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Good News and Bad News

When J.B. Priestley, an American novelist, was asked to write aboutthe future in 1927, he observed, “Solemn prophecy is an obviouslyfutile proceeding, except insofar as it makes our descendentslaugh.”

His message rings true today. There is nothing inevitable about thefuture. It is ours to define. There are a lot reasons for optimism fromthe perspective of the International Cinematographers Guild —we’ve never had a larger or more diversified base of talent. We havesome 6,000 members today in every part of the United States. Our rosteris much more diversified with many more women and ethnic minoritymembers seeking careers as cinematographers.

None of this happened by chance. During the 1990s, we launchedaggressive outreach programs and established stronger ties with filmschools. Now, if you took a portrait of our membership, you would seethe face of America, people of every age, race, gender, and ethnicbackground.

What is their outlook for the future? The good news is that thereare more opportunities than ever. There are many new broadcast andcable television channels producing more diverse programs. We alsoestablished an agreement with the Association of Independent CommercialProducers (AICP) during the 1990s, permitting our members to movefreely among commercials, music videos, and narrative and nonfictionfilms.

Most of the questions we get from the press these days, however,revolve around technology. They want to know how 24p and other digitalcamera technology will impact our members. They ask if digitaltechnology will make it easier for anyone to become a cinematographer.Will it require smaller crews with less talent?

Those questions are inspired largely by marketing hype that theyhear from a few vendors. I was asked to address this issue last summerwhen I delivered the keynote address at the annual conference of theUniversity Film and Video Association (UFVA). I told the deans andfaculty members that I have been working with both film and videocameras my entire career. I said that if they are teaching studentsthat technology is a substitute for talent and experience, they aremisleading them.

I also advised them to teach their students how to work in acollaborative environment because that is the essence of the art offilmmaking. I urged them to teach their students to understand andmaster the craft so that they can execute their artisticvisions. For instance, we light for aesthetic reasons, whether we areusing a film or digital camera, not technical reasons.

I also told them that the biggest challenge for all of us duringthis decade is dealing with runaway production. That’s the bad news.Various foreign governments offer seductive financial incentives toproducers, and the reality is that the American dollar stretchesfurther in many other countries than it does in the United States.

The result is that runaway production is draining many jobs out ofthe industry in this country. Top cinematographers, actors, anddirectors are generally unaffected. However, the next generation isbeing systematically excluded. They aren’t getting the experienceneeded to advance in their careers. The infrastructure that supportsour industry — rental houses, caterers, labs, and post facilities— is also suffering.

ICG and the other guilds are working with local, state, and federallegislators to find ways of leveling the playing field. We are alsotrying to work with studios and other producers to stem the tide ofrunaway production. I don’t need a crystal ball to predict that unlesswe find ways to deal with this issue, the future vitality of theAmerican film industry is in jeopardy.

George Spiro Dibie, ASC, is national president of theInternational Cinematographers Guild.

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