Mark Vargo, ASC

Unleash Your Creative Potential!

Welcome! My website is filled with valuable tips, anecdotes, and tons of useful information not found in any textbook. I’m dedicated to sharing what I know with up and coming filmmakers.

Hello 2022 and Happy New Year!

Had some fun building this over the break and it actually works!



Big Sensor, Big Headaches

I just returned from Providence, Rhode Island having completed a short stint as the 2nd Unit Director/DP on “Hocus Pocus 2”. It’s a big film that’s being photographed with a big “Monstro” sensor housed within a “Panavised” RED camera body.

I’m not sure why we need a digital sensor this large yet, particularly when there aren’t enough “matched set” lenses available to properly cover the field. We had 7 lenses, 3 different manufacturers and not one of them was faster than a 2.8 plus two lenses couldn’t accept remote iris motors – PLUS - 2 required a special adapter. I noticed some vignetting on two of the lenses but they liked the look and wanted to shoot with them anyway.

If I was paying for a camera package that cost 40K a week I would want the option to add vignetting – not bake it in.

We had a similar issue on Transformers using the Alexa LF – not enough lenses available.

The other big deal is that since the Monstro is a much large sensor, you’ll need longer lenses to match the super 35 field of view. In other words, if you want to match the F.O.V. a 50mm provides via a conventional 35mm sensor, you’ll be wearing an 85mm lens to match that size with the Monstro sensor. We all know that pulling focus on longer lenses is harder, especially wide open.

Not sure we took full advantage of the 5K image either, as we stacked 2 kinds of diffusion in the matte box: #1 Black Satin and ¼ Soft Effects. (good filters for wrinkles and complexion.) Listen, I like that people are pushing the technology but I’m not sure that this sensor is ready for prime time. We are an industry that relies on efficiency and image consistency and I see neither with the Monstro sensor as of now.

PS – I’m hoping this vintage lens craze passes soon, I’m getting tired of veiling and unnecessary flaring.



Fill Ratio

Here is a handy guide to determine fill levels for a portrait. It also will clarify the definition of "Ratios" for you. I tend to set these levels by eye, but will often take a reading out of interest. I don't use much fill, and in fact, I spend time trying to reduce the ambience near the subject. That's called, "Negative Fill".





Started work on the latest edition of "Transformers" recently and am currently in Montreal getting ready for a July 17th start date. Can't say much about the project other than it is not directed by Michael Bay. Looking forward. to shooting the action sequences that take place in Montreal, New York and Peru. We will be filming with the Arri Alexa LF and will be moving these cameras in as many different way as you can imagine. Production wraps up in early November. Stay tuned!




Accurately Reading and Balancing LED Lights requires the latest color meter.

I have finally fully committed to LED lights, particularly the RGB variety.


When I first started in the business color negative film was balanced for 3200K and that was it. Shooting outside required correcting 5600K to 3200K, accomplished by inserting a Wratten #85 glass filter or gel in the light path. Shooting on stage employed lights with “continuous” full spectrum, filament based fixtures only. These ranged from 25 watt household bulbs up to large 10,000 watt units. Generally speaking, the color temperature of “practical” lamps and bare bulbs measure around 2500K and the movie lights 3200K. To warm up a movie light to match the warmth of a desk lamp we added “CTO” (color temperature orange). For a cooler or night time look we added “CTB” (color temperature blue). We still use these gels today for correction and creative applications.


The choices were simple, straightforward and around for a long time. Highly saturated party colored gels emerged in the 70’s and were popular in nightclub and hallucinogenic sequences, etc. They are still widely used today. RGB LED lights can replicate any of these gel colors electronically in addition to being able to match ANY other lighting source on set.


Provided you have the latest color meter.


Mixed colored lighting environments never bothered me much until inexpensive, fixed color LED’s arrived. The sometimes bizarre native color they exhibited was noticeable to the eye and very difficult to manually balance accurately until Sekonic introduced the C 700 color meter a few years ago. This meter was able to identify and recommend the gels needed to balance nasty color spikes inherent in cheap LED’s. If you’re in the market for new lights, don’t be seduced by the low price, study the published CRI properties of the light first and look at the spectrographic charts that the manufacturer should provide to the consumer.


An RGB LED color gamut is huge as seen in the above CIE 1931 chart. Old color meters don’t see these additional wavelengths accurately and a color meter has to, if you want a good match to other light sources.


