Why the American filmmaker’s legacy has been so illuminating (column)

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For 28 years, I had the privilege of working in the editorial department of American Cinematographer magazine – first as an editorial assistant, then as an associate editor, eventually becoming editor and my role. current editor and publisher. Many consider it “the best job in Hollywood,” with many justifications. During my tenure, I visited stages and places all over the world; along the way, I strolled on the decks of James Cameron’s “Titanic”; visited Gotham City and the Batcave with Christopher Nolan; admired Tony Stark’s collection of vintage cars on the set of “Iron Man”; and flew the Millennium Falcon between takes of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. I have met almost all of my movie heroes and have traveled all over the place to help spread the gospel of cinematography.

The reason for this access is the magazine’s trusted reputation, cultivated for over 99 years, as “the filmmaker’s Bible”. As the benchmark international publication for moving imagery, American Cinematographer has won the admiration of its subjects with in-depth production coverage that combines technical details with philosophical and aesthetic ideas. More than just a practical reference, AC has served as a de facto film school not only for filmmakers, but for other renowned artists as well. Directors Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfonso Cuarón and Yorgos Lanthimos thanked AC for providing them, instead of a film school, with their primary education in film tools and techniques; Martin Scorsese has read the magazine since his student days at NYU; cinematographer Larry Smith (“Eyes Wide Shut”) said Stanley Kubrick used to wave his pages under his nose; and Steven Spielberg once said to me, “One of the biggest accolades I have ever received was when the magazine was on the cover of one of my first films in the 70s.”

For a filmmaker carrying cards like yours, this is exhilarating. Hearing this kind of testimony from such illustrious filmmakers motivates our entire team to take its mission very seriously; we obsess over every technical detail during the fact-checking process, we seek out the best behind-the-scenes photos as if we were looking for truffles, and seek out key sources all the way to the earth if they can add value to a article.

We also respect the magazine’s long heritage as the primary communications tool of its parent organization, the American Society of Cinematographers, whose Hollywood clubhouse is known to visitors around the world as the temple of photographic wisdom. The ASC began publishing American Cinematographer in 1920 as a four-page, tabloid-sized bimonthly newsletter that kept readers informed of its members’ latest plans and production methods. A year later, AC reduced its physical dimensions and added pages. It became a monthly in March 1922 and adopted a more traditional and familiar magazine format in 1928.

In the years that followed, AC provided a mix of covers ranging from amateur nature photography to major films like “Citizen Kane”, shot by acclaimed ASC member Gregg Toland (whose camera for this film , a Mitchell BNC, occupies a place of honor in the clubhouse). The modern era of the magazine began in 1966 with the appointment of Herb Lightman as editor. Lightman began to leave his office to observe on-site productions, and he also recruited prominent filmmakers to comment and sometimes write about their own projects. The result of these efforts has been notable coverage of classics such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” (with an interview with the elusive Kubrick himself), “Chinatown”, “Jaws”, “Star Wars”, “Blade Runner “and many other outstanding productions.

Lightman served as editor-in-chief for 16 years, and his successors – Richard Patterson, George Turner, and David Heuring – have all added their personal cachet to the magazine. As the 20th publisher, I have tried to do my part by establishing a global network of freelance writers, highlighting deserving independent and overseas productions, adding new departments and overseeing several redesigns, encouraging the modernization of our websites (ascmag.com and theasc. com) and, perhaps most importantly, maintaining mutually fruitful, long-term relationships with cinematographers, directors, team members and the industry in general.

As moving imagery has moved from film and tape to digital technologies, I have witnessed a dramatic change in the way productions are shot. But while technical issues will always be the cornerstone of magazine content, it’s equally important to convey Why a particular tool or technique is used. Cinematography isn’t just about gadgets and equipment; Ultimately, it is the passion, aesthetics and finely honed sensibility of the visual artist that evokes these moments of timeless alchemy.

Stephen Pizzello is editor and publisher of American Cinematographer, the monthly publication produced by the American Society of Cinematographers. He has several credits as a director and actor.


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