The DI, Luddites and Other Musings

This article was written for the American Cinematographer magazine, Oct. 2008, in response to an opinion previously published in this magazine on the DI process.

As a film-school student, I sought any and all information I could gather from everywhere and anywhere. American Cinematographer was a primary authority because the information in its pages came through the patronage of the American Society of Cinematographers. It is the same today.

From my many sources, I learned a lens operated to its best advantage at an aperture of T4-5.6. I learned lighting involved the use of a keylight, a backlight, a fill light, an eyelight and something referred to as a kicker. I learned my negative needed to be meticulously exposed so as to print at a mid-light of 25, and that a true cinematographer used Brute Arcs to light a set and a geared head (operated by a specialist) to achieve smooth camera-panning shots.

But I also learned Raoul Coutard operated the camera himself, and that he would often shoot with a handheld Camiflex camera and sometimes light his shots using household bulbs and tinfoil reflectors. I learned John Alton, ASC was ostracized in his time for his radical approach to lighting, eschewing the use of greenbeds and declaring, “It’s not what you light, it’s what you don’t light” that’s important. I learned Conrad Hall, ASC overexposed his negative by some 2 1/2 stops to achieve the stunning anamorphic images in Abraham Polonsky’s Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969) — a technique he repeated for the exteriors in John Huston’s 1:85:1 feature Fat City (1972).

I had seen Peter Watkins’ films Culloden (1964) and The War Game (1965) before the latter was banned by the BBC for something like 20 years. Both films had a profound effect on me, the first for its contemporary reportage-style re-creation of the battle of Culloden (“They have created a desert and called it peace,” declares a reporter while viewing the historic battle and its aftermath), and the second for depicting what, in 1965, could very well have been our imminent, all-too-possible future. Both films were made for the BBC in grainy black-and-white in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio; Culloden was photographed by the late, great Dick Bush, BSC, and The War Game by Peter Bartlett and Peter Suschitzky, ASC. Both films were handheld and sometimes out of focus, they lacked any sense of artifice, and they were the most powerful films I had seen, both then and perhaps since.

In 1968, I saw Once Upon A Time in the West, and in 1969, The Wild Bunch. At the National Film School, I learned the latter was shot by Lucien Ballard, ASC using 35mm film in the anamorphic format and blown up to 70mm for projection at the larger theatres, whilst the former, shot by Tonino Delli Colli, AIC, was photographed in Techniscope, a 2-perf pull-down system with a negative area of just 9.47mm x 22mm. (That would be a poor man’s Super 35mm, I suppose!) I loved both films then and still watch them often. In his 1974 philosophical study of the concept of quality, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Piring never seems to come up with a definition of quality, but both Once Upon A Time in the West and The Wild Bunch defined and still define quality for me. Stylistically, they are quite different, a product of the opposing systems of image capture the filmmakers used, selective depth of field against deep focus, et cetera, but they are equal works of — and I use the word cautiously — art.

The messages for this student of cinematography remained confused. What was the right way to approach cinematography? What was the best way to create an image? Why was there no test I had to take before I became a cinematographer?

Many years after I left the National Film School, I visited Conrad Hall on his island paradise off Tahiti and spent evenings talking with him over dinner at our home in Santa Monica. My wife and I rebuilt our house in 1999, and I was keen to show Conrad my new darkroom; after a break of some years, I had become keen on taking still photographs again, and the darkroom had been a prerequisite of our new home. My expectations were shattered when Conrad pronounced the photochemical process “antiquated.” Why wasn’t I using a digital stills camera? All those messy chemicals! You could not predict what Conrad would do, certainly not when it came to his cinematography. He talked at length and with great enthusiasm about the opportunities digital manipulation would create, after he had seen a small example of the technologywhilst shooting Road to Perdition (2002). Conrad’s mantra was always, “Story! Story! Story!” I would never presume that he would have failed to embrace the digital-intermediate (DI) finish or any other new technique that might have helped him develop as a visual storyteller and would have benefited the project.

I remain an avid, though amateur, black-and-white stills photographer, and I continue to shoot on film. The other day, I was in Samy’s Camera buying some developer when the cashier referred to me as a “mad scientist,” or maybe it was a “Luddite!” “I own a Leica M8 digital as well,” I muttered as I left.

