Masters of Light

Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers

Dennis Schaefer
Larry Salvato
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1png9b
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Masters of Light
    Book Description:

    Through conversations held with fifteen of the most accomplished contemporary cinematographers, the authors explore the working world of the person who controls the visual look and style of a film.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90765-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The aim of this book is to explore the everyday working world of the feature motion picture cinematographer in his own words. As these conversations indicate, the cinematographer’s workday is a demanding one. He does not just direct the operation of the camera at the proper time and punch out at the end of the day. When he is working on a film, the creative cinematographer eats, breathes and lives cinematography twenty-four hours a day.

    “Cinematography,” says Mario Tosi, “is more than just making pretty pictures.” A successful cinematographer (also known as director of photography) is just as familiar with...

  4. 1 Nestor Almendros
    (pp. 5-22)

    Nestor Almendros visibly flinches whenever anyone asks how he likes being a Hollywood cameraman now. He has to point out that he’s never shot a film in Hollywood.Days of Heavenwas shot in Canada,Going Southin Mexico,Kramer vs. KramerandStill of the Nightin New York City andThe Blue Lagoonin Fiji. But that’s not really surprising since, in his twenty-year career as a director of photography, he has shot film in almost all corners of the world. And while he has never shot a film in Hollywood, he is one of the leading cinematographers...

  5. 2 John Alonzo
    (pp. 23-46)

    As much as anyone can be, John Alonzo is a student of film. As he grew up in Mexico and later Dallas, Texas, movies were his source of entertainment; he sometimes saw two or three films a day. Although, at the time, he wasn’t viewing films for the sake of cinematography, they certainly played a large part in forming cinematic ideas and concepts that he would later develop in his work.

    He first came to Los Angeles to host a children’s show on local television which featured Señor Turtle, a character he had created for a show in Dallas. Señor...

  6. 3 John Bailey
    (pp. 47-73)

    Due to union seniority rules in Hollywood, most cinematographers are just beginning to hit their stride and explore their potential around the age of forty-five. John Bailey, in his mid-thirties, is making his mark ten years early. After seven features in the last five years, he has rapidly gained a reputation as a cinematographer with fresh insight, invention and the ability to carry it off on the screen. Another Hollywood overnight success? Not when you hear about Bailey’s fifteen years of hustling.

    An alumnus of the University of Southern California Graduate School of Cinema, Bailey attended at the same time...

  7. 4 Bill Butler
    (pp. 74-98)

    Bill Butler has a habit of jolting people by casually mentioning that he’s working on his third career. His youthful and energetic outlook tends to obscure the fact that he did a stint in radio, moved on to a distinguished career in Chicago television and then finally made the transition to Hollywood filmmaking in 1969. And while many creative people might have burned themselves out along the way, Butler is probably now turning out the most significant work of this three careers.

    After receiving a degree in engineering, Butler worked in radio for a short time but quickly moved on...

  8. 5 Michael Chapman
    (pp. 99-126)

    Perhaps the one of the most gifted cinematographers who now works only infrequently is Michael Chapman. He has shot just over a dozen films but has explored a great variety of styles and viewpoints. In a certain sense, he feels he’s done it all; he now has no desire to take up the camera just for the sake of doing a film. So he does a film every twelve or eighteen months and then only when he feels he will be artistically and emotionally challenged by the project.

    Once described as “a disciple of Gordon Willis,” Chapman does not shoot...

  9. 6 Bill Fraker
    (pp. 127-151)

    Like the narrow, winding street leading to his house high in the Hollywood hills, Billy Fraker’s career has been a long and arduous climb to the top of his profession. Starting out in film school at the University of Southern California after service in World War II, he pursued a path which led him through a long apprenticeship in television on shows likeThe Lone Ranger, Outer LimitsandOzzie and Harriet.He moved on to become camera operator on Conrad Hall’s first feature as cinematographer,The Wild Seed.They continued to collaborate onMorituriandThe Professionals,both of...

  10. 7 Conrad Hall
    (pp. 152-174)

    Conrad Hall didn’t necessarily intend to pursue a career as a cinematographer. It was more a matter of fate, luck and a little ambition. The son of James Norman Hall, coauthor of theMutiny on the Bountytrilogy, he had originally wanted to be a writer like his father. But while attending the University of Southern California, a less than adequate grade in a creative writing course gave him other ideas. As he describes it, he picked up the USC arts and science catalog and went down the listings alphabetically: Astronomy, Biology, Cinema. He went no further than that. Filmmaking...