So if you are fussy about knowing exactly what the color temperature of a light is and you need the ability to match that source to other fixtures, be prepared to spend some real money to get the latest color meter from Sekonic. Tough to swallow, but a necessary investment if you are serious about cinematography.




good bye 2020, hello 2021

These are B&W separations from a color image. They are made in three printing passes using RED, GREEN and BLUE filters. There is no better way to archive a movie than to generate B&W seps printed on estar based panchromatic film stock. (called "Channels" in Photoshop)


Looking forward to starting a brand new and hopefully better year. My God! Could it get much worse? Perhaps, but I sure hope not.


My pledge this year, In addition to more frequent posts, is to start a blog - here -  about the prep and shoot for a new film from Victor Nunez. I'm excited to announce that this great filmmaker has asked me to be the cinematographer on the project. This will be like no other project in my career and I'm excited to fill you in once we get started. 



Filmic Pro Rocks!

Just concluded our summer semester - 2 classes - taught entirely on zoom. Lots of prep time for each session, in fact way more than I anticipated - approx 4:1


The Zoom platform is pretty cool. I used the "connect the phone" feature for demonstrating simple blocking for a two person table scene. As a class, we shot numerous angles of the dolls (32 shots) that I uploaded for them to edit together, adding the story, the voice overs and any additional B Roll footage they needed to complete their tale. The results were really entertaining!

Filmic Pro is an amazing APP that has tons of photographic features that are applicable to cinematography. It's a superb, affordable teaching tool that I will continue to employ for demonstrations and weekend projects.


Check it out!



"Eyelines" is here!

Just posted the latest tutorial regarding maintaining proper eyelines around a table. Hope that it is clear and helpful!



Build Your Own Soft Box!

I just finished and posted a tutorial on how to build a soft box like the ones we used on the TV show "Salem". These provided a little boost to fire and candlelit scenes that required added fill and ambience. Being un - collimated, the "beam" decays very quickly, just like fire. Total cost is approximately $50.



Train Footage

With all this extra time I'm finding myself with, I've decided to build a stock footage folder of freight trains. When I faintly hear one entering town, I know that I have about 8 minutes to walk down to the tracks and set up. So far, I have good shots with a 400mm + 100mm lens mounted to a GH 5. Next up? A series of wide angle shots.




Happy Birthday Nanook!

Some thoughts on Documentary filmmaking, past, present and future...


Documentary (def): using pictures or interviews with people involved in real events to provide a factual record or report.


In 1922, Robert Flaherty's  “Nanook of the North” was released and soon became a worldwide hit. This landmark film is considered to be the first great documentary even though it’s been discredited as being a staged work at best or a huge lie at worst. Does it matter that the movie’s protagonist is not actually the chief of his tribe and that Nanook is not his name? He’s not married, has no children, doesn’t live in an igloo, hunts with a rifle not a harpoon and knows better than to ignorantly bite a record disc, knowing full well what a gramophone was.

Idealistically, perhaps Flaherty set out for posterity’s sake to record the native ways of the Inuit people. Beginning with an objective, standoffish camera, he discovered quickly that this style felt dispassionate, lacking emotional connection and interest. So as he moved in closer and got more involved, the Inuit’s began to act differently due to camera awareness. Guess what – everyone does. Committed to his vision and willing to change his approach, Flaherty re-casts his movie with real people in a series of controlled re-enactments that he semi pawns off as being the true arctic experience.

Well, it is and it isn’t, just like every documentary you’ve ever seen.


Morally, I think it’s essential to come clean on matters like this and Flaherty does. When questioned about it he admits, “One often has to distort a thing in order to catch it’s true spirit.”


Before becoming a filmmaker, Robert Flaherty spent a lot of time in the arctic as an explorer, prospector, trapper and surveyor. He obviously loved the region and the people, creating this wonderful love letter to those indigenous tribes.

In addition, the film was instantly popular because polar expeditions were all the rage in the early 20th century. The explorers who planned the daring missions and succeeded became household names and national heroes overnight.

Given the times, audiences loved and embraced this character named Nanook and those that actually knew, didn’t mind that he was a fictitious actor standing in for the historical record. I don’t mind either.

Robert Flaherty started production on “Nanook of the North” in January of 1920  - that's right - 100 years ago.


Sunrise on Amelia Island

I spent three consecutive mornings filming sunrises here in Florida over the Thanksgiving holiday. The weather was terrific and I feel like I got 3 good shots via LUMIX GH 5 with a 100-400 mm zoom lens - all the way in. As I was reviewing the footage I glanced over and was blown away by how beautiful the wave form is for this shot. Just thought I would share - Happy Holidays! MV



Post Production has Started!

