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My Experiences at the ASC Master Class


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#1 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 12:03 PM

(NOTE: All photos have been cleared for posting by The ASC.)

 

This past March, I was in L.A. for the very first time in my life to attend the ASC Master Class - a five-day course which cost $3,000 and it was worth every last penny.  I was really in my glory because I was immersed in my passion, amidst others who shared the same creative energies.  My classmates were from all over the world: China, Korea, South Africa, Mongolia, France, Argentina, Denmark & New Zealand.  Most of them were working cinematographers and - as I am currently not a full-time DP - there were times when I felt as though I was a bit out of my depth.  But all that really did was spur me on to learn more after the class was over.  So in short, it was truly one of the greatest experiences of my professional life.  Now for the details…

 

Our instructors were:

Bill Bennett, ASC
Gabriel Beristain, ASC, BSC
Curtis Clark, ASC
Richard P. Crudo, ASC
Don McCuaig, ASC
Bill Taylor, ASC

 

…and none other than David Mullen, ASC.  Needless to say, I was delighted to see David’s name on the roster when I received it since we’ve known each other through this forum for about 15 years, now.  But each one of these guys showed us a different skill that came out of their respective experiences, and each day was chock full of information.

 

DAY 1 consisted of an introductory classroom session followed very quickly by David Mullen’s History of Cinematography class.  He explained some of the photographic techniques employed in some classic films such as, How Green Was My Valley (1941,) The Fugitive (1947,) Vertigo (1958,) Apocalypse Now (1979) and many others, while putting the cinematography into a clear historical context.

 

Next up for that day was Don McCuaig, ASC, who has done a lot of 2nd unit work throughout his career.  He talked us about the importance of understanding the business of cinematography and some of the realities a lot of prospective DPs simply don’t think about.  With all the work he’s done, it was interesting to see just how important - and unrecognized - most second unit work is.

 

DAYS 2, 3 and 4 took place at the Mole-Richardson Stage which is apparently reserved for classes just like this.  Gabriel Beristain, ASC, BSC covered DAY 2 with us.  After discussing some different styles that are prevalent in the industry these days, he proceeded to have everyone make some kind of stylistic contribution to the lighting of a scene for that day.  That proved to be really interesting since everyone had a different direction they wanted to go in, but somehow it all came together. 

 

Gabriel.jpg

(Gabriel Beristain, ASC)

 

Naturally, all the cameras were Alexas.  This was my first time seeing them in-the-flesh, and it would have been nice to get a little hands-on time with it, but there simply wasn’t time in the schedule.  I was amazed how reliant everyone is on the monitor, these days.  I only saw one of the guys from MR pull out his light meter maybe once or twice.

 

Bill Bennet, ASC showed us how to light a car commercial on DAY 3 and that was really amazing to see.  He basically had a small model car set up in a tent to bounce the Kino-Flos he had arranged on the floor.  The model was used for the beauty shot (which you usually see at the very end of the commercial.)  It was interesting to watch him tweak the lighting of every part of the car so that it looked perfect - just as the client wants.  He explained just how strict the specific client’s parameters usually are and that the cinematographer needs to make sure he or she follows them to a tee.  He also showed us a lift-off of the NASA space shuttle he’d shot a while back and mentioned that everyone within a certain area - like him - had to wear special, non-flammable tags so that, in case of a mishap, they would be able to identify the remains.

 

Bill Bennett.jpg

(Bill Bennett, ASC; photo courtesy of The ASC)

 

Bill Bennett.jpg

(Bill Bennett, ASC)

 

Later, Bill Taylor, ASC gave us a crash course in green screen - something I’ve never done, but the information he gave us could fill a book.  He showed us some examples of plates he’s done over his career and shot a demonstration with Kino-Flo Super Greens.