Not that I don’t sympathize with the Luddites. Napoleon was on the rampage in Europe, his continental system of blockade was threatening to strangle the economy, there was the small matter of a war against a former colony, and the stirrings of the Industrial Revolution were threatening to take their jobs. But for all their protests, the Luddites were no match for the mechanical loom. Invented in 1801, the Jacquard Loom, which used punch-card controls, was the conceptual precursor of the computer. It is not such a stretch to say that it was an ancestor of the DI. So much for history!

Some time ago, I was privileged to see a newly restored print of Citizen Kane(1941) that had been made from a negative found in Belgium. The film is universally (well, on this planet, at least) acclaimed for its innovative and masterly cinematography. Watching the film again, in awe of its visuals, I was drawn to study the variations in image “quality” from scene to scene. The print was excellent, so good that variations — caused, I imagine, by stock inconsistencies, uneven or deliberately forced development, variation in lens resolution at different apertures, and the optical manipulation of certain images — were quite apparent. What, I wondered, would Gregg Toland, ASC have thought of modern film stocks, the T1.4 Arri Master Prime lenses, the Steadicam and the remote head, let alone digital compositing? With all our modern inventions and innovations, there are few films that manage to achieve the “quality” of Citizen Kane, though there are many that have far less grain and considerably higher resolution.

I would not for a moment suggest a Super 35mm image scanned at 4K or even 6K would approach the resolution of an anamorphic image produced photochemically today. It might be interesting, though, to compare the resolution of a release print of an anamorphic film from the ’60s or ’70s, generated from an internegative, with a release print of a contemporary film shot in Super 35mm on Kodak Vision2 200T 5217 using a Master Prime or a Cook S4 lens and scanned, timed and recorded out at 6K/4K. So much for resolution, as well as history!

But what do we mean by “quality?” Isn’t that what we’re concerned about?

Was here Will Be Blood (2007) a stunning achievement in cinematographic “quality” because it was shot in anamorphic, or did its exceptional shot conception and exquisite sense of composition and the meticulous execution of it all by the camera operator play a part?

Is the current nostalgia for the “look” of the films of the ’60s and ’70s due to their picture quality (and here I do mean resolution) or to the direct and simple way their visual construction helps tell the story?

There is nostalgia, too, for a time when the cinematographer’s craft was less transparent, something of a mystery known only to a few.

Today, there are many more toys and more people who want to play the game. A majority of films are probably finished digitally, 4K has become something of a standard, and 6K imaging is no longer an impossible goal. Yes, the DI is a powerful tool, but it holds no threat to the filmmaker, only opportunities. How quickly we forget that when fast lenses and film stocks were introduced, some producers said lights were no longer necessary! Since then, I managed to overload and blow out the transformer at Wilmington Studios, and we’ve seen the development of the 18K HMI, the 12K Par, the 100K SoftSun, and so on.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) could well have been shot in anamorphic and finished photochemically. Would it have been a better film? Would its images have been of a better “quality”? It certainly would not have looked the same.

Contrary to popular belief, the manipulation of images in the digital world takes a great deal of skill. It offers no easy fix for those who are careless with their exposures, and there is no software that can compensate for poor lighting or shot conception. The closer the photographed image is to the filmmaker’s intent, the more control the DI suite avails the cinematographer.

I have just completed the digital timing of a scene that involved covering a long walk-and-talk over two days of variable weather last January. On the first day, the forecast promised us the cloud cover we wanted, but we arrived to find a bright blue sky. So we waited, and then we waited some more! As is often the case, the light began to fade as we began shooting the scene, and the time inevitably came when I could no longer expose my negative “correctly.” We were using a Steadicam and were at T1.4 on the 40mm lens, and my assistant certainly had to perform a minor miracle. But the scene was not just about the shots — it seldom is. The performances were mesmerizing, and, like the director, I wanted to shoot while the actors were on top of their game. I knew with the combination of the larger negative (I was shooting Super 1.85:1), the resolution of the Master Prime (even at T1.4), and the controls I would have in the DI, I had a chance to make the shots match in an acceptable way.

The closer angles we shot on a subsequent day under rather different cloud conditions were also a challenge. There was no alternative — we had no more time and no other days in the schedule. Was I to refuse to shoot? Yes, I made a deliberate compromise in terms of image quality, but not, I suspect, in terms of the quality of the completed film. Every shot I have ever made has been a compromise in some way. That’s a sweeping statement, but true nonetheless. No image has ever been as good as the one I envisioned in my mind’s eye. Maybe that’s what keeps me going: just once, I want to see that image onscreen!