I've just begun the editing phase of my new turorial entitled, "EYELINES". With the invaluable help of some film students at Florida State, we photographed a simple 4 person table scene with full coverage. The tutorial will break down the thinking behind the blocking and selected camera angles. Look for the video on Vimeo in a couple months.



Finding the right balance

I’ve been teaching Cinematography at Florida State University for five semesters and I might make big changes to my curriculum and weekly lesson plans.




Unlike most positions on a film crew, successful Cinematographers must be proficient in all aspects of commercial film production. To be responsible for the “picture” in a motion picture means that you must thoroughly understand the constraints of budget, schedule, location, personnel and unfortunately – the politics of the studio and above the liners.  More importantly, Cinematographers must interpret and then assimilate the directors vision into their own.


In the end, it is the directors movie not yours. You got hired because the director judged your skill set and creative past as the best fit for the movie. In other words, the director likes your vision and personality – congratulations!


Notice that the words: camera, lights, lenses, exposure, filters, composition or anything else having to do with photography have not been mentioned thus far?


How can I teach all of this? Answer: It’s not possible. Possible solution: teach the class what they really want and need to learn first while sprinkling in other key aspects of the job along the way.


There’s more and herein lies my academic dilemma. Since May of 2018, I’ve seen at least 100 of the latest student films here at FSU. Some very good, some not so good. What they all have in common though, is mediocre shot design, poor camera operating and sketchy focus pulling. These three functions fall squarely under the category of Cinematography and must be addressed.


Should I scrap fundamental knowledge of interpreting a script, production design, the visible spectrum, basic physics, set lighting, critical exposure, wave forms, histograms and the zone system to make room for intensive operating and focus pulling drills?


Is this a University or a Trade School?


I’m tinkering with this and right now I’m doing more drills because they do need to build confidence in a hands on, stress free environment. I’ll set up a tough shot and they’ll each rotate in as focus pullers and camera operators and don’t move on until they master the shot. The students love this and their sense of satisfaction is palpable.


Ultimately my goal is to find a beneficial balance between the academic and practical aspects of Cinematography that befits a University program rather than that of a trade school.


I think that the students want that as well.


(photo by author: Jazleana Jones behind the camera. Jaz is a student of mine and recent winner of the ASC's "Heritage Award" : Best Cinematography for a Student Documentary)



Back to work!

Florida State University returned for Fall Semester and the College of Motion Picture Arts resumed production in a big way. Here, our BFA 3's are doing test shoots in preparation for their Senior Capstone films. These crew drills also utilize underclassmen in the school to help them get accustomed to all of the various crew positions, both above and below the line.



                                                                                                                                                 -photo by the author taken in August 2019



How about this for my first camera!


My Dad received it as an award for community service and he gave it to me when I took an interest in photography in 1966. I wanted the camera bad, because I got an INSTANT photograph via the amazing polaroid process. At that time, a pack of polaroid pictures cost $5 for just 8 exposures. In today’s dollar value, that’s roughly $5 bucks a shot. No wonder my Dad said, “make this pack of pictures last awhile”. And I did - taking one artless picture a week.


The 3000 ISO fine grain film was way ahead of its time, but the camera was not. Its single element fixed lens focuses mechanically via a collapsible bellows housing. The shutter is built into the lens and is triggered by a cable release. Not much different than the camera system Matthew Brady used while chronicling the US Civil War - a century earlier.


In order to view the 3.5" x 4.5" print, a white tab is pulled from the pack that reveals a larger, more substantial tab. This larger tab connects to the actual raw photograph. To get your picture, this tab must be pulled firmly and evenly from the side of the camera body. The photographic process is actuated as the print is squeezed through two rollers that combine the chemicals that render a B&W print.


Take a picture, pull the tabs, view the results.


If you forget to pull the tab, then the next picture you take will result in a double exposure – something I did once, but the creative potential of that “mistake” went completely over my head. Nobody in my family thought much of my pictures and I didn’t either.  Consequently, my early photographic career went on about a 10-year hiatus due to budgetary constraints and lack of interest.


Isn’t it interesting that the first years of my photographic career creating visual effects composites at ILM could ONLY be achieved by multiple exposures (known now as multiple passes) on one piece of film.


Little did I know  - or care – and thats just fine with me.


PS - I wish I could admit that at 12 years old,  I realized how expensive / important each shot is - thus - choosing a subject carefully, prepping for the shot and then shooting at exactly the right time to maximize the value of that $5 dollar exposure. Alas, that was not the case. But now, I do express these same considerations, helping todays student digital filmmaker in the process of being precise and responsible when planning their shots. Sometimes these lessons escape older film students as well.  


I continue to try - it's my mission right now.




