The Future of Cinematography (Part 2 of 2)

At the CineGear confab at Paramount Studios earlier this year, 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. 

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, Christopher Probst, David Stump and Rob Legato, with associate members Josh Pines and Jay Holben. 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 2 of a digest of quotes, with emphasis on the contributions of ASC members. (See Part 1 in a previous Parallax View post.)

“Every time there’s a change, we cry about how much better it was before. To me it’s just not historically accurate. Have you seen what student films look like now versus what they used to look like? Student films look amazing now…” — Bill Dill, ASC

Regarding the proliferation of delivery formats:

David Stump: “The future is headed toward what is called ‘narrowcasting’ rather than broadcasting. It has become the specialty of people to gather data and read the feedback from their audiences and see what they crave and what they want to see and to focus their production in realms that return for them. A cinematographer these days [must ask] where do I focus my specialties, what’s interesting to me, what audience do I serve best telling my story? Learning to focus your skills on your market, on your specialty, on the audience that you want to reach is something I think we need to start teaching. You kind of have to decide who’s your master.” 

Regarding a new language of imaging and new opportunities:

Bill Dill: “Every time there’s a change, we cry about how much better it was before. To me it’s just not historically accurate. Have you seen what student films look like now versus what they used to look like? Student films look amazing now… I don’t think it’s muddying the waters. I actually think it’s clarifying the water, it gives more voices more of an opportunity to reach an audience because that audience is now more fractured, it’s more atomized.”

David Stump: “There are so many new ways to express yourself and to create content. There are tens of thousands more creative jobs now than there were then. When I started off, someone had to die for me to join the union. I was very fond of saying progress happens one funeral at a time.”

Yuri Neyman: “Let’s put in perspective the quality of the images and meaning of the images with technology. Please don’t forget one important thing, most of the greatest images in photography and cinematography were done by technology thousands, millions of times worse than what we have now, and we remember these images.”

Regarding new technologies and control:

Christopher Probst: “The onus is on the cinematographer to continue being the scientist and the artist. We have to be the Jekyll and the Hyde. And that expands into all the divisions of the cinematographer’s purview. We have rapidly evolving LED technology. [Computer programming] goes into cameras, and we have to understand how that ports into visual effects. We have to understand the recording formats and the different postproduction processes and how they impact the image quality. So, we have to learn all those aspects, and not just think about guarding our power but about understanding the medium. . . If you’re turning a blind eye and just saying ‘I want to turn the camera on and think it’s a film camera,’ and not understand what is actually happening at the sensor level, then you’re missing part of the control of the cinematographer.” 

Andrew Shulkind: “Facebook and Google are driven by things that are different than what drives Amazon, than what drives Apple, than what drives Netflix. Facebook and Google are driven by something that’s much more quantity driven, and that’s fine and there’s a benefit to that. But the key is to still have quality be part of that story and be something that drives people.

Yuri Neyman: “We are moving from a very entertainment, art age to an age of information. Basically, the question is, we are a cinematographer for what? What kind of images are we going to provide?”

Marty Schindler: “More importantly, regardless of the specific tools that you’re talking about, the basic management principle is to begin with the end in mind. . . You have to know where all these are heading in terms of home entertainment, which is actually the biggest dollar amount of the whole package.”

Regarding the future:             

David Heuring: “Part of the cinematographer’s role is going to be maintaining a consistent visual style and world or environment in which these characters live, across these different platforms. We’ve talked a lot about technology, but what to me cinematographers have that sets the good ones apart is that they understand how images affect human beings.”

Dave Stump: “The cinematographer has to now be an artist, a technician and to some degree a businessman. Making responsible decisions in finding the right camera you can get for the money for your project. You’ve got to take responsibility for every aspect of your image all the way to whatever screen you put it on.”

Rob Legato: “I think it’s the future is extraordinarily bright especially if you have talent…What the future of cinematography is, is the ability to practice and to try out your ideas without having the pressure of finishing the day, to experiment. . .  The person in that role is going to need to have the skills of the cinematographer that many have already had in terms of communicating with images and touching people’s emotions. They also going to have to have some other skills. It is a different medium. It’s not a flat cinema screen and so you need to understand other things. So it’s a blend of the things we learn from people like Orson Welles and Janusz Kaminski, but we’re going to have to learn some new things, too. That is essentially my point.”

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