We’ve all heard the saying, “You have to crawl before you can walk.” For future moviemakers this means you can’t just mosey onto a set and expect to know how everything works; you need to attend a film school to learn the ins and outs of your chosen field, or find a mentor who will aid you as you learn “on the job.” Sol Negrin, ASC, the cinematographer for “Kojak” and Coming to America, knows first-hand how important it is for newcomers to have the support of an experienced professional. Which is why he is now a professor of Cinematography, passing his knowledge on to the students of Five Towns College in Long Island, New York. MovieMaker spoke to Negrin about his creative influences and the advice he shares with his pupils.
Samantha Husik (MM): What drew you to cinematography as opposed to another moviemaking discipline?
Sol Negrin, ASC (SN): The advice from one of my high school advisers led me in this direction. My intention was to become a naval architect. However, upon reviewing my math grades—although they were satisfactory—they did not meet the prerequisite needed to become a naval architect. Thus, my adviser asked me if I had an avocation, to which I replied, “Yes, photography.” Fortunately, I lived in New York and was able to enroll into the High School of Industrial Arts, where I learned all phases of photography as well as filmmaking. During my last year of high school I landed a job with a small production company doing industrial and training Films. I never thought of directing or editing.
MM: Who are some of the cinematographers you most admire? And why?
SN: Gregg Toland, ASC; Harry Stradling Sr., ASC; Lee Garmes, ASC; Ernie Haller, ASC; Stanley Cortez, ASC; and BSC members Freddie Young, Jack Cardiff, Geoffry Unsworth and Guy Green. Some present day cinematographers are Allen Daviau, Haskell Wexler, Gordon Willis, Owen Roizman, John Seale and Conrad Hall. All of these renowned cinematographers each had their own individual style of producing unique visual images, intriguing compositions and brilliant lighting techniques. You may be surprised to learn that, even today, the skills of these well-known cinematographers are still alive.
MM: What persuaded you to try your hand at teaching? And what drew you to Five Towns College in particular?
SN: Having a successful career as a cinematographer, I wanted to share my knowledge, expertise and love of filmmaking with the next generation of young people whose career quest is to become cinematographers. So, in the late 1980s, I began teaching during the summers at the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, Maine. During the regular year, I taught cinematography at New York University and at the same time was still actively working as a cinematographer on various projects. At one point I also taught at the School of Visual Arts. Ironically, in 1999, a former student of mine from the Maine Workshops recommended me to the Provost at Five Towns College for a teaching position. The Provost offered me the position, I accepted and I am still there teaching third-year students.
MM: You’re an inspiration and a mentor to your students at Five Towns College. Did you have someone in your life that gave you support and guidance when you were learning your craft?
SN: As I mentioned previously, I worked for a film production company while still in high school. Many of the individuals who worked there at that time were my mentors of a sort. When I started to freelance as an assistant, my inspiration and drive continued to develop to a higher level through observing and working with many great cinematographers whom I consider to have been my mentors. The list is sizable, but a few that stand out and have touched my life are: Peter Glushanok; Torben Johnke, ASC; Zoltan Vidor, ASC; Jack Priestley, ASC; Joe Brun, ASC; Harry Stradling, Sr., ASC; Lee Garmes, ASC; Joe Biroc, ASC and Charles Lang, ASC.
MM: What is the most important lesson you try to impart to your students?
SN: Be observant, listen and ask questions. Be aware of your surroundings and learn everything you can. Keep up-to-date with new technology. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or to take a chance, experiment. You will discover that every day is an education.
MM: What’s the one thing about a cinematographer’s job that students seem most surprised to learn?
SN: As glamorous as the job may appear, it is a grueling and responsible position. You are there to interpret the director’s vision of the script and to provide the best artistic visuals and lighting to tell the story.
MM: What’s up next for you?
SN: I don’t think much about “what’s up next,” and probably will always be active in some manner or other as it relates to the field of cinematography. I keep a very tight and busy schedule. Besides teaching at Five Towns College, I often lecture or sit in on panel discussions at various schools and colleges. In addition, I’m co-chairman of the Education and Training Committee of The International Cinematographers Guild–Local 600 IATSE. This position keeps me very active and up-to-date on what’s new and upcoming in our craft, as well as making the information available to our union members through organizing seminars or classes. As an elected member of my union’s National Executive Board, I travel to California several times a year for the national meetings. On top of all of this, I was recently re-elected to the American Society of Cinematographers Board of Governors as an alternate member representing the ASC members here on the east coast. What’s next… “retirement?” I’m not quite ready for that.
To learn more about Sol Negrin, visit American Society of Cinematographers
To learn more about the film program at Five Towns College, visit http://www.ftc.edu/Academic/aca_film_video.html