What exactly is the American Society of Cinematographers?
The ASC is a professional, educational and fraternal group – the oldest organization in the motion picture industry. It was formed in 1919 when the Static Club of America (headquartered in Los Angeles) and the Cinema Camera Club (located in New York City) merged as the current entity. The ASC is not a union. It’s an honorary group, with membership by invitation only to elite directors of photography who have consistently distinguished themselves. Bestowal of the ASC suffix is rare. In the history of the medium fewer than 800 individuals have been granted the right to use it.
Where is the ASC headquartered and how many members are there?
Based in Hollywood, the legendary ASC Clubhouse is situated at the southeast corner of Orange Drive and Franklin Avenue. It was built in 1903 and we have occupied it since 1937. The ASC currently has about 450 active members; associate membership is made up of about 150 technologists, equipment suppliers, manufacturers and representatives of related companies. Among our many efforts, we have published American Cinematographer magazine every month since 1920. We also publish the industry bible, the American Cinematographer Manual; the 11th edition will soon be released in print and digital forms. Each February we celebrate the ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography, an event that attracts nearly 1,600 people.
Does the ASC do anything for students?
Our motto is Loyalty, Progress, Artistry, but you might add Education to that as well. Throughout the year, the ASC conducts many student-related initiatives; members participate in an endless array of practical demonstrations and panel discussions. They also mentor students and lecture at schools around the world. The ASC Master Class took the industry by storm in 2015 and is recognized as the best of its kind in the world.
What about the technology side of things?
From a standing start in 2003, the ASC Motion Imaging Technical Committee – under the leadership of Curtis Clark, ASC – has become the leading voice in shaping the evolution and introduction of new technologies. Without its influence, there’s no doubt we would now be burdened with inferior imaging workflows.
So, what are you people, anyway…artists or scientists?
Cinematographers are both artists and scientists – with a slight advantage to the artist. As the director’s closest collaborator throughout prep and production (and during the printing\digital mastering phase in post), we are co-architects of the visual plan. We use light, color and movement to transform words into a physical reality that matches the director’s interpretation. And don’t forget that the moods we create gain their marvel from their immediacy: If there’s no light, there’s no motion picture!
What else drives the organization?
Perhaps the most defining trait we’ve nurtured for over 102 years is the passion each ASC member has for the job they do. It’s something we cherish and guard preciously, and I believe it sets us apart from most everyone else in the industry.
And it’s exactly this ethic that we need to bring with greater vigor to the community. Society has changed, as have movies and television. But the nature of our work and the motivations that drive us to do it have not. Without our vigilance, a magnificent art form could easily be lost forever.