(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 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, ASC; photo courtesy of The ASC)
(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 demonstration)
(Bill Taylor, ASC)
(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:
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 Mullen, ASC. I seem to remember a Star Trek conversation taking place...)
(Curtis Clarke, ASC and myself)
(Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC and myself)
(John Bailey, ASC & myself)
(Nancy Schreiber, ASC & myself outside The ASC Clubhouse)
(Patty, Delphine & myself. These ladies do a fantastic job of organizing this class!)
(David Mullen, ASC & myself at the Mole-Richardson sound-stage)