When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
2001: A Space Odyssey, for the timeless visual storytelling; Alien and Seven, for the moody world-building; and Independence Day, for telling a story in a grand, entertaining yet cinematic way.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC; Harris Savides, ASC; Conrad Hall, ASC; Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS; and many more.
What sparked your interest in photography?
As a teenager, I taught myself how to use Photoshop. When I couldn’t find high-quality pictures online, I bought my first digital camera and set up a studio in my parents’ basement to experiment with lighting and photography.
Where did you train and/or study?
I moved to Munich to become a trainee in the camera-rental department at Arri headquarters. After that, I studied at the University of Television and Film Munich, where I learned that there is no single way to make a movie.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Michael Ballhaus, ASC, BVK was a unique personality, and he taught me how important it is for a cinematographer to create a safe space on set for the actors and keep the technical part as invisible as possible. I admire Jost Vacano, ASC, BVK for his brilliant camera moves and the energy he brought to all his projects.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
I had a strong fascination with magic when I was young. Watching David Copperfield on TV got me into this field. I soon realized how similar the mechanism behind magical arts was to filmmaking, which, at its core, is an illusion. Having the mindset of a magician has often helped me to visually direct the viewer’s attention within a frame and, much more important, over the course of a sequence of images.
How did you get your first break in the business?
I was very fortunate to meet director Tim Fehlbaum during my time in film school. We hit it off right away, and our first collaboration, Hell, won me many awards. Roland Emmerich became aware of my work, and he put a lot of trust in me when he hired me to shoot a film for a major studio at age 30.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Every time I watch a finished movie on the big screen and realize it all worked out and became something greater than the sum of its parts.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
After months of planning how to light a large day-exterior scene on a very large stage, I was anxious to find out if it would work. We flipped on the lights, I looked through the camera, and it looked very convincing. Everyone on the crew congratulated me for how real it looked. But then the director came up to me, clearly unhappy, and said, ‘I don’t want it to look real; I want it to look special!’ A valuable lesson.
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Andrzej Mellin: ‘Stop thinking and start feeling.’ Always be open and ready to react to what happens in front of the camera — don’t blindly follow a concept.
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
The light installation Latent Being by Refik Anadol, exhibited in a former power plant in Berlin. Also, the Feuerle Collection in Berlin recently displayed a unique collection of Asian art inside a former World War II bunker; the contrast of the artifacts’ beautiful lighting with the nature of that space was inspirational.
Do you have any favorite genres or genres you would like to try?
I’m drawn to everything with a high concept behind it, whatever the genre.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Bill Bennett, Christopher Probst, Curtis Clark and Steven Fierberg.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
The ASC represents a long history of camaraderie among cinematographers with a vast wealth of knowledge. I feel deeply honored to have been invited to join this group of unique artists.
Förderer was most recently covered in AC for his work on the sci-fi feature Independence Day: Resurgence.
You'll find his personal site here.
Photo by Julie Shalekenova