Remembering Apollo 11

This card is one of my most treasured possessions. I met Buzz Aldrin at the gala opening of the “Back to the Future” attraction at the Universal Theme Park in Orlando. I was there as a guest of Douglass Trumbull, the VFX pioneer who created the ride. Also in attendance that evening was Buzz Aldrin, the second human to walk on the moon. As a filmmaker, you get to meet a lot of famous people in the movie business and I’ve certainly met my share of them. But meeting and chatting with Colonel Aldrin was an extraordinary and thrilling moment in my life that occurred on May 2, 1991. I grew up in Central Florida and witnessed every manned space flight up to Apollo 8. Like every other boy in my neighborhood, we were completely taken with the space program and astronauts. If a launch occurred during school hours we all piled out to the playground to watch it lift off. In less than 10 years, the wispy contrail of Mercury 1 turned into the colossal Saturn V vehicle, clearly visible from our playground 35 miles away.

Buzz and I talked of these things and more and when he had to move along, he gave me this card.  When I got home I put it in a safe place, so safe that I forgot where that was. 28 years later I found it while packing for the move to Tallahassee. I was leafing through some old books that I was planning to give to Goodwill and there, tucked within the pages of a book about “Peter the Great” was the card, so close to being lost to me forever.

I almost burst into tears when it fell out of the book and landed face down on the floor. Could it be my Buzz Aldrin business card? Yep!



The Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f1.2 ASPH micro 4/3 lens

I just bought this lens and these are the first images I took with it on a GH 4. Amazing resolution, tone and depth. Very excited to test it at night - and soon!




Get This App

Here is an indispensible tool that has helped me plan literally hundreds of shots over the last 20 years. 




It's finished! (finally)

Posted ASPECT RATIO yesterday. After a year of intense changes for me and my family I can finally announce that this video is in the can and online. I'll spend sometime on the attributions in the next month and re-post with those notations. It's by far the most research I've ever done for an MVF video. Looking back now - the research was like peeling an onion - one fact led to another and another. I always and successfully try to stay in the 10 minute range for these videos so hopefully it doesn't lag.


Go to the video tab and have a look - hope you enjoy the video as much as I did making it! MV





Fun and games in Alabama!

Just finished a 5 day stunt sequence on a movie in Alabama. The above shot was accomplished via a "Russian Arm" camera car out of Florida. This was one of 8 camera's (one being a high speed drone) on this van flip. The weather was great, the crew superb and the shot went off without a hitch and safely. I can't say the name of the movie yet but it was wonderful to get back in the game if for only for a few days.

This is the three axis gyro stabilized remote head on the end of the arm atop a Porsche Cayenne. The camera is an Alexa Mini with a V Lite Hawk anamorphic zoom lens out front taking the 4K ARRI Raw image. Not bad for a modestly budgeted film!



Practice Interviews

The Documentary Cine class practices mock interviews in preparation for their projects that will take them far and wide arounf the US. The real shoots begin in early March and they will be ready!



Candle Power!

We just completed this exposure exercise using candles and a backlight only. Our exposure was f2.5 at 800ISO on the RED.


Lining up the camera for the day exterior BG Plate. I used a Lumix GH 4 for the night BG Plate - ISO 1600, f2.8, 3200K, 24 FPS

Green Screen Shoot!

This was a fun class exercise where we learned that it's not just balancing the green screen to the cars optimum exposure - but that it's all about the additional lighting and grip tricks that make the shot come alive and feel real. Sometimes we're not aware of all the active lighting happening around us when we are outside - either day or night. Next time you're a passenger in a moving car watch how much light plays on the drivers face. It's a very lively environment!



We're Back!

MFA's shooting a day interior scene here in Florida. Everyone worked hard and had a turn at each position on set. We got through the day still smiling, always good place to be at the end of a long day!




Wishing you a wonderful 2019!

I want to take a moment to thank all my visitors to the site in 2018. This has been a year of changes for me and my family - mostly good. My new job at Florida State has challenged and inspired me to bring to the classroom what I try to do here at -


My goal for 2019 is to find the time to share some of the wonderful learning moments I'm witnessing in real time at FSU with my audience at this site.


May all of you have a blessed and prosperous 2019 and I'll work harder helping you to "unleash your creative potential" in 2019.


