Magazine article American Cinematographer

Asc Close-Up

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Asc Close-Up

Article excerpt

Paul Ryan, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?

When I was about 6, my family would walk to a park where they showed Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin films outdoors at night. I think the choreography of the action stuck with me.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire, and why?

Sven Nyqvist, ASC, for his haunting images in The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries; Raoul Coutard, for bringing spontaneity and freedom of movement to the French New Wave; Gordon Wilis, ASC, for his vision of New York and the bold darkness of The Godfather; Al Maysles, for his trust in documentary storytelling; Bob Richardson, ASC, for his imaginative cinematic vision and technical brilliance; and many others, including ASC members Caleb Deschanel, Owen Roizman, Ed Lachman, Connie Had, Matthew Libatique, Roger Deakins and Vittorio Storaro, and Anthony Dod Mantle, BSC, DFF.

What sparked your interest in photography?

As a child, I spent a lot of time just looking at things and life around me. I never thought much about photography until I embarked on a crosscountry road trip after college; I thought there would be images worth keeping. I wish I'd started earlier.

Where did you train and/or study?

I ended up in San Francisco in the 1960s. I studied photography with Minor White, Eugene Smith, John Collier and Ansel Adams. My interest in photography morphed into an obsession with cinema, and I enrolled in graduate film school at San Francisco State University.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

Lawrence Halprin, a brilliant architect; Bob Primes, ASC, who taught me about lighting with electricity; and Al Maysles, who indoctrinated me in "Direct Cinema" aesthetics and sold me my first sync camera. Al had inscribed his name on the lens, a 9.5-95mm Angenieux, and it was like having a baseball batautographed by Willie Mays. I learned a lot shooting second unit for Néstor Almendros, ASC on Days of Heaven and for Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC on A River Runs Through It.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

I'm fascinated by unusual composition and framing. I love the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Ryan McGinley, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, Egon Schiele and Eric Fischi. I also love wandering through unusual places and finding existing structures and light. These stay in my mind.

How did you get your first break in the business?

When I moved to Los Angeles, I was fortunate to meet Terry Malick when he was getting ready to make Days of Heaven. He was looking for somebody to do second unit; he said a lot of the film would be images of the world surrounding the characters. …

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