Is it so wrong that the DI process is used to soften a few wrinkles? It is certainly easier to make a selective “fix” using contemporary digital software without compromising the whole frame; with digital tools, any cut between shots can be made less jarring than a cut to a shot that utilizes the complete coverage that traditional lens diffusion or Vaseline has to offer. Is any so-called “interference” by an actor so new? Marlene Dietrich was not alone in dictating the way she was lit, after all. What if the story involves a flashback in which the actress appears 20 years younger than she is in the main body of the film? Is digital retouching acceptable in that situation?

From time to time, it crosses my mind that I am somehow cheating, until I remember how I dodge and burn my darkroom prints, or that the widely admired photographs of George Hurrell owe as much to their retouching as they do to the original negative. Personally, I prefer the grainy street photography of Roger Mayne, but that’s another story. But I will own up to progressively adding grain to a recent film. Yes, I did say “adding grain.” Blame who you will, but for better or worse, Pandora’s Box has been opened.

Some years ago, I was asked to oversee the timing for a new DVD of Sid and Nancy (1986). Apologies were made that this would be done using reels from a number of prints because no one pristine copy could be found. Naturally, I objected, and eventually, an interpositive was struck from the original cut negative, which, fortunately, still existed in the vaults of the lab. There has always been a disregard for preservation, whether it’s preservation of a historic site, the Dodo, the polar bear, or a film like Sid and Nancy.

Only last week, it was announced that a 16mm copy of Fritz Lang’s original cut of Metropolis (1926) had been found in Argentina, revealing 20 minutes of unseen footage. Why is there so much more concern for archiving a film just because it has been finished digitally? Any number of negatives can be recorded out from the digital master, as can any number of separations. Whilst I would agree that a print taken from an internegative made from the output negative of O Brother … will not have the resolution of the original negative, things have changed in the years since that film was finished. It is both less expensive and faster to record out “original” negatives, and it might not be long before a scan of an original camera negative will retain more information than any photochemical copy. (Maybe that’s true right now if the scan were 6K or 8K.) A print taken from a 4K master of a Super 35mm negative is surely superior in terms of resolution and saturation to one taken from an internegative of the same original.

And I have not touched on the number of films, from Napoleon (1927) to The African Queen (1951), that have been restored digitally! Is that not incongruous? I look forward to seeing another digitally restored version of Lang’s iconic film in the not-too-distant future. So much for resolution, history and preservation!

Then there is Wall-E (2008). I was privileged to be involved in a very minor way in the making of that film, and I learnt a great deal about the process behind what Pixar refers to as an “animated” film. The animators who “photographed” the film worked in a three-dimensional world and covered the action in much the same way as a live-action film, but the directors of photography, Danielle Feinberg (lighting) and Jeremy Lasky (camera) – separate positions you might note – used no emulsion, no Fresnel lamps or diffusion, no Steadicam, no geared head, nor any other live-action tool. Nevertheless, theirs was a stunning cinematographic achievement. It’s true they had an advantage — they never had to battle fading daylight, conceal a light’s source or hide dolly tracks — but I would not hesitate to recommend them for ASC membership.

There are all sorts of techniques and technologies we cinematographers can use to create our images. Some are new, and some have been in use since The Robe (1953) was photographed, or even longer than that. Some of us migrate to one way of doing something rather than another. A video artist might choose to use film and a filmmaker might choose to use video, but is it not diversity that makes any form of human activity interesting?

It’s been awhile since I was a student, but information continues to come at me from a variety of sources professing a variety of certainties, whether in regard to the role of the operator, digital capture, or other thorny issues. If you believe cinematography is more than a craft, then there can be no formula for shooting a film. There can be no rules. Just as we have no definition for what we mean by “quality,” we can’t say what really gives an image resonance, but I’m sure there is more to it than technique.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that film should be consigned to the history books anytime soon, or that anamorphic is redundant (one recent blockbuster has disproved that idea); at the same time, I would not dissuade the use of 16mm or a cell phone to capture an image if that medium were appropriate. Only change is a certainty, and as members of the ASC, we need to encourage students of cinematography to find their own ways of seeing and their own ways of creating images in our changing industry. If there is a threat to the role of the cinematographer in the future, it will surely be the lack of vision.

There is Culloden and there is The Wild Bunch. I’m so very glad we have both.