Mark Vargo, asc



Long Before Video

On the set of Ben-Hur, 1959 - Academy Award winning director William Wyler looks through his finder attached to a giant Ultra Panavision 65mm camera. Though there was a bit of parallax, directors could get a solid sense of the frame and the camera operating. Gone are the days where directors sit next to the camera and get a real feel for what's happening on set. Peter Weir still sits nearby, but no one else I can remember does. The reason the camera looks so massive is because it is enclosed in a sound blimp. 65mm camera's were very noisy in the 50's, so for dialogue scenes the blimp was a critical part of production. All in, the camera, lenses, accessories, blimp and head weighed around 200 lbs. No Hand Held shots in this format! The other unique feature of Ultra Panavision was that it put a 1.25 anamorphic squeeze on the 65 frame rendering a wide screen aspect ratio of an eye-popping 2.76:1.


The "70" refers to the release print which was 2.5 mm wider on each side of the original 65mm color negative. In these 2.5mm margins resided the magnetic sound track.


After a hiatus of nearly 50 years - director Quentin Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson, ASC, revived the format with some of the original Panavision lenses (re-housed) for "The Hateful Eight".

As far as I know - this is the widest aspect ratio Hollywood ever projected for any commercial theatrical release.





Aspect Ratios

Finally getting close to completing the tutorial on aspect ratio's. Here's a sneak peak at a couple of frames from the anamorphic sequence. This whole thing started out as a quick review of various film formats but then I went down the rabbit hole and I'm still digging. Look forward to the release sometime in January!


I think you'll like it - MV.


The Day Before Michael

Here is a photo I took of the southern horizon one day before Hurricane Michael hit St. George Island in the Florida panhandle. My family was down to visit the area for the first time. I rented a cottage on the beach here for four days - we were there for less than one - due to the mandatory evacuation order. We hightailed to the the Jacksonville area for the next few days. The week was for showcasing Tallahassee and the surrounding area. It didn't really work out that way. As disappointing as it was for my group - this unsuccessful family get together pales in comparison to the the devasting loss thousands of Floridians are enduring in the wake of this devastating storm.



Film Formats!

I'm working on a new tutorial about film formats and aspect ratios. I've discovered some new facts about the development of our amazing industry and my goal is to deliver them to you in a clear and entertaining video. Hoping to finish before Thanksgiving.



"Charlie Vegas"

All I know is that he says his name is Charlie Vegas, he's 82 and he lives in a minivan. This amazing street musician plays often at a local park. I first heard him while moving into my apartment last summer. As soon as I finish the aspect ratio video, I'll begin work editing the footage I shot of him performing recently.



Future Filmmakers of America!

Here are the two sections of my awesome Cinematography class at Florida State!




We're Back!

Fall semester begins in earnest as the class learns the fundementals of building the camera for production.





Summer Semester Concludes!

Congrats to all of the BFA 2 students for their hard work and continued success here at FSU. The Fall semester brings the start of prep for their all important thesis films. See you in September!



Location Interiors

This week, our cine specialists lit a location dining room interior for a sunset and a night interior look. The exercise took place during the morning.



Car Mount

We rigged this hood mount with the Matthews suction cup car kit. It took about 45 minutes to install and the shot looked great! The "visor" above the windshield cut all of the sky reflection. Due to the extreme angle of the windshield, the polarizer was ineffectual when viewed from the camera angle.



Lab Lecture

A professor here at FSU discusses the brightness differences between a 1K and a 2K fresnel light.




                                                                         Where the living is easy (and very warm!)




Testing Diffusion Filters

A laborious but useful project to photograph the look of all our diffusion here at FSU. Diffusion has a different look outside, so if you're considering using some, make sure you test it in daylight conditions too!





Re-creating scenes from classic films

Here's a composite for a scene from "CHOCOLAT".  


Hard at work!

Scott and Millie Line up a shot for an in studio lab exercise.

Working Together

Cinema and acting classes join forces here at FSU for an on set exercise. The actors performed scenes from "Sex, Lies and Videotape" filmed on a RED camera by three of our cinematographers from the College of Motion Picture Arts here at Florida State. They had 4 hours to light, rehearse, block and shoot two 2 page scenes from the movie - and they succeeded!

Secondary and Subtractive Colors


Flashback: "Tin Cup"

I’ve worked with some big time directors. But of all of them, the man I enjoyed collaborating with most has got to be,  Ron Shelton. He is a 'man’s man' and his earliest and arguably best movies are un-abashedly masculine. Witness: “Bull Durham”, “White Men Can’t Jump”, “Cobb” and “Tin Cup”.


