Cinematographers can have as much influence over a film as a director. But will prestige TV and declining ticket sales at cinemas put their craft at risk?
Cinematography is one of the most mysterious aspects of film-making. The American Society of Cinematographers turned 100 this month and, though last year’s Oscar for the category drew attention after the first nomination for a female cinematographer, and Twitter users reguarly share examples of “One Perfect Shot”, the art of “painting with light” is little understood.
Cinematographers are responsible for photographing films, but in practice their job is more complex. The skill of the cinematographer, or director of photography, is to combine visual artistry with technical knowledge and a certain amount of people management. “Maybe as many as 80 people on a movie come under your direct command,” says Bill Butler, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer who worked on classics including Jaws and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. “Next to the director, it’s the cinematographer who is really in charge of everything, from the costume you wear to the makeup. You do a lot more than just take meter readings.”
One perfect shot: the unsung power of cinematography