Stephen Lighthill on Cinematography and the ASC
CreativeCOW presents Stephen Lighthill on Cinematography and the ASC -- Cinematography Feature

Stephen LighthillStephen Lighthill
Los Angeles, California All rights reserved.

Stephen Lighthill was just elected President of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), by a newly elected Board of Governors. Lighthill takes over from outgoing ASC President Michael Goi who served three consecutive terms. Founded in 1919, the ASC is comprised of 330-plus active members who have national roots in some 20 countries, as well as 150 associate members from ancillary segments of the industry. Other officers elected with Lighthill are Vice Presidents Richard Crudo, Daryn Okada and Kees Van Oostrum; Treasurer Victor J. Kemper, Secretary Fred Goodich, and Sergeant-at-Arms Steve Fierberg.

Lighthill is currently the chair of the cinematography program at American Film Institute Conservatory. He began his career shooting San Francisco Bay area news programs, as well as national news shows such as 60 Minutes. His documentary credits include Gimme Shelter and Berkeley in the Sixties, which was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Audience Award at Sundance. His narrative credits include TV dramas Vietnam War Story, Earth 2, and Nash Bridges.

He has served as an officer on the National Executive Board of the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG). In 2000, the Society of Operating Cameramen presented Lighthill with its President's Award in recognition of his career achievements. In 2010, SMPTE awarded him the Kodak Educational Award for outstanding educational contributions to the motion picture industry.

Stephen Lighthill spoke to Creative COW about the state of cinematography today, the impact of technology and the role of education in maintaining the art and craft.

Cinematographers help interpret the story for the director, and we bring a unique set of skills that are not only about technology but about visual imaging, visual storytelling. With the current concentration on new digital tools, some misunderstanding about it has evolved; some people think it works well at low light, then make the assumption that we don't need to light, and that's a misinterpretation of what the technology brings.

This kind of chatter devalues our role as cinematographers, and we'll be working hard to address that. We have a PR committee and whenever we have the opportunity, we're going to explain the role of the cinematographer. I'll be addressing that issue in monthly articles in American Cinematographer magazine.

American Cinematographer Tech Manual
The techniques used in filmmaking have always been a moving target. They always evolve, not just with technology but also with tastes and what people expect to see. I think there is some natural disorientation that comes with all these changes. We're all currently learning the techniques of 3D and collaborating more and more with VFX people. We have a pre-visualization committee at the ASC that's working on evolving some new tools that help the VFX artists and the production designers and cinematographers work together with the same set of software. So we're working on that front to improve collaboration at a time when production has become more complex.

The more disruptive area for everyone in the filmmaking community is what's happening on the business side. You have new players entering the market like Google and Netflix and YouTube, the latter which has opened a production studio here in Los Angeles.

Is this a threat or an opportunity? It's both. If you want to stick with what you've always been doing, it's a threat. If you welcome change and are flexible in how you tell stories, it's a great opportunity. People are still watching stories and still participating in media, probably to a greater extent than ever on the Internet and mobile devices.

Cinematographers need to stay up on technology that needs to be employed on their current projects. It used to be that a fair amount of on-the-job training would work okay; we're all doing more homework than we ever did before. That's why you see so many different camera tests. The ASC joined with the PGA in doing the ACES tests.

Zacuto has a three-part series running on the Internet, Revenge of the Great 2012 Camera Shoot Out, all with ASC cinematographers behind the lens. They're not just evaluating cameras but talking about the role of the cinematographers. The Zacuto tests open with quotes from many of us in the ASC about what a cinematographer does and what they bring to a production beyond technological expertise. These testing activities are a way for us to evaluate the new technologies.

Revenge of The Great Camera Shootout 2012, Production Log Episode 1

The ASC Technology Committee -- which, almost ten years ago, grew out of the initiative to develop specifications for digital projection -- now has widespread participation by the technology vice presidents of all the Hollywood studios as well as those in production and post production and the programmers and inventors from many companies. What we're trying to do with the ASC Technology Committee is to be an open forum where everyone can come together and talk through these issues at a time of rapid change. We're involved in bringing all the players together under our umbrella to talk about the issues.

ASC Clubhouse
The ASC Clubhouse. Photo by Isidore Mankofsky, ASC.

With the American Cinematographer magazine, we did a great series on post production, a very detailed explanation of current practices and current developments, which described what the future holds for us as we move from videotape to solid state recording. We're going to be doing more of these technical articles. We'll be printing the latest American Cinematographer tech manual, and the new edition will come out in print in September, but it'll also be a Kindle and iPadversion, so you'll be able to have it electronically as well as physically. It's no secret that our publishing is going to have to become almost entirely electronic, and we're gradually making that transition.

We're planning on growing our membership group, Friends of the ASC, to allow non-members to be able to use our website to view training seminars. We have a few up now and we're starting in production on others in July. Friends of the ASC is a little over a year old, but we are absolutely looking to expand it. It's a good way to help young cinematographers to keep up with technology and be more knowledgeable about the role of a cinematographer.

We're also looking to broaden the scope of our ASC awards dinner a little bit. I'm hoping this year there will be a little more diversity with regard to the kinds of cinematographers we honor. The show has always been dedicated to the excellence in visual imaging, and I'm hoping to re-dedicate ourselves to that and have parts of the show that emphasize that a little more.

Title image photo by Owen Roizman, ASC. Author image picon by Douglas Kirkland.