Though I worked on “Cobb” as the 2nd Unit Cinematographer I wanted to take a moment and reminisce about my job as 2nd Unit Director and Cinematographer on “Tin Cup”. First, I used to be an avid golfer so working on a film about a fictional US Open with real PGA players sounded fantastic to me. Kevin Costner as a hapless driving range pro getting a shot at the big time is a wonderful concept that many of us duffers fantasize about - like hitting the free throw that wins the NBA Championship or striking out the side to win the World Series. All of that aside, this is more about being thankful to work in an industry that allows us to experience so many interesting things in so many exotic places. Here are some photo’s I like from my “Tin Cup”, filmed in California, Arizona and Texas in 1996.


The film was a popular hit and a financial success for Warner Bros and I’m still in touch with Ron and many crew members from that production.

To get some golfing tips from Steve Elkington made my golfing buddies green with envy. Steve had just won the PGA Championship at Riviera CC a few months earlier.

I was very fortunate that Cal Roberts was available for this project. He is a world class focus puller and lots of fun to be around.

I learned just how hard it is to follow a golf ball in flight with a movie camera.

Ron Shelton is a terrific writer/director who also happens to be an amazing athlete in his own right. When it comes to sports movies, Ron has no equal. Here we are, between shots in Tubac, Arizona.

I'm always asked what my favorite movie was to work on. There have been a few gems,  and this one is near the top of the list.





I have accepted a full time job as, "Cinematographer in Residence" in the College of Motion Picture Arts at Florida State University. Can't wait to get in the classroom and on set with the next generation of filmmakers. The school is highly ranked and well respected around the world. I'll be teaching both undergrad and masters candidates everything I know about my craft and all of the interpersonal relationships necessary to be prepared to enter the film industry. I have wanted to teach for many, many years and though earlier than planned, this opportunity was too good to pass up.


I will maintain and promise to find the time to continue creating video tutorials.



New Video Now Online!

The last month has been crazy and I apologize for not updating my site more frequently. I've been in LA getting my hours as an operator on NCIS and SILICON VALLEY which I DP'd the last day of their season. I like both productions very much and had a nice time in Los Angeles.


"Lighting with Fire"     Watch it in the "Videos" section of this website.


It's an interesting video that I struggled with at times because there isn't a heck of a lot to tell about shooting with fire. Fire and candles are dim and you need fast lenses and high ISO's to be successful. Having shot 3 seasons of a 17th century period piece taught me that I wished there was electricity around in 1690. Our sets were hot and smoky and a bit one dimensional as far as the lighting was concerned. I'm very proud of the look of SALEM and can say without hesitation that I'm very good at lighting with fire.


I will try to be more timely in my updates and promise you that my site means a lot to me and I know I can do better in spite of my current circumstance.



An excerpt from the book I'm writing!

Allen Easton operates the first shot of the day.


The following is an excerpt from a book I'm writing, "A Filmmakers Guide to Success". This passage is from the Production section of the text.


Day One - here we go!

As I mentioned earlier, many 1st AD’s will try to schedule a couple of easy days at the front of the schedule. This allows the crew to get off to a good start in the eyes of the producers and the studio. Keeping the studio happy means less interference from nervous studio executives who may have stuck their necks out for the project, the director or the lead actors.


On the first day of principal photography, everyone is excited to finally start shooting, enough with the meetings and memo’s. On day one, we rarely get off to a fast start, and once behind schedule it can be difficult to catch up. Success depends on getting the actors to the set on time. The Hair and Make-up teams will take a bit more time today, especially if an actor suddenly decides that their character “look” isn’t working. This can be a real problem and a bad omen. Eventually, the actor will get out of the chair and show up for rehearsals and blocking, though not in full costume or finished make-up.


It’s now time to rehearse the first scene and much discussion might occur for the benefit of the story. On almost every project, there has always been an actor that challenges the director in some way regarding the notion and mechanics of a scene. This can be hard to watch and listen to. Eventually, a compromise is reached at the cost of expensive production time and momentum. Makes me wonder why certain actors with this reputation ever get cast. I never look forward to shooting scenes with actors who are perpetually dissatisfied or difficult and whenever I see them coming I say to myself, “Throw out the Anchor.” You’ll get no names from me.


When everyone is finally on the same page, the process of creating a scene begins. Most actors perform at half speed when rehearsing. Often times they’ll be referring to the script for their lines. I’m a keen observer of rehearsals and it’s the DP's job to help actors get to places that are better for camera and lighting. Like staying out of corners or playing to the lens a bit more. If I see a potential blocking issue - adjustments should be made before everyone gets to used to playing it a certain way. Diplomacy is key here and the blocking revisions should be fair to the actor’s instincts while serving the technical necessities. Sometimes an actor will say no to the new idea and that’s certainly their prerogative. The camera operators input is encouraged at this time because they are thinking about the entire shot and not just the first position. They need to make sure the coverage of the actor is maximized while staying out of each others way. They will work things out together quietly and efficiently - most of the time.

