Close-Up: Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC

American Cinematographer, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Close-Up: Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC


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

Jerry Lewis' The Bellboy (1960), probably because a kid in the audience was knifed during the show, and we had to leave the theater. Or maybe Psycho (1 962), which I never got to see - I was pushed through one of the theater's plate-glass windows by a mob trying to get into the sold-out show. Fortunately, it was winter, and I was wearing a parka and a hat!

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

Among others, Gordon Willis, ASC; Sacha Vierny; Raoul Coutard; Néstor Almendros, ASC; Christopher Doyle, HKSC; David Mullen, ASC; Robert Elswit, ASC; and Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC, for his earlier work. I admire all of them for their great, unique images and storytelling abilities.

What sparked your interest in photography?

I was given an lnstamatic camera when I was 13. Then I got a 35mm Beseler Topcon, and later a 4x5 Speed Graphic. Seeing the works of greats like WeeGee, Man Ray Horst P. Horst, Guy Bourdin and Irving Penn gave me the impetus to try my hand at it. Stills soon became series of stills, or motion images. That's when I experienced Chris Marker's brilliant La Jetée.

Where did you train and/or study?

I went to art school in St. Louis, where there was no film study except for film history, so I minored in photography. I got my practical training in New York at a non-union company where I was able to work in every department, from set construction to editing. I got my real start working in Italy in the 1980s and '90s as a cinematographer, operator and Steadicam operator.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

I wish I'd had some, but I was really on my own, as I didn't come up through the normal industry routes. I did get to operate Steadicam for Néstor Almendros, who was a true giver, and 1 worked as an extra on Once Upon a Time in America, which allowed me to observe Tonino DeIIi Colli, AIC at close range.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

Music, Surrealism, French New Wave and Italian Spaghetti Western films, Caravaggio, Hopper, James Turrell, and the writings of Thomas Pynchon and Italo Calvino. …

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