Casey Affleck
Casey Affleck stars in Lonesome Jim.

Study art, watch movies, shoot pictures. Shoot, shoot, shoot.

So much of what people talk and write about cinematography is mechanical and technical, but in fact this is the least important aspect of the craft.

It might sound obvious, but the most important element of cinematography is seeing. Seeing is not just keeping your eyes open; it is the cognitive organization of tonal and spatial relationship in a meaningful way then rendering and sharing them as images. Artists throughout history have struggled endlessly with these very problems and they have much to teach us.

Look at the light.

Wherever you go, look at the light. Look at the direction and quality; observe how it affects the human face and other objects. Look at light in the summer, in the winter, in the morning, at dusk. Make a mental note to ask yourself how it affects you, how does it make you feel? Look at the sources; are they large or are they small? Where does the light come from—side, front, back? What is the color of the light—warm, cold, a mixture? What is the overall effect of various sources? Think how you might recreate that same look on a stage with all artificial lights. Carry a still camera and record what you see.

The job of a cinematographer to understand what the director wants and to help him realize that vision.

If you want to be a professional, you will encounter all sorts of directors with different styles. Listen carefully, ask a lot of questions. Some will be quite articulate and know exactly what they want. Some will not know how to tell you want they want, but you need to find a way to get inside their head. If you know your craft and are sure of yourself, your own ego is never in danger and sometimes you need to swallow it. Understand that directors are under enormous pressure not only to deliver artistically, but also to deliver on time and on budget. Your creativity and knowledge are in that service. It is the director’s house and when you go on to another job he will have to live in it. You should be his strongest ally in his very real and very difficult fight to realize his vision. Sometimes he won’t even realize what you did or how you did it, but your satisfaction should come from not from that recognition, but from knowing that you gave it your best shot.

Create an environment where people want to share their ideas with you.

If you treat your crew with respect, they will want make you look good and you will.

Filmography for Phil Parmet

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Lonesome Jim (2005)
Heavy Put-Away (2004)
Dallas 362 (2003)
American Gun (2002)
Run for the Money (2002)
13 Moons (2002)
The Cutting Room (2001)
Animal Factory (2000)
Next Stop, Eternity (2000)
Love and Action in Chicago (1999)
Devil Doll/Ring Pull (1999)
Black & White (1998)
The Lovemaster (1997)
Flipping (1997)
The Last Days of Frankie the Fly (1997)
364 Girls a Year (1996)
Under the Hula Moon (1995)
Four Rooms (1995)
The Fifteen Minute Hamlet (1995)
Cyborg 3: The Recycler (1994)
Nina Takes a Lover (1994)
Two Small Bodies (1993)
Distant Cousins (1993)
Distant Justice (1992)
In the Soup (1992)
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Fatal Mission (1990)
Street Hunter (1990)
He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’ (1983)
The Song Remains the Same (1976)
Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976)