Camera Operator - James Reid


The First Shot

Throughout the entire rehearsal process Cinematographers are thinking about where the camera will be placed for the first shot. Convention dictates that it will usually be a wide shot where the actors play the scene out in a master shot. Master, meaning that all the actors will be included in a shot that designates their geography and movement within the set. In the studio, the first shot is a bit easier to find because we control the lighting and can move set walls if necessary. But if on location in a room with windows, you’ll want to shoot in the direction of the windows first because the natural ambient light will change rapidly. On lower budget projects where there isn’t a large grip department to control the natural light, its all the more important to shoot the angles toward the windows early on.


As a general rule, the first shot establishes the geography, actor action, screen direction and the lighting scheme. This first camera angle is foundational and all of the subsequent coverage will be informed by it.


When I’m watching a rehearsal and committing to the first shot, I’ll have a reasonable idea about what the next five setups will be. Sometimes directors do not plan that far ahead in the coverage scheme. Now’s the time to quickly review what those shots will be and not just for the director, but for the entire on set crew so they can be planning for their departments needs accordingly. It is usually at this point where the director will discuss any “specialty” shots he wants to add to the general coverage. These shots can be anything from using an unusual lens, shooting at a different frame rate, adding a filter or diopter, introducing a lighting effect or choosing an odd angle that might suggest a different point of view. In other words something “special” and out of the ordinary.


On a television show, where several scenes are shot each day, there are many “first” shots to design. Don’t get careless with these, I’ve seen many a director insist on starting in a direction that ends up being wrong and painful to recover from. It can be stressful and embarrassing and the crew is very sensitive to these “rookie” errors.


Once an exterior location is selected in prep, I’ll visit it a couple of times and shoot a lighting study. Before production starts the director and I will already know where the first camera position will be for the scene - and more often than not, it will feature all of the action in backlight.


If eventually you’ll be travelling to a distant location on a lower budget film, one can plan a shot with Google Earth and any solar positioning application. I’ve done it successfully many times without any issues or surprises.


The Importance of the First or Master Shot:


1. Establishes Geography, Actor Action and Lighting.

2. Defines the “Stage Line” or screen direction.

3. All subsequent camera coverage is informed by this first angle.

4. Scene length can be quantified and recorded by the script supervisor.



Have just finished an episode on NCIS LA as their B Camera Operator. What a pleasure working on an extremely well run television show. They are in their 9th season and are shooting on the Paramount lot occupying stages 8 and 9. It was fun for me to sit back and watch everyone else tear their hair out for a change. I love operating and especially with a cast that hits their marks time and again. My friend Terence Nightingall directed "Warriors of Peace" and it should be on sometime in March. Would love to return to this considerate and professional team!



Check out my latest video on how to create an awesome meteor strike illusion at the Premiumbeat tutorial channel on Youtube.



"Mary": Epilogue

The movie finished on schedule despite a one day delay due to Hurricane Nate.


Though I was excited to hear the comforting whir of a film camera again, in retrospect I’m not sure that a film system was the best choice for our shoot. The images are beautiful but the cameras and lenses are large and reloading takes time and is a buzz kill for the actors concentration and momentum. You might think that a 65 foot sailboat is large but add two Panavision Cameras plus camera crew, a sound guy and at least two grips and oh yeh, at least two to four actors and our estimable director, Michael Goi and we were flat out of room. Because it was a private vessel, our options for rigging were limited as well, made more problematic by the sheer size of our cameras.


Necessity was the mother of invention in every way on this project.

A fairly typical rig on deck of the "Mary". Nothing aboard is either square or level.


A digital platform with light weight, super high quality DSLR sized cameras for specialty shots may have broadened our visual canvas and certainly would have saved rigging time. I figure that we spent one entire day on reloading, camera jams, rigging and other associated film camera issues. One day is a lot out of an 18 day schedule.


All that aside, I commend DP/Director Michael Goi, ASC. ISC for insisting on film and making the best of a very difficult shoot. I hope the movie meets his expectations and is on to the next one with a larger budget, longer schedule and more prep time.

Moving equipment on a barge to another barge for a storm sequence.

We spent a lot of time in splashbags and they worked as designed.

We were fortunate to have the hydroscope for three days.


I’m not bailing on film in any way and I’m convinced that it is a viable production option for  years to come.

There was a little time to take some pictures. This cloud was the beginning a huge thunderstorm that somehow managed to miss us.

Hurricane Nate made landfall 10 hours after I took this photo.