This article was written for the American Cinematographer magazine, Oct. 2008, in response to an opinion previously published in this magazine on the DI process.

As a film-school student, I sought any and all information I could gather from everywhere and anywhere. American Cinematographer was a primary authority because the information in its pages came through the patronage of the American Society of Cinematographers. It is the same today.

From my many sources, I learned a lens operated to its best advantage at an aperture of T4-5.6. I learned lighting involved the use of a keylight, a backlight, a fill light, an eyelight and something referred to as a kicker. I learned my negative needed to be meticulously exposed so as to print at a mid-light of 25, and that a true cinematographer used Brute Arcs to light a set and a geared head (operated by a specialist) to achieve smooth camera-panning shots.

But I also learned Raoul Coutard operated the camera himself, and that he would often shoot with a handheld Camiflex camera and sometimes light his shots using household bulbs and tinfoil reflectors. I learned John Alton, ASC was ostracized in his time for his radical approach to lighting, eschewing the use of greenbeds and declaring, “It’s not what you light, it’s what you don’t light” that’s important. I learned Conrad Hall, ASC overexposed his negative by some 2 1/2 stops to achieve the stunning anamorphic images in Abraham Polonsky’s Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969) — a technique he repeated for the exteriors in John Huston’s 1:85:1 feature Fat City (1972).

I had seen Peter Watkins’ films Culloden (1964) and The War Game (1965) before the latter was banned by the BBC for something like 20 years. Both films had a profound effect on me, the first for its contemporary reportage-style re-creation of the battle of Culloden (“They have created a desert and called it peace,” declares a reporter while viewing the historic battle and its aftermath), and the second for depicting what, in 1965, could very well have been our imminent, all-too-possible future. Both films were made for the BBC in grainy black-and-white in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio; Culloden was photographed by the late, great Dick Bush, BSC, and The War Game by Peter Bartlett and Peter Suschitzky, ASC. Both films were handheld and sometimes out of focus, they lacked any sense of artifice, and they were the most powerful films I had seen, both then and perhaps since.

In 1968, I saw Once Upon A Time in the West, and in 1969, The Wild Bunch. At the National Film School, I learned the latter was shot by Lucien Ballard, ASC using 35mm film in the anamorphic format and blown up to 70mm for projection at the larger theatres, whilst the former, shot by Tonino Delli Colli, AIC, was photographed in Techniscope, a 2-perf pull-down system with a negative area of just 9.47mm x 22mm. (That would be a poor man’s Super 35mm, I suppose!) I loved both films then and still watch them often. In his 1974 philosophical study of the concept of quality, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Piring never seems to come up with a definition of quality, but both Once Upon A Time in the West and The Wild Bunch defined and still define quality for me. Stylistically, they are quite different, a product of the opposing systems of image capture the filmmakers used, selective depth of field against deep focus, et cetera, but they are equal works of — and I use the word cautiously — art.

The messages for this student of cinematography remained confused. What was the right way to approach cinematography? What was the best way to create an image? Why was there no test I had to take before I became a cinematographer?

Many years after I left the National Film School, I visited Conrad Hall on his island paradise off Tahiti and spent evenings talking with him over dinner at our home in Santa Monica. My wife and I rebuilt our house in 1999, and I was keen to show Conrad my new darkroom; after a break of some years, I had become keen on taking still photographs again, and the darkroom had been a prerequisite of our new home. My expectations were shattered when Conrad pronounced the photochemical process “antiquated.” Why wasn’t I using a digital stills camera? All those messy chemicals! You could not predict what Conrad would do, certainly not when it came to his cinematography. He talked at length and with great enthusiasm about the opportunities digital manipulation would create, after he had seen a small example of the technologywhilst shooting Road to Perdition (2002). Conrad’s mantra was always, “Story! Story! Story!” I would never presume that he would have failed to embrace the digital-intermediate (DI) finish or any other new technique that might have helped him develop as a visual storyteller and would have benefited the project.

I remain an avid, though amateur, black-and-white stills photographer, and I continue to shoot on film. The other day, I was in Samy’s Camera buying some developer when the cashier referred to me as a “mad scientist,” or maybe it was a “Luddite!” “I own a Leica M8 digital as well,” I muttered as I left.

