Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers

Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers

Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers

Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers

Synopsis

Through conversations held with fifteen of the most accomplished contemporary cinematographers, the authors explore the working world of the person who controls the visual look and style of a film. This reissue includes a new foreword by cinematographer John Bailey and a new preface by the authors, which bring this classic guide to cinematography, in print for more than twenty-five years, into the twenty-first century.

Excerpt

Near the end of his interview in Masters of Light, the Hungarian cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond responds to a question about how difficult it was for him and his friend Laszlo Kovacs to break into the mainstream of Hollywood studio movies in the 1970s. “I always tell them [students] that it will take ten years,” he begins. “Very few people find themselves becoming a cameraman after finishing usc or ucla. Very seldom will you become a cameraman in less than ten years.”

Masters of Light was published in 1984. What Zsigmond affirmed then was accurate. He and Kovacs had come up through low-budget, nonunion filmmaking, shooting action and thriller films for the B and drive-in markets. When the studio system fractured into a kind of chaos with the “youth quake” of the 1960s, young cinematographers such as John Alonzo and Mario Tosi were well positioned to walk into a moribund structure. They were also influenced by the aesthetic and technical revolution of the European New Wave, whose influence was then breaking on American shores. Several of those young European cinematographers, such as Nestor Almendros and Vittorio Storaro, benefited from this shake-up in the American industry and began parallel careers in the American mainstream: Almendros with the directors Robert Benton, Monte Hellman, and Terence Malick; Storaro with Francis Coppola and Warren Beatty. Two other American-born cinematographers, Conrad Hall and William Fraker, gained prominence by coming up through the union ranks. There is a famous photo of Hall, Fraker, Bobby Byrne, and Jordan Cronenweth as the union camera crew on Richard Brooks’s western The Professionals. Haskell Wexler, ever the rebel, clawed his way in through lowbudget films in the late 1950s, garnering his first Oscar for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a movie whose documentary style and harsh lighting of the stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton inflamed the conservative old guard. Wexler and Hall closed ranks from their differing origins in forming a successful company for tv commercials. Gordon Willis also began his career shooting commercials and documentaries, but he, too, spent many years as an assistant cameraman. For my own part, I began working on nonunion and nabet (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians) features as a camera assistant. Even . . .

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