Coast Guard to the rescue!


My sincere thanks to “A” camera focus puller, Bryan DeLorenzo, “B” camera focus pullers, Toby White and Charlie Nauman,  “B” camera/ Steadicam operator, Remi Tournois and a special shout out to 2nd AC, Cody Gautreau for his hustle, calmness and grit. A big round of applause for our grip and electric crews led by Gaffer John Magallon and Key Grip Bud Scott. They have stories too!



New Gig as a Camera Operator…

…and shooting on film once again!


October 7, 2017


We should be at work today but we’re off, due to Hurricane Nate who arrives here in about 3 hours. It’s raining as hard as I’ve ever seen it at the moment. I’m in Gulf Shores, Alabama operating for Michael Goi on his feature film directorial debut. He also serves as the movie’s cinematographer. We’re here making a horror movie aboard a possessed 65 foot sailboat named, “Mary”. The great Gary Oldman, plays the proud new owner of a boat he always wanted and that’s about all I can say about the story for now.

I was so excited to get the call - it’s the first time in my career where my only job is as a camera operator. I like it, just concentrating on each shots set up, composition and execution. Michael Goi, (American Horror Story) is a brilliant visualist and shot-maker so at times, the operating can be very demanding, particularly with our short schedule and modest film budget. The need to get it right in a couple of takes is not only paramount – it’s expected.


What’s cool is that the film format is 2.35 anamorphic - processed at Fotokem in Los Angeles. Some of our lenses are 40 years old and so far the end result looks terrific. Panavision has bent over backwards for us and given us a very generous rental rate. In addition to our three Panaflex XL’s, is an Arri 235, an Arri 3, a handcranked Arri 3, a handcranked 16mm Arri SR and a old super 8 camera. We have five different color and black and white film stocks too. This extensive camera package was prepped in New Orleans by Bryan DeLorenzo, our “A” camera first assistant, in barely one week with very little help. In addition to running the camera truck, Bryan is a world-class focus puller.

The only digital shot in the movie - a Sony A7 fitted with a Panavision lens on a "bodycam".

Bryan Delorenzo aside the "A" camera.


You don’t realize how big movie cameras are until you try shooting on a 65 foot sailboat. It is very difficult to find the space for the camera and operator and then pick a lens and make a shot that captures the story point effectively. It’s a challenge that we seem to be meeting successfully. I’m not a particularly limber person so I wake up a little sore each morning from stuffing myself into tiny spaces aboard the boat. We shoot in hand held mode for about half the day and that can be physically demanding on top of it all. In the next two weeks we’ll be out on the water filming the scary parts of the story - that will be tricky - and I’ll report back after we finish the movie at the end of the month.

Dawn in an Alabama boatyard, one of our locations.

The iconic and incomparable Panavision camera system.




on the road again

I’m in LA for a series of meetings about a pre-production shoot for a much larger project that starts in a couple of months. Because the meetings are interspersed across two weeks, culminating with a 2-day shoot, I decided to drive down from Montana.

It’s around 1200 miles and there are two ways to go: Interstate 15 via Las Vegas and Utah or through Nevada on the “loneliest road” in America, state highway “6”. I chose the latter. There is something about 2 lane roads that really appeal to me, particularly when I’m headed for a city that has 10 lane super highways.

I pledged to stop and take a few photos along the way.


I drove 700 miles on the first day and camped 50 miles southwest of Ely, NV. The stars were amazing and the night sounds soothing. There are few areas left in America where you might be the only human within a 20 mile radius - where I camped is such a place. I hoped for an alien visitation but I can’t remember if that happened or not!

The following morning I got on the road headed for Tonapah, NV roughly 125 miles away. It was almost 90 minutes before I saw the first car of the day headed in the opposite direction. Now that’s a lonely road! I love the fact that I can be driving through the most desolate region in the U.S. only to arrive in it’s second largest city, Los Angeles 10 hours later. Experiencing these revelations are why I drive every so often. And as I cruise along in comfort at 80 miles an hour, I scan the horizon imagining tough pioneers trudging their way west, staring at yet another mountain range to traverse.

HERSHEY 2005-2018

Our family said goodbye to our amazing and loving dog - Hershey - on November 7. He was kind, gentle, obedient, patient and incredibly loyal. Always game for anything - he found a way to be a part of all our activities, from boating and hiking - to lying down in the middle of the basketball and volleyball courts - during the games. He had a great life and he added to ours immeasurably. Farewell Hershey.



Troubled Times

I'm going on hiatus until the chaos settles down in the United States. I'm sad because it might be awhile.