Not that I don’t sympathize with the Luddites. Napoleon was on the rampage in Europe, his continental system of blockade was threatening to strangle the economy, there was the small matter of a war against a former colony, and the stirrings of the Industrial Revolution were threatening to take their jobs. But for all their protests, the Luddites were no match for the mechanical loom. Invented in 1801, the Jacquard Loom, which used punch-card controls, was the conceptual precursor of the computer. It is not such a stretch to say that it was an ancestor of the DI. So much for history!

Some time ago, I was privileged to see a newly restored print of Citizen Kane(1941) that had been made from a negative found in Belgium. The film is universally (well, on this planet, at least) acclaimed for its innovative and masterly cinematography. Watching the film again, in awe of its visuals, I was drawn to study the variations in image “quality” from scene to scene. The print was excellent, so good that variations — caused, I imagine, by stock inconsistencies, uneven or deliberately forced development, variation in lens resolution at different apertures, and the optical manipulation of certain images — were quite apparent. What, I wondered, would Gregg Toland, ASC have thought of modern film stocks, the T1.4 Arri Master Prime lenses, the Steadicam and the remote head, let alone digital compositing? With all our modern inventions and innovations, there are few films that manage to achieve the “quality” of Citizen Kane, though there are many that have far less grain and considerably higher resolution.

I would not for a moment suggest a Super 35mm image scanned at 4K or even 6K would approach the resolution of an anamorphic image produced photochemically today. It might be interesting, though, to compare the resolution of a release print of an anamorphic film from the ’60s or ’70s, generated from an internegative, with a release print of a contemporary film shot in Super 35mm on Kodak Vision2 200T 5217 using a Master Prime or a Cook S4 lens and scanned, timed and recorded out at 6K/4K. So much for resolution, as well as history!

But what do we mean by “quality?” Isn’t that what we’re concerned about?

Was here Will Be Blood (2007) a stunning achievement in cinematographic “quality” because it was shot in anamorphic, or did its exceptional shot conception and exquisite sense of composition and the meticulous execution of it all by the camera operator play a part?

Is the current nostalgia for the “look” of the films of the ’60s and ’70s due to their picture quality (and here I do mean resolution) or to the direct and simple way their visual construction helps tell the story?

There is nostalgia, too, for a time when the cinematographer’s craft was less transparent, something of a mystery known only to a few.

Today, there are many more toys and more people who want to play the game. A majority of films are probably finished digitally, 4K has become something of a standard, and 6K imaging is no longer an impossible goal. Yes, the DI is a powerful tool, but it holds no threat to the filmmaker, only opportunities. How quickly we forget that when fast lenses and film stocks were introduced, some producers said lights were no longer necessary! Since then, I managed to overload and blow out the transformer at Wilmington Studios, and we’ve seen the development of the 18K HMI, the 12K Par, the 100K SoftSun, and so on.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) could well have been shot in anamorphic and finished photochemically. Would it have been a better film? Would its images have been of a better “quality”? It certainly would not have looked the same.

Contrary to popular belief, the manipulation of images in the digital world takes a great deal of skill. It offers no easy fix for those who are careless with their exposures, and there is no software that can compensate for poor lighting or shot conception. The closer the photographed image is to the filmmaker’s intent, the more control the DI suite avails the cinematographer.

I have just completed the digital timing of a scene that involved covering a long walk-and-talk over two days of variable weather last January. On the first day, the forecast promised us the cloud cover we wanted, but we arrived to find a bright blue sky. So we waited, and then we waited some more! As is often the case, the light began to fade as we began shooting the scene, and the time inevitably came when I could no longer expose my negative “correctly.” We were using a Steadicam and were at T1.4 on the 40mm lens, and my assistant certainly had to perform a minor miracle. But the scene was not just about the shots — it seldom is. The performances were mesmerizing, and, like the director, I wanted to shoot while the actors were on top of their game. I knew with the combination of the larger negative (I was shooting Super 1.85:1), the resolution of the Master Prime (even at T1.4), and the controls I would have in the DI, I had a chance to make the shots match in an acceptable way.

The closer angles we shot on a subsequent day under rather different cloud conditions were also a challenge. There was no alternative — we had no more time and no other days in the schedule. Was I to refuse to shoot? Yes, I made a deliberate compromise in terms of image quality, but not, I suspect, in terms of the quality of the completed film. Every shot I have ever made has been a compromise in some way. That’s a sweeping statement, but true nonetheless. No image has ever been as good as the one I envisioned in my mind’s eye. Maybe that’s what keeps me going: just once, I want to see that image onscreen!

