With Christmas so close, I thought this was an appropriate subject for today…
Sincere displays of gratitude have become as difficult to find as a mainstream journalist without an agenda. Sure, you can point to the teary theatrics of awards season, but those are generally so transparent as to not withstand a second look. What I’m referring to is a genuine show of appreciation that has neither been required nor expected. To do that, an individual not only needs to be self-aware but self-possessed. It means looking beyond the moment and acknowledging that – to quote one of William Fraker, ASC’s pet phrases – “It ain’t all about you, baby.”
While shooting a feature in the early 2000’s I had the most unpleasant experience with an actor who had been an enormous star in the 1980’s and ’90’s. He struck me as the angriest, unhappiest person on the planet. The reasons for his behavior were a mystery. He was by no means destitute or physically hobbled. He still looked good. The film we were making was a worthy effort. But his psychotically selfish behavior, miserable temperament and lack of respect toward everyone was appalling. To this day he remains the most despicable example of a human being that I have ever encountered.
Which isn’t to say that he didn’t exhibit a moment of grace. One day on set a frightened PA handed Mr. Misery a small, gift wrapped box. I have no idea what was in it or from whom it had come, but it clearly made an impression. I was standing close to him when he called the PA back. He then dictated a message of thanks to the sender that was truly touching. And you know what? In that moment all of his rotten antics fell away. He was rendered decent, recognizable and relatable. By dropping his nasty charade, he revealed something true about himself and was forgiven all transgressions. Of course, the good will didn’t last out the minute. But years later those few seconds still hold some magic for me. If anyone ever needed to see an example of the healing, transformative nature of gratitude – even in ways we might not be privy to – that was it.
Meanwhile, a paradigm shift continues to take place throughout the world. Roiling change continue to keep everyone off balance; this blurs our perspective and makes context impossible to determine. Hopefully, in the New Year we’ll refocus on a less self-centered society whose one-to-one exchanges coincide with its broader ideals. I see indications of this whenever I meet with my fellow ASC members. A lot of luck is needed to sustain a career in our business and I suspect that they know it, if only on a subconscious level. I also sense a great deal of gratitude among them; in ways both subtle and overt they often acknowledge that we’re fortunate to have come this far and are able to do what we do. In fact, I’ve noticed this trait among cinematographers from every corner of the world. It seems to be part of our disposition.
Certainly, there are many other things to be grateful for in life than having chosen to work as a cinematographer. Indeed, we should be thankful for a healthy day in a world in which an errant microbe can kill you as easily as an errant bullet. But there’s another way to think about it. Rather than continuing to be caught up in the mechanics or aesthetics of what we do, why don’t we concentrate more on the relationships we forge and the things we learn about ourselves while on the job?
That way, blessed as we are to be cinematographers, true gratitude can be our only response.