Cinematographers have been called many things, on set and off, but one defining characteristic is the ability to collaborate. The unique position of the DP requires her or him to develop a working relationship with the director on one hand, and multiple members of the crew on the other hand. This collaboration requires much listening, flexibility, patience, inventive problem-solving, and openness to other peoples’ points of view. When it works, magic ensues. When it doesn’t, productions face a rough road to completion.
This month, our magazine is starting what we intend to be a regular section called “Picture Partners,” which will feature conversations between directors and cinematographers. The term “Picture Partners” comes from the headline of an essay written by the director John Huston for American Cine-matographer way back in December 1941, just after he had directed The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. Huston, who was just starting out on his career, confessed that it wasn’t until he worked with Arthur Edeson, ASC, the cinematographer on Maltese Falcon, that he came to understand what it was that a cinematographer actually did: “They tell their stories with the camera.” Who knew!
Our first installment of this new department, on page 26 of the magazine, is a conversation between Shelly Johnson, ASC and Aaron Schneider, ASC — the DP and director, respectively, on Greyhound, starring Tom Hanks. (All three seen at the top of the page.) This and future discussions will delve into the collaborative process that takes place when a director with a story comes to a cinematographer to turn that story into a series of moving images. Each director has a unique vision and each cinematographer has a unique style — the numerous collaborative permutations create the richness of Hollywood, and of the film and television industries worldwide.
Continuing on this theme, the general idea of collaboration — listening, flexibility, patience, inventive problem-solving, and openness to other peoples’ points of view — is something that I as president intend to hold firm to in the way the ASC is run, and the way we deal with our members and everyone in our industry. Sam Spade may have chosen to slap Joel Cairo in the face, but that was Sam Spade. In this troubled time that we are living through, there is much value in seeking a collaborative solution to all the problems we face, rather than trying to out-shout — or silence — those with whom we don’t see eye to eye.