ASC Close-Up: Michael Negrin

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
2001: A Space Odyssey, Lawrence of Arabia, A Clockwork Orange.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Freddie Young [BSC], Gregg Toland [ASC], John Alcott [BSC], Chivo [ASC, AMC], Roger Deakins [ASC, BSC]. 

What sparked your interest in photography? 
My dad — Sol Negrin, ASC — always discussed photography with me. He was the operator on The Patty Duke Show. He brought me to set several times when I was 8 years old, and I was so taken with how the show was shot that I just fell in love with the process. I thought it was magic. 

Where did you train and/or study? 
I started apprenticing with my father’s first AC Maurice Brown when I turned 13. I shot unit-production stills on quite a few of my dad’s projects, and received my BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
My father, Sol, and his good friends and collaborators like Jack Priestley [ASC], Arthur Ornitz, Maurice Brown and James Contner.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Edward Hopper, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Annie Leibovitz.

How did you get your first break in the business? 
I did a TV commercial for Long Island radio station WLIR, featuring a little narrative with Billy Joel to his song ‘Movin’ Out.’ I was still attending NYU and a girlfriend introduced me to Billy’s organization. The folks who had been working with him on college concerts had only shot video concerts for him, and they wanted 35mm film. I acted as producer and director of photography, with production help from my dad’s company — which helped me get permits, and they had established relationships with the rental houses. 

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project? 
I just completed a wonderful biopic feature with my good friend, director-writer George Gallo, in Birmingham, Ala. Everything just fell into place in a magical way — amazing period locations, great cast and crew, and perfect weather. 

Have you made any memorable blunders? 
I think that in my early career, sometimes I just played it too safe with light. I was still learning how to predict how the film stocks would handle shadow information and I filled in too much. In those days, film finish didn’t offer the contrast control or the precision of separate lift, gamma and gain that we now take for granted in a digital finish. 

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received? 
My dad always urged me to take chances — don’t turn down a project, no matter how daunting it seems, as long as you like the script and the people associated with it. 

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you? 
I recently saw the Chagall exhibit at the L.A. County Museum of Art with my daughters. The fairy-tale nature of his style, both in terms of his characters and use of color, is just amazing.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try? 
I would love to shoot a period project that predates the 20th century, in a non-Western culture. I’ve always been a little jealous of projects like The Last Emperor. They are so sumptuous in terms of wardrobe and set design. 

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I would probably have been a chef/restaurant owner. 

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Adam Holender, Richard Shore and my dad. Jerry Finnerman was also an incredible advocate.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career? 
The ASC has given me a strong sense of being supported by friends and peers, in terms of a family sensibility as well as incredible professional support. We are all there for each other. The turnout for my dad’s memorial at the Clubhouse was amazing and brings a tear to my eye as I write this. What an amazing group of men and women who are both friends and artists. 

Photo by Cari Lutz

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