The Future of Cinematography (Part 1 of 2)

At this year’s Cine Gear Expo confab — held at Paramount Studios in June — four ASC members, along with two associate members of the ASC, took part in a panel discussion entitled “The Future of Cinematography.” The panel organized and moderated by Yuri Neyman, ASC under the auspices of the Global Cinematography Institute, the film school Neyman founded with the late Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC. 

Despite the start time that coincided with the opening of the entire show for that day, the screening room was packed — standing room only. 

ASC members among the panelists included Bill Dill, Rob Legato, Christopher Probst and David Stump, with associate members Jay Holben and Josh Pines. Rounding out the panel were cinematographers Geoff Boyle, NSC, FBKS and Andrew Shulkin; VFX artist Brian Pohl; video game cinematographer Dori Arazi; futurist Marty Schindler; and yours truly. 

Given the broad topic and limited time, the panel did a good job of covering a lot of territory, thanks in part to the good-humored moderation of Neyman. But most of the discussion was related in some way to the impact of new technologies on the power of the cinematographer to control images.

What follows is Part 1 of digest of quotes, with emphasis on the contributions of ASC members. Part 2 will appear in a subsequent Parallax View post.  

Regarding breaking the rules:

Yuri Neyman: “People who find rules to break will continue to do it . . . the main concern was what makes a cinematographer more powerful. What tools make a cinematographer? What tools make a change? But the task of a cinematographer is the same, to create images, images which mean something to the audience with what we have now, what’s happening, what we’re facing now. . . In the last millennium, which was over 18 years ago, imaging and cinematography were exactly the same. Who was the person that created images? Director of photography, who else? Starting with Star Wars, Avatar and everything else, it became a collective art. So, what is the place of the cinematographer? Virtual cinematography, video game cinematography– if that is the future of cinematography or not — what one important thing can we do to preserve the power of cinematography? Not for the sake of power, but for the sake of the quality of images, because how it was before and is now, the cinematographer is the only person who is visually literate.”

Rob Legato: “The art form is still the art form. No matter what the image is or what portion of the film business you say you’re in, you’re still ultimately making an image that the audience doesn’t really care how the image was created just that it moves you. . . You didn’t want to ruin the day and then not get hired again, so you didn’t try what really makes you an individual. What kind of work will make you distinguished from someone else? It takes a long time to get there, where you have the confidence to try something that’s never been done before . . . With this ability now with the virtual cameras and the stuff we were working on using AR, VR, and all the rest of it, you can practice . . . I would have gotten much better, much quicker with today’s tools and still look like I was a traditional photographer, but it would now look like I have the experience level of the people I admire more than my ability level at the time.”

Regarding the cinematographer’s control: 

Yuri Neyman:Janusz Kaminski points at a problem, which is that people who are not cinematographers like to take over.” 

Bill Dill: “Maybe the absolute power of the cinematographer in a large Hollywood movie may be diminishing, but I’ll tell you, the world of the large Hollywood movie is diminishing . . . I think the world of control within cinematography depends completely on where you are within it. . . Just the fact that everyone, anyone, can own Da Vinci Resolve and use it on any small computer gives each cinematographer tremendous control in the way, that I remember it, cinematography has always been a collaborative.”

Josh Pines: “I remember in the good ’ol days of film, the DPs would shoot and they’d say ‘I shot this gorgeous stuff, and then it went to the VFX guys and they really screwed it up.’ Now I hear the VFX guys say, ‘We had these really great effects but then it went to the DI and the colorist really messed it up.’ So, you know there’s always a chance that someone downstream is going to mess it up. . . I think that it is evolving from that one person, but there has to be that someone whose vision it is. But there are going to be more people or processes that are involved in creating that vision.” 

Andrew Shulkind: “The rules of cinematography and visual effects start to blur. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that there’s still a vital role for someone to oversee that visual image, but I don’t think it’s been modeled yet . . . I think that as things become more numbers-driven and as music and cinema and gaming and all these other verticals start to coincide, I think that it becomes that much more vital for someone fighting for quality and someone fighting for story. 

Regarding whether the term “director of photography” is outdated to some degree:

Yuri Neyman: “What you’re saying that it’s better to be one person that will take possibilities. The concept of the director of photography is slightly outdated. It’s not a profession, it is a position. Before it was cameraman, then it became cinematographer, then director of photography, and now with all these virtual things, it’s now more than that. . . We suggested director of imaging or director of visuals.”

To be continued in Part 2.

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