Magazine article American Cinematographer

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Magazine article American Cinematographer

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Article excerpt

Fred Elmes, ASC

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

The film that grabbed my imagination was The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), directed by Robert Wise. I was 12 years old and was on vacation with my family in the Midwest. It was haunting: the spaceship, the huge robot, the words that would save the world. I was entranced. I stayed and watched it a second time.

Which cinematographers, past or present do you most admire?

I'm a great admirer of Sven Nykvist, ASC; his lighting and camerawork take the art to a fantastic new level. Also, Gianni Di Venanzo; Carlo Di Paima, AIC; and Gregg Toland, ASC. More recently, | find the work of ASC members Nestor Almendros, Jordan Cronenweth, Caleb Deschanel and Vilmos Zsigmond inspiring.

What sparked your interest in photography?

My dad gave me his Leica camera at an early age, and it was my ticket to exploring the world. I began to understand about controlling the image while tinkering with a light on a still-life photograph I was setting up. I noticed that putting the light behind the subject gave the picture a very beautiful, new quality. Backlight made all the difference.

Where did you train and/or study?

I studied still photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I went on to New York University's graduate-film program, where I had good hands-on experience. After HYU, f was invited to become a fellow at the American Film Institute. There, I learned in greater depth film history and analysis, furthered my experimentation and experience making student films, and was afforded an introduction to Hollywood.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

At NYU, I was teaching assistant to the wonderful Czech cinematographer Beda Batka, who opened my eyes to the power of camera and lighting to tell a story. At the AFI, Frank Daniel and Tony Velani were great influences.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

Photography: Edward Weston, André Kertész, Alfred Stieglitz and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Painting: Edgar Degas, Wilhelm Hammershoi and Pieter de Hooch. Music: John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Phillip Glass. Films: Sasha Hammid and Maya Deren, Fritz Lang, lngmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Francis Coppola.

How did you get your first break in the business?

At the AFI, I worked with David Lynch on Eraserhead I also had the amazing luck of collaborating with John Cassavetes, the resident filmmaker at the AFI. …

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