When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Watching Peter Pan in the Aurora Theatre in western New York, and my dad’s childlike expression when the pirate ship floated into the night sky at the end. For that moment, he was a fellow kid. The next time my whole family felt like that was watching Star Wars.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Owen Roizman, ASC, for his sense of naturalism that reflected story. The first movie I worked on was shot by Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC — I just love his lighting. Also, a tumble of first names that any film fan should know: Haskell, Conrad and Slawomir. I am amazed at how much beautifully executed work there is out there today, by my mentors, my peers, and students.
What sparked your interest in photography?
My Grandpa Frank. He was the photographer of the family. Then Ithaca College handed me a Filmo, a Sekonic, and a can of Kodak reversal film and I never looked back — even though I had no idea how the meter worked.
Where did you train and/or study?
Ithaca College, NYU’s Tisch School, labeling cases for Robin Brown and Robin Melhuish, hauling cable for Eric Schmidt. Andy Watts and Paul ‘Conan’ Bolles taught me how to not electrocute myself. Maybe I should have led with them.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
My middle-school teachers encouraged me that a country kid could actually end up working in the movie business. I learned from a slew of wonderful cinematographers in the Nineties when I was a gaffer. Sol Negrin, ASC and [honorary ASC member] Larry Parker have mentored me in both film and family.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
That is always changing. Robert Frank, Caravaggio, Eggleston. The light in Monet’s ‘Haystacks.’
How did you get your first break in the business?
Sarah Green was producing with Maggie Renzi for John Sayles, and I was ‘adopted’ by that wonderful group. I would sleep on the floor of John’s writing room if I worked really late, because the buses ran so infrequently. From there I served as camera intern on Passion Fish. Years later, I met Karyn Kusama, which led to my shooting Girlfight.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
I was shocked at how wonderful the response to Girlfight was at Sundance. To have the audiences react so well was really special.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
Oh boy — ahem, no.
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Roger Deakins told me to go to school and shoot everything I could instead of trying to work as a loader. I ended up working as an electrician and shooting everything I could at the same time — but that was great advice. Learn by doing. I also had a friend tell me, ‘Love what you do, not what you have done.’
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Director Tim Hunter introduced me to photographer Todd Hido’s work. I recently saw the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was very inspiring and wonderfully designed. I think it’s critical to experience different ways we tell stories to each other. Connecting creatively with each other is a victory of being human.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I love film noir. I don’t know how you would categorize Krzysztof Kieslowski, or Fellini, or the Brothers Quay — magical realism? I’d like to shoot a movie that isn’t afraid to have some wonder about it.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
House painting? I very seriously considered steel sculpture while at Ithaca College. My fantastic professor Ray Ghirardo just retired this year.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Sol Negrin, Michael Watkins and M. David Mullen.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
Some of my happiest off-set career moments have been at the ASC Clubhouse or during the awards ceremony. Before I was even a member, getting to talk shop with all these amazing cinematographers was — and is — very special. I love that the ASC is working hard to be a beacon for all new cinematographers to come and do the same. Also, seeing the initials after my name on a slate makes me wonder how I got so damn lucky. It makes me work hard to represent the Society as well as I possibly can.
You can learn more about the cinematographer here.