President’s Desk: The Flat World

Kees van Oostrum, ASC (Photo by Jacek Laskus, ASC, PSC)

During my recent travels to China, South America and Europe, I came to the conviction that in our world of cinematographic creation and physical production, our perspective could often be compared to that of the “flat Earth” theorists. For the longest time, Hollywood stood as a veritable empire of film production, a bastion of technical knowledge, facilities and, yes, nepotism. It was a male-dominated production world with little opportunity for outsiders or minorities. It was also largely run by a small group of individuals, the heads of studios, with strong, singular points of view that could best be served if the world were flat.

But, as Aristotle argued, the world is a sphere! And film production, as if propelled by gravity, has spread around the world like chocolate sauce covering a scoop of ice cream. 

When we saw ships disappear over the horizon only to later reappear, with their crews intact and bearing tales of far-distant lands, we could no longer dismiss the unknown world as nonexistent. Technology is more easily accessible and less expensive than ever before, and has popped up in countless places beyond that horizon. China is challenging the world’s production market. And who would have thought that Nigeria would now be one of the world’s largest producers of movies — some 2,500 a year — surpassed only by India?

In all of those places, crews work with the same cameras, lighting and grip equipment, and workflows as we do in the “classic” world of filmmaking. More importantly, the creative dreams and visions of those who work in their local industries parallel our own.

The ASC’s Master Class and International Master Class programs have now had more than 1,200 participants, with approximately 40 percent coming from outside of the U.S., from all over the world. These educational initiatives have given us a front-row seat to witness and experience firsthand the profound change in the global film industry. 

Some of the industry’s expansion around the globe has been driven by the influx of production incentives, but more and more we see the birth of self-sufficient production hubs. Indeed, besides the rise in co-productions between different countries, there seems to be an important trend from the likes of Netflix, HBO, Amazon and others to not only produce “global market content,” but local, homegrown content specific to various countries around the world that are outside of the “traditional” centers of activity.

It looks like we, as cinematographers, will be racking up more frequent-flyer miles than ever. 

There are about 50 cinematography associations around the world. More than any other discipline in the film industry, we keep in touch. As this column was going to press, the ASC was about to host the third bi-annual International Cinematography Summit. This year, about 40 associations — as well as Imago, the European Federation of Cinematographers — will send representatives to Los Angeles, where topics as varied as creative content, rights and the latest technology will be discussed. The only “flat” thing at the summit will be the table at which these discussions will take place. The spirit of the event will no doubt follow the shape of the round world and will support views from well beyond the horizon. 

Let’s face it: Our industry has become a global one. Trying to preserve a flat-world view will lead to the unmistakable consequence of falling off the disk — and into a very deep ocean.

Kees van Oostrum 
ASC President

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