Letter from the President: What Happened to “Do The Right Thing”?

At top, Andy Warhol captures footage of Velvet Underground singer Nico, using a Bolex camera equipped with an SOM Berthiot zoom lens. Warhol’s left hand is on the zoom-control lever, which a user could push forward to zoom in and pull to zoom out.

Are we still “all in this together” — words written on this page during the time we stayed at home, and repeated elsewhere around the world often enough to have become a cliché? These days, some of the behavior we see around our country makes me wonder. On a different front, fellow cinematographers have mentioned to me over the years how they have seen their work censored by government edict or by thoughtless people working in postproduction: those groups or individuals certainly are not all in this with us. Show business is tough, and always has been.

Stephen Lighthill, ASC (Portrait by Michael M. Pessah, ASC)

Speaking of tough, in our November issue we discuss some amazing documentaries shot in or revisiting demanding circumstances. We can take heart that filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin — who made The Rescue, about the schoolkids who became trapped in an underground cave in Thailand — are definitely in this together. The new documentary, which includes the camerawork of underwater cinematographer Ian Seabrook and interview cinematographers David Katznelson, BSC, DFF and Picha Srisansanee, is Vasarhelyi and Chin’s followup to the amazing, heart-stopping, Oscar-winning Free Solo, and proves once again that real stories are usually the best stories — not reality-TV-provoked stories, but stories of real lives lived in success and failure. 

Ed Lachman, ASC returns to his nonfiction roots with Todd Haynes’ documentary about the rock band The Velvet Underground, who were certainly in this with us — within the altered reality of the group itself. Playing their music now is a view of a totally in-this-with-us, humanistic, intoxicating, offbeat, too-cool-for-school band (“… I found a reason to keep living, oh, and the reason, dear, is you. I found a reason to keep singing, and the reason, dear, is you…), and they make a great subject for a documentary — although it is tough to see how much our heroes have aged (and, therefore, all of us as well).

Also this month, to help you think about how documentaries are made, ASC member Shana Hagan is guiding us through the Society’s first ASC Master Class about shooting documentaries. 

Returning to the present moment, what happened to “do the right thing,” anyway? We went from a pandemic of Covid-19 to a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” — and, in our business, a long struggle over establishing more reasonable working hours for cinematographers and other crewmembers. But still, we are all in this together — and if we stay together, we will get through this, too.

Stephen Lighthill
President, ASC


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