Magazine article American Cinematographer

An American Film Institute Seminar with Haskell Wexler, Asc: Part 1

Magazine article American Cinematographer

An American Film Institute Seminar with Haskell Wexler, Asc: Part 1

Article excerpt

The winner of this year's golden Oscar for "Best Cinematography" (and one other before that) discusses techniques, film stocks, photographic styles . . . and pantyhose

As perhaps the most important aspect of education for the Fellows in training as film-makers, historians and critics at its Center for Advanced Film Studies, located in Beverly Hills, California, the American Film Institute sponsors conferences and seminars with top technicians and talent of the Hollywood film industry. These men and women, outstanding professionals in their respective arts and crafts of the Cinema, donate generously of their time and expertise in order to pass on to the potential cinema professionals of tomorrow the benefits of their vast and valuable experience.

In keeping with this tradition, Cameraman's Local 659 (IATSE) sponsors a continuing series of seminars with ace cinematographers. These men - both contemporary working Directors of Photography and some of the now-retired "greats" of the past - meet informally with the Fellows at Greystone, the magnificent estate which is the headquarters of the AFI (West), to present valuable information on cinematographic techniques and answer questions posed to them. Very efficiently introducing and moderating each of the individual seminars is "Emmy" Award-winning Director of Photography Howard Schwartz, ASC.

Through a special arrangement with The American Film Institute and Local 659, American Cinematographer will, from time to time, publish excerpted transcripts from these seminars, so that readers of this publication may also receive the benefits of the information conveyed.

The dialogue which follows (the first segment of a two-part series) has been excerpted from the A.F.I, seminar featuring two-time Academy Award-winning Cinematographer Haskell Wexler, ASC. The seminar followed a screening of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, on which he was Director of Photography:

QUESTION: I was wondering why you were credited as Visual Consultant and not Director of Photography on AMERICAN GRAFFITI?

WEXLER: I chose to be credited that way. I sort of helped George Lucas get started in film. I used to race cars, and George was interested in car racing, and I met him there and encouraged him to go to film school. On AMERICAN GRAFFITI they had shot one or two nights, and George felt insecure - unjustifiably - about the direction as much as the filming of it. When he asked me, I told him I would come up and shoot the film for him, but it was to be his film. So I did; I was there except for the first two nights. He had two very competent newsreel guys who were working with him, and I think they could have made the film. Maybe it would not have looked the same way, but they would have done a good job. But he just didn't feel secure. I did help him some with the actors - mostly holding Richard Dreyfuss down from overacting. You understand that the decision about credits was made before it was a big, successful hit picture. When it was finished we thought we had made another fast "B" picture. So I said, "George, just put me down as Visual Consultant." I didn't want to have anything on the screen that might take away from him, just because of our relationship. He said, "Fine, " and then he gave me three-and-a-half percent of the picture - which I did not ask for - and he was very generous with everyone who worked on the film. He gave Verna Fields a new BMW. When the film started to make money he didn't forget the people who had helped him, and he was very generous.

HOWARD SCHWARTZ: That picture was shot in Techniscope, in case you weren't aware of it.

WEXLER: Yes, and everything in the picture was pushed one stop. For the night shooting, of course, it was imperative, but for the dawn sequences and so forth there was some question as to whether we should have, but in order to keep the same granularity, we decided to push that, as well.

QUESTION: Did you use the 5254 negative?

WEXLER: Yes, 5247 wasn't out yet. …

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