American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 112

Tom Hurwitz, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression
on you?
When I was about 10, I don't know why, but my mother took me to see
Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. Just as one would expect, I had
nightmares for months. But I never forgot any image that Gunnar Fischer
shot for Bergman. The frames were engraved in my mind. I intuitively
understood the power of cinematography to make images that create a
world of meaning.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Goodness! That is almost as hard as picking a favorite
film. I'm sure I'm going to leave many, many out. For
features - in no particular order - [ASC members]
Gregg Toland, James Wong Howe, Arthur Edeson,
Haskell Wexler, Gordy Willis, Peter Suschitzky, Roger
Deakins, Philippe Rousselot, Conrad Hall, Boris Kaufman,
Owen Roizman. And for docs, Roman Karmen, Paul
Strand, Al Maysles, Don Lenzer, Bob Richman, Andy
Young.
What sparked your interest in photography?
As a kid, looking at the photo book The Family of Man.
In it, I first saw the work of the great still documentarians, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt,
Dorothea Lange and W. Eugene Smith. Later, Garry Winogrand. I think I
first understood the power of documentary cinematography when I saw
the work of Paul Strand, who shot my father's watershed documentary
feature, Native Land (1942). It's still a masterpiece.
Where did you train and/or study?
I really wanted to get a liberal-arts education - which I would recommend for anyone making films, especially documentaries - so I went to
Columbia. Also, my young adulthood coincided with the Vietnam War;
my experience organizing to end it, in all sorts of communities, helped
me to understand the grandeur in everyday people.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
My first mentor was my father, the documentary director Leo Hurwitz,
who taught me that understanding editing was the key to cinematography. I worked with director Robert M. Young on one of my first
features; he had come out of documentaries and shot people in a
wonderful way. In documentaries, I assisted Don Lenzer and Bob
Elfstrom - I learned from them and many others.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
I love to look at paintings. Just a sampling of favorites: medieval icons,
Northern Renaissance masters; Italians like Duccio and Fra Angelico; then
Vermeer, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Goya; the Dutch landscape painters;
the French like David, Utrillo and Degas; then Hopper, Eakins, even
Arshile Gorky.
112

December 2015

How did you get your first break in the business?
There were so many breaks and chances. I think that every good career
is full of lucky challenges. Starting out, I was standing on a corner in
Manhattan, talking to a friend, and a cameraman she knew walked up.
Did she know any assistants who could work the next day? His had
gotten sick. I worked with him for the next year.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
In documentaries, catching the dénouement as it happens, in one shot,
composed and in the right light. I have shot some of those. They are like
grace.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
My first day as a cameraman. I was very young. The
cinematographer had gone on to another job and left
me to finish the last day. I made every mistake possible
- and I lost a client - but I learned not to make them
again.
What is the best professional advice you've ever
received?
Always listen to the story. Great cameramen use their
ears as well as their eyes.
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Docs: Winter Nomads, The Overnighters. Features: Leviathan, Ida. Plays:
Wolf Hall. Opera: The Nose.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to
try?
I'm currently shooting documentary features or television series that
involve modern dance, boxing, a hospital, and the biography of a great
woman. I just finished one about a man trying to save the last free tigers
on Earth. Working on the challenges ahead is enough for me.
If you weren't a cinematographer, what might you be doing
instead?
We have the best job in the world. When I'm not shooting, I'm teaching
young filmmakers at a great program, MFA in Social Documentary at
the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Haskell Wexler, Nancy Schreiber, Fred Murphy, Joan Churchill.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
As one of the first documentary cinematographers to be admitted, I was
proud that our area of this great art and craft was being recognized.
●

American Cinematographer

Photo by Sarah Shatz.

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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - December 2015

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American Cinematographer - December 2015 - Cover1
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