The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC)
The word in itself, to me, is the epitome of beauty and elegance. It brings to mind lights, stands, and cameras, but not in a mechanical sense. When I hear the word cinematography, I think Casablanca; I think scenic sunsets; I think strokes of light; I think essence; I think life.
You see, cinematography is more than just a name, or tool, or some selling word, it’s a portrayal of life. When words fail to explain — and that is often — we are left with emotions, colors, movements, shadows, outlines, textures, and shapes. We enter into a realm where a closet lightbulb isn’t just a closet lightbulb; its soft, warm glow can signify an invisible, embracing character which can speak louder than the most thunderous of words.
I believe I was created for the very specific reason of discovering and bringing life through cinematography. For that reason, I want to make an ambition of mine public, for all to partake alongside my future endeavor: I want to be a part of The American Society of Cinematographers.
Trust me when I say, this will not be a simple feat.
Here is a letter by Michael Goi, President of The ASC, explaining the process of becoming a member:
It’s hard to become a member of the ASC. Now, I know that might sound like a brilliant flash of the obvious, but in reflecting on my own path to the hallowed gates of the ASC Clubhouse in Hollywood, I was reminded of just how tough it was.
First, you have to be recommended by three active members who write letters explaining why they think you’re qualified. They take into consideration your body of work as well as the integrity of your character. Those three letters are not something that you can solicit; they just have to happen. You and your cinematography have to have made enough of an impression that three of the world’s best cinematographers took notice.
Second, you are invited to sit before the Membership Committee. This call comes in a deceptively casual way. Patty Armacost, the Society’s events coordinator, called me on a Tuesday and asked if I was free that Saturday morning. Then she asked if I could come by the Clubhouse to meet some of the members, and bring 10-15 minutes of work to show them. I said sure, no problem. It wasn’t until I hung up the phone that I realized “Oh, my god! This is the ASC Membership meeting!”
Ben Toguchi, who had been the Clubhouse caretaker since 1959, greeted me at the door. He knew everyone and everything that went on in that building. He invited me to sit in the library while the committee was preparing to meet me, and he offered me something to drink. He said they would call for me in a few minutes, so I sat and waited.
When you walk into the membership meeting, you are warmly greeted by 15-20 of your cinematography heroes. At my meeting, Allen Daviau was the chairman, and sitting at the table were people like Vilmos Zsigmond, Owen Roizman, Laszlo Kovacs, Victor Kemper, George Spiro Dibie, Richard Crudo, Ron Garcia, and on and on. You shake everyone’s hand, and the world goes blank for the rest of the meeting. Seriously. The shock of being in that room with those incredible artists completely numbs you.
I know I was asked questions about my work, about the craft of cinematography and about what the ASC stands for, but I can’t honestly say I remember my answers. I know I showed my work to them, but I couldn’t tell whether they liked any of it or not. After a few more questions, they thanked me for coming, and I walked out of the room.
Then the Membership Committee discusses your qualifications, and they vote. If you pass that vote, the ASC Board of Governors considers your work and the Membership Committee’s recommendation, and then they vote. If you pass that vote, a letter proposing you for membership is sent to every active member of the ASC, and they have 30 days to write a response if they feel you should not be accepted. If there are no objections, you are then invited to join the Society.
It’s tough. Even though we are on a constant search for qualified members, we have only 316 active members as of this writing — and that’s covering the entire world, because the ASC is truly international in scope. We look for potential new members all the time. We discuss work we’ve seen on small films where the cinematography stood out. We keep tabs on student cinematographers who have shown great promise, hoping that one day they will be worthy of ASC membership. And we are excited when we find work that we feel is truly extraordinary.
As I walked out of the room after my Membership Committee meeting, old Ben came up to me and asked how it went. I told him I didn’t know. With a smile, he patted me on the back and said, “Don’t worry. I think I’m going to see you here soon. You have the right heart.”
Ben passed away two years ago. In the seven years I’ve been in the ASC, I’ve seen many people come up for consideration — shooters on big and small projects, boisterous personalities and reclusive ones. But in the end, Ben’s observation, as indefinable as it was, rings the truest: You gotta have the right heart.
I can’t wait to be on board.