Is it so wrong that the DI process is used to soften a few wrinkles? It is certainly easier to make a selective “fix” using contemporary digital software without compromising the whole frame; with digital tools, any cut between shots can be made less jarring than a cut to a shot that utilizes the complete coverage that traditional lens diffusion or Vaseline has to offer. Is any so-called “interference” by an actor so new? Marlene Dietrich was not alone in dictating the way she was lit, after all. What if the story involves a flashback in which the actress appears 20 years younger than she is in the main body of the film? Is digital retouching acceptable in that situation?

From time to time, it crosses my mind that I am somehow cheating, until I remember how I dodge and burn my darkroom prints, or that the widely admired photographs of George Hurrell owe as much to their retouching as they do to the original negative. Personally, I prefer the grainy street photography of Roger Mayne, but that’s another story. But I will own up to progressively adding grain to a recent film. Yes, I did say “adding grain.” Blame who you will, but for better or worse, Pandora’s Box has been opened.

Some years ago, I was asked to oversee the timing for a new DVD of Sid and Nancy (1986). Apologies were made that this would be done using reels from a number of prints because no one pristine copy could be found. Naturally, I objected, and eventually, an interpositive was struck from the original cut negative, which, fortunately, still existed in the vaults of the lab. There has always been a disregard for preservation, whether it’s preservation of a historic site, the Dodo, the polar bear, or a film like Sid and Nancy.

Only last week, it was announced that a 16mm copy of Fritz Lang’s original cut of Metropolis (1926) had been found in Argentina, revealing 20 minutes of unseen footage. Why is there so much more concern for archiving a film just because it has been finished digitally? Any number of negatives can be recorded out from the digital master, as can any number of separations. Whilst I would agree that a print taken from an internegative made from the output negative of O Brother … will not have the resolution of the original negative, things have changed in the years since that film was finished. It is both less expensive and faster to record out “original” negatives, and it might not be long before a scan of an original camera negative will retain more information than any photochemical copy. (Maybe that’s true right now if the scan were 6K or 8K.) A print taken from a 4K master of a Super 35mm negative is surely superior in terms of resolution and saturation to one taken from an internegative of the same original.

And I have not touched on the number of films, from Napoleon (1927) to The African Queen (1951), that have been restored digitally! Is that not incongruous? I look forward to seeing another digitally restored version of Lang’s iconic film in the not-too-distant future. So much for resolution, history and preservation!

Then there is Wall-E (2008). I was privileged to be involved in a very minor way in the making of that film, and I learnt a great deal about the process behind what Pixar refers to as an “animated” film. The animators who “photographed” the film worked in a three-dimensional world and covered the action in much the same way as a live-action film, but the directors of photography, Danielle Feinberg (lighting) and Jeremy Lasky (camera) – separate positions you might note – used no emulsion, no Fresnel lamps or diffusion, no Steadicam, no geared head, nor any other live-action tool. Nevertheless, theirs was a stunning cinematographic achievement. It’s true they had an advantage — they never had to battle fading daylight, conceal a light’s source or hide dolly tracks — but I would not hesitate to recommend them for ASC membership.

There are all sorts of techniques and technologies we cinematographers can use to create our images. Some are new, and some have been in use since The Robe (1953) was photographed, or even longer than that. Some of us migrate to one way of doing something rather than another. A video artist might choose to use film and a filmmaker might choose to use video, but is it not diversity that makes any form of human activity interesting?

It’s been awhile since I was a student, but information continues to come at me from a variety of sources professing a variety of certainties, whether in regard to the role of the operator, digital capture, or other thorny issues. If you believe cinematography is more than a craft, then there can be no formula for shooting a film. There can be no rules. Just as we have no definition for what we mean by “quality,” we can’t say what really gives an image resonance, but I’m sure there is more to it than technique.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that film should be consigned to the history books anytime soon, or that anamorphic is redundant (one recent blockbuster has disproved that idea); at the same time, I would not dissuade the use of 16mm or a cell phone to capture an image if that medium were appropriate. Only change is a certainty, and as members of the ASC, we need to encourage students of cinematography to find their own ways of seeing and their own ways of creating images in our changing industry. If there is a threat to the role of the cinematographer in the future, it will surely be the lack of vision.

There is Culloden and there is The Wild Bunch. I’m so very glad we have both.