the ASC Awards in the rearview mirror – my intro to the Spotlight Award (comments on the state of the awards in general)

It’s my great pleasure to present the third annual ASC Spotlight Award.

What really thrills me about the Spotlight award is that it is a recognition of exceptional cinematography that is so often overlooked by the awards (PR) machines. It isn’t necessarily a film in a foreign language, studio or independent production or even a narrative work. It is about a film using the language of cinematography. Images that speak with a certain power or subtlety that takes the viewer deeper into the experience.

Because everyone on the panel who deliberated and chose these final three films from the many submissions, and every ASC member who voted on the finalists, were required to view each and every one of them there is a real meaning to the recipient of the Spotlight award. It is truly a recognition of exceptional work.

What these all have in common is that they were created by cinematographers with a point of view, an attitude and a collaboration with a director to go beyond the ordinary. These were all photographed using cameras, lights, sets, locations and people, not animation or CGI, and they become truly a ‘whole much greater than the sum of it’s parts’.

As in the past two years with “Ida” and “Concrete Night” we are celebrating what I believe to be the purest form of cinematographic art.

This is not a “best” award because I believe that there is no “best” in art. Art is so subjective that it depends as much upon the viewer as it  does upon its creator to form the experience. This is a celebration of cinematography that speaks to the viewer in a special way.

Here are the nominees.

“Beasts of No Nation”, “Macbeth”, “Son of Saul”.

Post Script- there was an unprecedented tie for the Spotlight Award. Both “Macbeth” and “Son of Saul” were recognized with awards. “Beasts of No Nation” was honorably mentioned.

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Late to the party but I need to post this anyway

I saw this amazing film last november at the Camerimage festival in Bydgoszcz Poland. Everyone should see this if they care about real filmmaking (moviemaking) seriously beautiful compositions that serve the story and gorgeous black and white images. The best B&W I’ve seen maybe since “Manhattan”.
It’s called “Ida” and it should be released in the U.S. soon.
See it.

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a reflection on a few of this year’s movies

There are a few medium to big budget films that I’ve seen this year and like for different reasons. “Gravity” was a big crowd pleaser even though it was a really simple story, almost too simple. I liked the CG images which were so photo real, so well done that it deserves accolades for that alone. “Rush” was just that, with wonderful imaginative camera work from Anthony Dod Mantle. The story was engaging, true and well done. It had some mis-steps but it was generally a solid film. But nothing prepared me for what is probably the best of the films that I’ve seen this year. That film is “The Counselor”.  Yes, Ridley Scott’s newest work that is sublime. Although it’s budget was hardly that of the other two films it was amazingly well made. Every department did great work. I give a big nod to cinematographer Dariusz Wolski who did a really beautiful job. Ridley Scott is so in tune with this one. The dialogue is perfect, not smarmy like Tarantino, or too effetely smart like Sorkin. Just perfect. And the storytelling gives you just enough information without being obvious. And of course it is not doing well at the US box office! Americans really like EASY, OBVIOUS and SENTIMENTAL! Witness “The Butler” among others. I am hoping to see something even better in the last two months of 2013 which would be wonderful. Something along the lines of “American Beauty” or “The Sweet Hereafter”. One can only hope.

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down and out in New Orleans

already may and new orleans is alive with thunder and lightning and music everywhere. it rains, it pours. blues, funk, gospel and jazz, all good. when will the sky really open up for everyone to see?

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Save Your Butt


Lost on a side street in the parade city protected from the rains for one last hit.

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Thoughts on IMAX, 65mm, 35mm and HD image making

This first began when I saw the IMAX film “The Fires of Kuwait” in the theater. I was really impressed by the super fine grain quality and sharpness of the image in this documentary film. It was heads above any other format for nature or documentary filmmaking. Since seeing that film the world of fiction films has adopted the use of IMAX more recently in what I gather as an affront to HD and stay at home viewing. After all you can only really experience the grandeur of IMAX in an IMAX theater. And along with this has come a return to the use of 65mm film origination for some prominent recent films including “The Master”.

When I first viewed “The Dark Knight Rises” at an IMAX theater I was actually disturbed by the clarity of the IMAX originated portion of the film and relieved by the 35mm portions. There was a familiar textural quality to the 35mm that was missing in the IMAX sections. In fact the IMAX looked and felt to me like it had been originated on HD. As we have seen in recent years (or months) HD camera systems have come a long way in their ability to preserve the extreme highlights and shadow detail. The latitude has improved greatly and is rapidly approaching that of motion picture stock. And precisely for that reason I find it to be conceptually wrong to film on IMAX or 65mm with today’s motion picture emulsions. That is an important point in my argument.

When films like “Lawrence of Arabia” were made in 65mm the film stocks of the day were grainier than today’s are. The 70mm projections looked comparable to current 35mm prints. The commercial reasons for producing larger and specialty formats were to distinguish the theatrical experience from that of TV. Cinerama, Cinemascope, etc. were all ploys to combat the in-home TV experience. The films originated on 65mm still had the texture and familiarity of motion picture film stock only crisper and could be projected bigger and still retain that quality. The business reasons aren’t much different today with 3D and large format productions. But today there is a big difference and that is the advent of  HD motion picture capture and projection. With HD the image, even on the giant screen, is virtually grainless and pin sharp. Now with larger sensors becoming the norm, as evidenced by the Red Epic 5K and the Sony F65 8K, filmmakers can work with shallow depth of field as well. So as the HD sensors (soon to be Ultra HD 16K) become more like film in their ability to capture expanded latitude the differences on the big screen begin to disappear. IMAX and 65mm film start to look like HD and vice-versa.

Some months ago I saw a screening of “The Master” in 65mm. It was too clean and soulless for me. It had no trace of the film element that I yearned for. Visually and emotionally. If they had produced it on vintage film stock, say ’54, it might have rung true. But as it was I felt like I was watching a movie made on HD.

I had a similar though more disturbing experience watching “The Hobbit” in 3D at 48 fps. That was even more upsetting as I felt like I was watching a live event in a theme park and not a film in a fantasy world full of mystery and enchantment.

I guess I really appreciate the experience of watching a fiction movie in a theater and feel that it is not reality, but another world that I am entering with my mind and emotions. If I want to experience a theme park ride or see a nature event movie then HD, 65mm or IMAX origination would be great. When I see a beautiful film like “Anna Karenina” I appreciate that it was made on 35mm film and looked and felt like it.

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calvino had it right in his way. this is the beginning of the road.

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is this the end of the road?

night and darkness surprised by asphalt and leaves and branches whipping the glass. it leads to the delta, someday, somehow.

the road to the delta

listen to robert johnson

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