  11. 8 Laszlo Kovacs
    (pp. 175-193)

    Laszlo Kovacs tells one of those mythical, almost cliched, American success stories: the immigrant boy driven from his native land comes to America and makes a name for himself. It’s part of our collective folk culture.

    Just over twenty-five years ago, Kovacs was a young filmmaker in Hungary. When the Hungarian Revolution exploded and was ruthlessly put down by Russian armor, Kovacs along with Vilmos Zsigmond took to the streets and chronicled the revolution on film. They smuggled thirty thousand feet of documentary footage out of the country, achieving freedom for themselves in the process. Kovacs immigrated to the United...

  12. 9 Owen Roizman
    (pp. 194-218)

    Long considered one of the finest cinematographers working in New York City, Owen Roizman packed up and made his move to Hollywood in the late seventies. And while he was never at a loss for work before, he’s now constantly in demand by producers who recognize his wide-ranging versatility.

    Early in his career, Roizman gained a solid reputation for the documentary type of realism that he brought to two urban-street-life dramas,The French ConnectionandThe Taking of Pelham One Two Three.His use of low light levels on real locations was a revelation to some of Hollywood’s more conservative...

  13. 10 Vittorio Storaro
    (pp. 219-232)

    Born in 1940, Vittorio Storaro, the son of a motion picture projectionist, was encouraged by his father to formally study photography at the age of eleven. At eighteen he was one of the youngest students admitted to the Centra Sperimentale di Cinematografia (the Italian national film school). And at twenty-one, he was already working as an assistant cameraman. To be a cinematographer, to “write with light,” as he terms it, is something Storaro has been preparing for his entire life.

    Storaro is one of the cinematographers most respected among his peers. This is primarily due to the intensity, passion and...

  14. 11 Mario Tosi
    (pp. 233-246)

    Mario Tosi, unlike many of his contemporaries, had never given much thought to a career in cinematography. A native of Italy, his initial creative leanings were towards drawing and painting, an influence that is now invaluable to him in composing the motion picture frame.

    His first filmmaking experience came when he assisted an Italian cameraman and, from that point on, he began developing his skills from behind the camera.

    Never having formally trained as an assistant cameraman or an operator, Tosi started shooting documentary films independently as a way of learning the technical aspects of filmmaking. His first major film...

  15. 12 Haskell Wexler
    (pp. 247-266)

    Will the real Haskell Wexler please stand up? Haskell Wexler #1 is the imaginative Hollywood cameraman who has won four Academy Awards, a man who routinely talks with celebrities and superstar performers in the natural course of his business. Haskell Wexler #2 is the liberal, concerned documentary cameraman who fights from behind the camera to bring unpopular political realities and human truths to a wide audience. Haskell Wexler #3 is the director/cameraman of television commerical blurbs for Marlboro, Schlitz and STP—because some days you have to go out and make a living just like everybody else. If you wanted...

  16. 13 Billy Williams
    (pp. 267-283)

    A mainstay of British cinematography and former president of the British Society of Cinematographers (B.S.C.), Billy Williams has only recently become more widely known in the United States for his American films:Boardwalk, Going in Style,and his Oscar-nominatedOn Golden Pond.

    The son of a cinematographer who shot everything from silents to newsreel to features, Williams started working as an assistant to his father after he got out of school. This paternal apprenticeship provided enough technical knowledge and discipline that he soon was hired as an assistant cameraman by a documentary company. All the while, Williams was looking for...

  17. 14 Gordon Willis
    (pp. 284-310)

    Gordon Willis is the best cinematographer working in America today. Without a doubt. Period. End of discussion. And when he gets through rewriting the history of the American cameraman, he will no doubt be considered the most consistently brilliant cameraman this country has ever produced. Even in the present day, his influence in the industry is pervasive. But oddly, Willis’s name is not well known to the filmgoing public, nor is even the Hollywood community that familiar with him. Certainly the majority of the members of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences—the people who vote on the...

  18. 15 Vilmos Zsigmond
    (pp. 311-338)

    Vilmos Zsigmond is not a man to be trifled with when it comes to making movies. He makes it perfectly clear that he has no patience for idle talk and half-hearted excuses in place of excellence. After all, along with his countryman Laszlo Kovacs, he dodged Russian tanks in order to get documentary footage of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Understandably, working on a nice quiet Hollywood sound stage or in a distant location in Montana doesn’t present much of a problem to him.

    A native of Szeged, Hungary, and son of a celebrated soccer player and coach, Zsigmond developed...

  19. Glossary
    (pp. 339-344)
  20. Index
    (pp. 345-355)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 356-357)