ASC Close-Up: David Stockton

David Stockton, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Angels With Dirty Faces, It’s a Wonderful Life, Gone With the Wind, and the films of Charlie Chaplin.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Gregg Toland [ASC], Vittorio Storaro [ASC, AIC] and Roger Deakins [ASC, BSC]. 

What sparked your interest in photography? 
During my early elementary-school years, a childhood best friend’s father, IATSE camera operator Dick Brooks, who later became a cinematographer, used to project black-and-white prints for us in his Greenwich Village apartment. It’s a memory I hold dear — the window curtains drawn, the smell of his drying oil paintings, the whir of the 16mm projector, its light beam cutting through the curling pipe smoke. I was transfixed by the moving images coming alive on the wall before me. I was hooked then and there. 

Where did you train and/or study?
As a child stage-and-TV actor in New York, I was fascinated with the way the crew worked together to create magic. I went on to take film classes at The New School and NYU. I worked as a production assistant on commercials and music videos, and as non-union grip and electric — and eventually as an infomercial camera operator.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Accomplished still-life photographer George Bailey taught me much of the basics of lighting. My friends and fellow cinematographers, gaffers, key grips and others continue to both teach me and challenge me to look ever deeper into the light and shadows of moving-image storytelling.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Renaissance painters Caravaggio, Michelangelo and Raphael. Dutch masters Rembrandt and van Gogh. Filmmakers of the 1940s and 1970s. 

How did you get your first break in the business?
I can trace every advancement and opportunity back to the projects I worked on for free, building director/DP ‘spec’ reels with each other, just for the experience and the love of it.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Seeing the ‘image babies’ born in the final color timing. The moment when well over 1,000 people gasped and held their breath during a suspenseful sequence at a screening of a short film I had the privilege to shoot. Making lifelong friends along the way.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Sure — once very early on, I was setting up a big sunrise crane shot for my first real paid music video as DP in 1992. With horror I realized that the sun was behind me, and projecting our crane shadow all over the set and the desert floor beyond. Ugh! It had been overcast on the tech-scout day. Ever since, I’ve sworn that on day exteriors, it’s backlight, backlight, backlight!

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t ever hold back any of what you have to give to your art. Lead the pack. Give it your all, and you will attract the company of others who will do the same. Don’t spend a moment with those who would keep you down or make you feel bad for being more driven than they choose to be. I take joy and pride in the achievements of my peers. Their success is our success as artists and storytellers. 

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Anything with feeling, compassion and human vulnerability. Any project in any medium possessing an honest human moment of reflection makes me feel more alive and a part of our human family. Anything done from ego falls empty on my heart.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
Sci-fi and historical-context stories. Stories about growing human awareness and the journeys that move us in that direction appeal to me as a person and as a cinematographer. 

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Not sure, really. Something in nature photography and conservation.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Richard Crudo and Francis Kenny. Owen Roizman was my ASC mentor. I won an ASC Award for Jerry Bruckheimer’s Eleventh Hour pilot, which earned me an ASC interview. I am deeply honored, and feel privileged, to have been invited to join.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
I feel I’m a part of a larger appreciation — within the ASC and beyond — for the arts and crafts we use to create moving images shared the world over. I have deep respect for the creativity of people who give their all and help us keep our eyes open to new ideas and new ways of storytelling. 

You'll find more about him here.

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