 

Green Screen 1.jpg

(Green Screen demonstration)

 

Green Screen 2.jpg

(Bill Taylor, ASC)

 

Green Screen.jpg

(Bill Taylor, ASC; photo courtesy of The ASC)

 

On DAY 4, David Mullen, ASC again took the helm with some aesthetic demonstrations of filtration and smoke.  First he spoke about some of the diffusion techniques he’s used on projects like Big Sur and Extant.  He also told us what his typical lighting package usually consists of, and that was really helpful to me since I’m still getting to know what the best fixture for a given set-up is.  He then showed us some of the nets he’s made and did some tests with & without them to show us the difference in the image.  Next was probably my favorite demonstration - smoke.  David set up 3 Lekos (correct me if I’m wrong, David) and showed us how when you put them close enough together in a smoke-filled atmosphere, they appear as one single source.  Sorry for the poor quality of this image.  I forgot my camera that day and had to use my iPhone:

 

Lekos.jpg

(Smoke demonstration)

 

On DAY 5, we took a trip over to E-Film.  There we met, Jill (I forget her last name,) a colorist who I believe has worked with Gabriel Beristain.  It was here where I saw just how much control the director, DP and colorist can have over the image, these days.  They have mobile trailers where you can basically grade everything on-set, if you so choose (and if you have the budget.)

 

Later that day, we went back to the clubhouse for a lecture by Curtis Clarke, ASC.  He showed us the digitally corrected version of one of his films, Alamo Bay (1985.)  Now, we were supposed to watch the uncorrected version on Wednesday night, but I had tickets to Blade Runner at the Cinerama Dome.  So I cleared that with the staff and told them I’d watch the uncorrected version online and they said that was okay.  I was never one to cut class but I wasn’t missing that!

 

Anyway, the differences between the corrected and uncorrected versions were like night and day.  Curtis spoke to us about the ACES system and how he thought it might give new life to film since the combination of the two produce gorgeous images.  He also asked how many people in the class still shoot film and I was the only one to raise his hand.

 

Lastly, was the ASC dinner.  I was lucky enough to meet & briefly speak to Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC.  I’m usually never at a loss for words, but this guy has shot some of my favorite films so it was kind of surreal.  And John Bailey, ASC sat next to me at the dinner.  So that was pretty cool.  I asked him who his major influences were and, of course, Storaro was the first name he mentioned.  Being a person who never really understood why Storaro has been considered the cinematographer of all cinematographers, I asked him what it was about Storaro’s work that was so appealing to him.  His answer: “He used all the elements to pull you into the story.”

 

I think what I liked most was just how approachable everyone was.  But as one of them put it, “You can’t take this stuff with you.  Why wouldn’t you pass it on?”  Bill Taylor even gave us his home phone number and told us to call if we had any questions or if we were ever confronted with any situations that he thought he could help with.  The bottom line is that I was surrounded by people with down-to-earth, “we’re here to help” attitudes and it felt great.  So this was truly an education and I found myself only wanting to learn more once it was time to leave.  I obviously can’t say enough about this experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who is even remotely considering it. 

 

Lunch with David.jpg

(Lunch with David Mullen, ASC.  I seem to remember a Star Trek conversation taking place...)

 

Me & Curtis.jpg

(Curtis Clarke, ASC and myself)

 

Me & Dante.jpg

(Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC and myself)

 

Me & John.jpg

(John Bailey, ASC & myself)

 

Me & Nancy.jpg

(Nancy Schreiber, ASC & myself outside The ASC Clubhouse)

 

Patty & Delphine.jpg

(Patty, Delphine & myself.  These ladies do a fantastic job of organizing this class!)

 

Me & David.jpg

(David Mullen, ASC & myself at the Mole-Richardson sound-stage)


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#2 AJ Young

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 01:45 PM

Awesome! This class looks insanely fun and is a brilliant idea. Thank you for sharing your experience!


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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 02:33 PM

You know I have to be honest, I try to avoid the ASC clubhouse as much as I can. I feel like a phoney whenever I'm even near it-- and having been in there once or twice, i always find myself too overwhelmed to ever approach anyone-- figuring they all have much better things to do then be bothered again by another-- well--  doe-eyed "dop." 

