilize the language of film to tell the story. … We shot on film and finished photochemically, because we felt it was the most immersive experience that the viewer could get. This is our responsibility as cinematographers: to keep film alive as an option, not just for now but for future generations.”
The ASC Presidents Award, which honors ASC members who have excelled at their craft while making significant contributions to the Society, went to Bill Bennett, ASC. Bennett thanked his mentor — and the award’s presenter — Ron Dexter, ASC, as well as “all of the crewmembers, camera assistants, grips, gaffers, prop managers, set builders, the hair and makeup artists, and many more” who helped him create “terrific-looking images.”
“One of the primary missions of the ASC is to pass on what we know about the art of cinematography to the next generations,” he said. “I can never repay my mentor, Ron, for all of the brilliance and experience he imparted to me, but it is contingent upon me, and all the rest of my fellow members, to repay our teachers by mentoring young cinematographers.” He noted that not all the lessons Ron taught were specifically about cinematography. “Sometimes the best lessons were how to work with the people around you to achieve the best result,” he said. “It’s not just about the cinematography, but also figuring out how to best ‘get the shot in the can.’”
Lowell Peterson, ASC — whose credits include Jane the Virgin, Desperate Housewives, Six Feet Under and Knots Landing — was honored with the ASC Career Achievement in Television Award. Accepting the honor from Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez, Peterson reminisced how his love of films was ignited when his older sister took him to the movies and he first saw Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind. Thanking his mentors — particularly Robert F. Liu, ASC and Edward R. Brown, ASC — Peterson noted that he’s worked with four of the previous ASC Career Achievement honorees: Society members Liu, George Spiro Dibie, Michael D. O’Shea and John C. Flinn III.
“It’s probably no coincidence that so many of us started at MTM, which set a new standard for television in the 1970s and 1980s,” he said. “My dream job would have been as a contract-DP at Warner Bros. in the 1940s. … The closest thing today is probably a television-series cameraman, where you can work for 10 years or longer with the family that creates a show.” He thanked his “on-set family” of operators, assistants, key grip and longtime gaffer. He also noted that learning to light actresses well can lead to a long, fruitful career. “There’s a reason I survived eight seasons on Desperate Housewives,” he joked.
Geena Davis presented the ASC’s Board of Governors Award, which salutes a non-cinematographer who has significantly advanced the art and craft of filmmaking, to “the only director she’s driven off a cliff for,” Ridley Scott. Scott was on location and unable to attend the event, but sent a videotaped message. “I’ve learned my craft from directing commercials, which gave me many opportunities to experiment and learn about camera,” he began. Noting that he has always loved the camera process, Scott then named many of the cinematographers he has worked with, and added that he wished he could have been at the event. “It’s a real honor,” he concluded.
Following a tribute reel in memory of the ASC members who died during the past year, Society President Richard Crudo saluted the associate members who passed away during that time. Crudo expressed deep appreciation for the ASC’s associate members, and he also thanked everyone who contributed to putting on the evening’s event — which he compared to a moon launch — including Carly Barber at Illumination Dynamics, Tom Fletcher, Frank Kay of J.L. Fisher, Larry Parker of Mole Richardson, and Bob Hoffman and “the good folks at Technicolor.” He also gave “a great big hug to my colleague and good pal, Committee Chairman Daryn Okada.”
The Bud Stone Award of Distinction, which honors “someone who has made an extraordinary contribution in advancing cinematography,” was presented to Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s EVP of Asset Management, Film Restoration & Digital Mastering. “I can’t accept this award without acknowledging the real collaborators in preservation and restoration throughout the years — the technicians who have expertise at the film labs we’ve worked at for years and years,” said Crisp, recounting how Bud Stone was the first lab person he met in Hollywood. Mentioning FotoKem and YCM in Los Angeles and Cineric in New York, he urged those in the audience to support these few remaining labs. “People ask when I’ll be finished with what I do,” he said. “It never ends! If we don’t have a policy and program in place to preserve the film in our vaults, future generations will not benefit.”
The 2015 Gordon Willis Heritage Award ceremony, which was held at the Clubhouse this past September, honored Nicolas Aguilar Ketchum from Chapman University, Rob W. Scribner from Full Sail University, and Steven Holloway from American University. The 2016 Student Heritage Award will be named after the late Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC. The ASC’s Board of Governors has also decided to honor Haskell Wexler, ASC, by naming the Student Documentary Award after him.
Academy Award-winning makeup artist Lois Burwell presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to her husband, John Toll, ASC. Toll recalled how he remembered the first ASC Awards, because he was the camera operator on the first ASC feature film winner, Peggy Sue Got Married, photographed by Society member Jordan Cronenweth. Noting that he has too many people to thank to name them all, he said a collective thank you to “the directors of photography that I worked with as a member of their crews,” which he called his film school, as well as the directors and producers “who gave me the opportunities to do the work, and when it was all going right, with whom I shared a deep collaborative spirit.”
He also thanked the camera, grip and lighting crews as his main support, as well as the people in postproduction who “edit, preserve or reproduce the fantastic images that cinematographers work so hard to create,” and the people who manufacture or supply all the equipment that cinematographers use. “Some of us have been doing this for 40 years or more, but we all come back for more,” he said. “I’m doing a job this year that shoots in 13 different countries on every continent on the planet except Antarctica! That’s a little crazy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”