By: Mark Ehrenkranz
Mudbound’s Rachel Morrison became the first woman ever nominated for an Oscar for cinematography. The recognition is long overdue and was given to all men since the awards began in 1929. The 2018 Academy Award ended up going to the camera giant Roger Deakins who shot Fargo, Shawshank Redemption, and many other classic movies even though top women have been recently creeping up.
The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), of which Morrison is a member, was founded in 1919. It didn’t invite a woman to join until 1980, when it admitted Brianne Murphy, reportedly the first woman to work as a cinematographer on a major Hollywood studio film (Fatso, directed by Anne Bancroft). As of 2015, just 4% of the ASC’s members were women, and last year, the society gave its president’s award to a woman for the first time. The recipient was Nancy Schreiber who’s been making movies since 1975 including Loverboy for The Bacons, Todd Berger’s IT’S A DISASTER and heaps of other great classic independent filmmaking.
The cinematographer or director of photography (DP) is the director’s right hand on set. It’s a grueling job, combining artistry, advanced technical knowledge, and team management. The DP chooses the camera, lens, and lighting for each shot, and directs a team of electricians and camera operators. A good cinematographer works closely with the director to achieve the desired visual effect in each scene. Great ones impart their unique vision to the film, which has been referred to as “painting with light.”
Recent female superstar shooters have been: Reed Moreno (Vinyl), Ellen Kuras, who has regularly collaborated with Spike Lee and Michel Gondry and has shot films such as The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Summer of Sam. Recent critical successes The Levelling (Nanu Segal), Hidden Figures (Mandy Walker), The Neon Demon (Natasha Braier), Fences and Molly’s Game (Charlotte Bruus Christensen) all had female cinematographers.
Just recently The American Film Institute announced it is launching a four-day cinematography workshop for women interested in a career in that field. The inaugural program, dubbed the AFI Cinematography Introductory Intensive for Women and sponsored by 21st Century Fox, will be held Aug. 3-6 at the institute’s Hollywood campus.
The tuition-free program, introducing the fundamentals of visual storytelling with the goal of increasing the number of women cinematographers, will be led by members of the AFI cinematography faculty as well as guests and will include production workshops, discussions and screenings of the work of pioneering female cinematographers and more. The American Society of Cinematographers will support the program through its ASC Vision Committee, which is dedicated to the advancement of underrepresented cinematographers and their crews, regardless of race, gender or age.
Also, Twentieth Century Fox Film and AFI will partner to launch the Fox DP Lab for 10 to 15 recently graduated female cinematographers from the AFI Conservatory. The lab will include master classes aimed at demystifying the hiring process, and participants will meet with executives responsible for recommending and approving cinematographers in film and television; they will see an in-production film and/or Fox series, and have the opportunity to hear from fellow cinematographers working at Fox for career guidance. Applications for that program — exclusively for AFI cinematography alumnae — will open in August.
The AFI currently offers two-year MFA degree in six filmmaking disciplines: cinematography, directing, editing, producing, production design and screenwriting. Female cinematographers to come from conservatory include Rachel Morrison (Mudbound, Black Panther), Melina Matsoukas (Beyoncé’s Formation, Insecure, as director), Ava Berkofsky (Insecure), Carolina Costa (Flower), Autumn Durald (Palo Alto) and Lisa Wiegand (Law & Order True Crime).