I'm one of five children and was born in Virginia and raised in Florida in the 1960's.
This was before Disney World and what adventures we had in the swamps, at the beach and on the lakes of Central Florida! I was and remain a curious kid. We lived about 40 miles from Cape Canaveral and every time there was a launch, we would leave class, go out to the playground and watch those primitive rockets make there way toward "Outer Space". In the 1st grade, with the nuns, I watched Alan Shepard blast off - and after that, saw every NASA manned mission up to and including Apollo 8.
We moved around a bit when I was a teenager and after High School I worked construction and attended Junior College at night. One day I found a college, Montana State University that I wanted to transfer to because they had a Department of Film and Television! I applied and was accepted and had a terrific four years, I graduated in 1977 with an amazing appreciation of the medium and a goal of making a go of it. At this point I was very interested in post production.
Right after graduation, I got my first "film job" in the maintenance department at Alpha Cine Film Lab in Seattle. "Star Wars" had just come out and the owner of the lab decided to buy an Oxberry Aerial Image Optical Printer and one of the first computer controlled (punch tape!) Animation Stands. Since I was a maintenance guy, I volunteered to help the Oxberry technician install the new equipment. This was the closest thing to actually shooting in the lab, so I learned how to run the optical printer on my own time in the hopes that one day I could fill in, if needed. Well, the need arose, I stepped in and that became a huge turning point in my career. Another lucky break came when I substituted for my boss on a sales trip to California. There, I met someone who told me they were making "The Next Star Wars" at a new facility in San Rafael, called the Kerner Company. Upon returning home to Seattle, I put together a short "reel" of some composites and titles, then shipped it off to San Rafael, Three weeks later, an offer for an interview arrived in the mail, along with my "reel", which was a little spool of 16mm film. I did pretty good in the interview.
My career in big time VFX began in 1979 with "The Empire Strikes Back", my first film credit. To make deadlines, we worked very long hours under a lot of pressure but, oh man, did we have fun. One day, I'll write about my time in the optical department at ILM, as there still is some interest regarding "Empire", and up to and in between my final project with that team - "Return of the Jedi".
Los Angeles, 1983 Boss Film Corporation - Optical Supervisor for Richard Edlund, ASC. These were great times too, being a department head and learning about the business of filmmaking: management and personnel, budget and scheduling. I didn't stay here long because my participation in these projects was as the "Optical Guy" and it was time to start thinking about my future as a "Storytelling Guy".
It began with a Visual Effects DP job on "Ghostbusters II", which was parlayed into my first 2nd Unit DP gig on "In the Line of Fire". I have worked on several Wolfgang Petersen films in that capacity and I wish he were still active today. What a marvelous director! Before too long, people began to know me more as a 2nd Unit Cinematographer, even though most of my early responsibilities involved shooting complicated visual effects sequences. I now knew how to do that.
But this is not an autobiography, rather a story that reveals the trajectory of a career forged by good luck, hard work and a nose for opportunity.
Before too long, I got a chance to direct some Episodic TV, then TV Commercials and finally an opportunity to shoot my first feature film. (the great Ron Shelton's - "Play it to the Bone"). All of this is documented on IMDB and I'm relating more to you than anyone probably wants to know. Except for this. These experiences make me uniquely qualified to get you ready for a career in film, or one that far exceeds our expectations!
This is my new goal. And this is the reason for the website.
I am now in my 5th year of teaching cinematography at Florida State University and have used this site extensively for developing my curriculum for both undergrad and graduate classes.
Contact Mark with any filming questions you may have.