Ironically I actually wound up staying in an apartment right next door to the house for a few weeks earlier this year.


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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 02:37 PM

Jill Bogdanowicz was the colorist you met at EFilm.

 

Yes, I had three 750w tungsten Source-4 Leko's to fill the window but in the close-up, I left only one on to see more break-ups in the beam due to the window frame and the plant we stuck in the window.  

 

Funny thing is that by the last close-up, I reduced the lighting to just the one tungsten Source-4 Leko beam in the smoke and a soft dim key from a daylight Kino through a 6x6, with just one or two tubes left on... Someone told me it was the best they had seen that small set look.


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#5 Carl Looper

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 04:00 PM

Great write up. Looks like it was heaps of fun. Excellent.

 

C


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#6 Gregg MacPherson

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 04:19 PM

Thanks for that Bill. Really enjoyed it.
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#7 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 05:43 PM

You know I have to be honest, I try to avoid the ASC clubhouse as much as I can. I feel like a phoney whenever I'm even near it-- and having been in there once or twice, i always find myself too overwhelmed to ever approach anyone-- figuring they all have much better things to do then be bothered again by another-- well--  doe-eyed "dop."

 

Adrian, I can't emphasize how wrong you are.  Everyone I met there treated me as though I was a member of their very select family.  Two other guys I was talking to throughout the class was David Darby, ASC & Peter Moss, ASC.  Really nice guys and when I told them how amazed I was at how approachable everyone was, they were like "Why would we not be?"  The bottom line is that everyone there enjoys imparting their respective knowledge & experiences - which makes for a good teacher in any field.

 

On the last day, I was talking to Richard Crudo, ASC, who is originally from Brooklyn and still comes back to visit, as he told me.  I am actually 5 minutes from the Brooklyn border and our conversation quickly transitioned to both of us complaining about the recent closure of a Staples in my neighborhood!  It was a funny moment and if that's not down to earth, I don't know what is!


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#8 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 07:50 PM

Great post Bill..  thanks 


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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 08:03 PM

Couldn't agree more. I had a chat with Daryn Okada about his work on Mean Girls while I was there recently and he was very approachable about it.

There doesn't seem to be to much keeping of secrets in cinematography, possibly because people are fully aware that just reexecuting someone's approach to something is both difficult to do well and unlikely to be very widely applicable. The synthesis of ideas appears to be a well understood requirement that doesn't threaten anyone.

Phil
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#10 Vivek Venkatraman

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 09:16 PM

Hey,

 

Just a small query, the bounce boards used for the car lighting setup are made up of what exactly ?


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#11 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 23 September 2015 - 09:28 PM

Hey,

 

Just a small query, the bounce boards used for the car lighting setup are made up of what exactly ?

 

If I remember correctly, it was simply thick, hard cardboard.  Showcards, basically.


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#12 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 24 September 2015 - 01:50 AM

Was the car guy saying he would use bounce light like that on a real size car shoot.. obviously with bigger units :)..  or he would use actual huge diffused lights the shape/size in proportion of the bounce board..  and just bouncing light for the small scaled  exercise ..

 

I have been in some car manufacturing plants that have their own studio,s .. and they have these huge soft  rectangular lights up on  gantries.. and massive  turn tables.. !

 

Thanks


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#13 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 24 September 2015 - 11:39 AM

Was the car guy saying he would use bounce light like that on a real size car shoot.. obviously with bigger units :)..  or he would use actual huge diffused lights the shape/size in proportion of the bounce board..  and just bouncing light for the small scaled  exercise ..

 

No.  He emphasized that, when working with a reflective surface, to always use bounced light.  Makes sense when you think about it.


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#14 John E Clark

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Posted 24 September 2015 - 12:12 PM

 

No.  He emphasized that, when working with a reflective surface, to always use bounced light.  Makes sense when you think about it.

 

For some of the 'car' commercial shots that I've seen BTS shots, it seems that a huge array/matrix of screened light is used to give that soft enveloping light (Think airplane hangar sized 'studio'...).

