When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
My mother took me to a lot of films, both from Hollywood and Europe, but the very first time I was conscious that movie images were made by someone was seeing Storaro’s work in The Conformist. Before that, I had no idea that someone created those images.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
In film school, my gods were [ASC members] Storaro, Almendros and Nykvist. I watched all their films and tried to imagine what their cinematographic secrets were. Of course, their work was almost impossible to decipher, which made it all the more magical.
What sparked your interest in photography?
My father worked at the local TV station shooting news. He gave me a camera, and with that I began to see the world through a lens.
Where did you train and/or study?
After working a lot with my father, he pushed me toward film school — York University in Toronto — where I got the chance to shoot a lot of films. Cameras being household items, I ended up often being asked to shoot.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Without question, my father made me into a cinematographer. Before I went to school, he plunged me into the world of cameras, film chemistry, editing — and almost every night, he brought home a movie to watch from the TV station. It was the world before DVDs and VCRs, and we didn’t have a television. Projected on the wall we watched everything from Citizen Kane to The Valley of Gwangi. I fell in love with the movies thanks to him.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
I grew up in the Eighties and devoured every type of film. I would say, though, that my dad’s paintings — he trained at the Ontario College of Art — formed my tastes in color and composition. Even today I see his art in much of my work.
How did you get your first break in the business?
Toronto was experiencing an amazing film renaissance just as I was leaving film school. Graduates with no experience in the real industry got incredible chances to be directors and cinematographers. I was director of photography on a low-budget sci-fi movie almost right after graduation; this solved the problem of needing a feature film on my résumé, and opened the door to a whole career.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
They’ve kind of all merged into one big production — no matter what the project, there are always parts to find exciting. I guess it’s the joy of problem solving.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
Blunders — many! I think the trick is to turn blunders into ‘innovations’!
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
My wife is an actress and a hard taskmaster, and she’s always told me to be better. She’s right, and I love her for that.
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
This summer I plunged into the museums and galleries of Paris. Before cinematography, there was painting and such incredible understanding of light. This was an exciting reminder of how simple an image can be while being so powerful.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
It’s very exciting to have restrictions, such as the limited light sources in a pre-electrical world. I love using movie lights to create the effect of no artificial lighting. Period work is really interesting for me.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
There are so many interesting things in the world — architecture, history, design — but ultimately, the best job in the world is cinematography.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
I was very lucky to be sponsored by John Bailey, Peter Deming and Glen MacPherson.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
The ASC is the highest height for a cinematographer to aspire to. The thrill of being even a small part of its huge history is a great inspiration. I hope to live up to the initials ‘ASC.’