 

For the car model you showed, obviously they could just use the book type arrangement to demonstrate the 'eveloping' effect of such a huge soft light source.

 

That set up would also work for 'table top' small product items which need a soft light as well.


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#15 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 24 September 2015 - 12:42 PM

 

For some of the 'car' commercial shots that I've seen BTS shots, it seems that a huge array/matrix of screened light is used to give that soft enveloping light (Think airplane hangar sized 'studio'...).

 

For the car model you showed, obviously they could just use the book type arrangement to demonstrate the 'eveloping' effect of such a huge soft light source.

 

That set up would also work for 'table top' small product items which need a soft light as well.

 

Obviously, it's dependent upon what the client wants.  I know he mentioned that he's used large, overhead soft sources like you mention when he's had access to the hangar-size studio.  But then there are commercials that have the beauty shot in a remote location, like a desert or forest where that simply isn't feasible.  And a lot of his commercials consisted of location work, so I think that's why he emphasized bouncing the light.


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#16 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 24 September 2015 - 01:58 PM

Generally you always bounce on reflective surfaces as mentioned (and not just cars) but yes, you can also use a very large very soft box light-- the thing is, it'll reflect, you're not really "lighting" as much as you are making a bright reflection in the car which is recorded. So, sometimes an overhead light of many kinos through a large frame of silk can do the job of a large show card. Sometimes you'd put a large frame up and hit it with a bright unit from the floor etc etc. It all depends on not only the space, time, and budget you have to work with, but also a bit on the shapes you're reflecting into. It is obvious that a car like, say, a corvette with it's more "aggressive" and slightly angular styling will reflect units differently than a Fiat or a VW bug.

Camera angles also come into play here and what the car is doing if anything.

 

It's very easy to play around with such things with model cars. And if you want to go crazy you can even size your tools to scale-- e.g. making a 1:64 scale 12x12 or the like.


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#17 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 24 September 2015 - 04:55 PM

Thanks Bill.. yes I hadn't thought of lighting on location..  re reflective surfaces.. I think it doesn't have to be only bounced.. just thats an "easy" way to get a big soft light source .. as Adrian says .. your filming the reflection really.. and softness of the light being ruled by the size ratio to object you are shooting and how close it is to subject.. a big car needs an even bigger light !

 

Love to go on one of those courses ! 


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 24 September 2015 - 04:56 PM.

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#18 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 24 September 2015 - 10:19 PM

Great post Bill, thanks! On the subject of soft bounce sources, I recently saw my good friend and very talented DP Jesse Dana light with an HMI through a large frame skinned with both Magic Cloth and Bleached Muslin. I had never seen that done before, but apparently it's a popular enough combo that you can now buy these rags stitched together as standard. It was incredibly even source, one that could work well for the aforementioned car setup.

David, I'm digging the beard, looks very distinguished. :)
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#19 Diana Matos

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Posted 26 February 2016 - 11:15 AM

Hi Bill, 

 

Thank you for posting this as it has been very helpful for someone who is considering taking it. A couple of questions, is there any part of the class that allows you to put what you've learned into practice supervised by the cinematographer teaching? Did you learn anything having to deal with business (i.e. your contract, relationship with a director/producers)? Also, do you feel that the master class led you to more work?

 

Thanks for your time!

 

Diana 


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#20 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 29 February 2016 - 01:24 AM

Hi Diana.  Apologies for the late response.

 

In short, no.  The class is a 5-day intensive and every day is chock-full of information (as you saw from my post.)  I can't say that there were any exercises where we pooled our knowledge into one final project, but I think that's merely due to the fact that there wasn't any time.  There was a brief session (about an hour) on business practices which also included a Q&A with a panel of our ASC instructors.  And I can't really say anything about finding more work as a result of the class since I really haven't had a chance to start freelancing due to personal circumstances, right now.

 

But I can say that - especially if you were already thinking about taking it - the ASC class is a wonderful experience every film-maker should avail his/her self of.  There is a lot more to the class than just the classroom/set sessions.


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