Cinematographer And ASC President Richard Crudo, ASC Talks About His Historic Career In Film

Starting in the late 1970’s, Crudo began his career as an assistant cameraman on such films as Raising Arizona, Ghostbusters II, Field of Dreams and Presumed Innocent.  During that time he had the opportunity to work for a litany of historic cinematographers like Michael Chapman, ASC, Laszlo Kovacs, ASC, Gordon Willis, ASC and Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC.  Since officially becoming a cinematographer in 1990, he has shot more than thirty features including the modern classic, American Pie.  He has also photographed a huge number of commercials and episodic television productions, most notable among them five seasons of the modern-day western Justified (along with DP Francis Kenny, ASC).

“Membership in the ASC has been the absolute high point of my professional life. It’s a great organization and it has been a tremendous gift to be a part of it.” 

In 2011, Crudo was the first cinematographer to be chosen by Canon to test the limits of their new motion picture camera, the EOS C300. In turn, he wrote and directed the noir-ish thriller Dirty People and used the C300 to shoot it in only fifteen days.  Subsequently, Canon asked him in May of 2012 to join their elite Explorer of Light family of Canon professionals.

Apart from shooting, he also directed a low-budget feature for Sony, Against the Dark.  On top of all of this, he has been a six-term President of the American Society of Cinematographers, the oldest organization in the industry.

“Membership in the ASC has been the absolute high point of my professional life,” he gushed.  “It’s a great organization and it has been a tremendous gift to be a part of it.”  In addition to nine years spent on their Board of Governors, Crudo first served as president from 2002-2006, and then again from 2013-2016.  It’s also a duty for the ASC President to pen the regular President’s Desk column that appears in each issue of the world-famous American Cinematographer magazine.  Each column presents a venue to express the ASC’s position on relevant issues.

It’s unusual for visual artists to be talented at writing, but Crudo has also penned an entire chapter for the American Cinematographer Film Manual.  This is seen by some as ironic, as he is a considerable proponent of the shift from film to digital.  “I think there’s a little nostalgia attached to the old way of doing things,” he admits when asked about students wanting to learn film as opposed to digital.  “Young people seem to think that shooting film validates them on a certain level.  I don’t get it.  Clearly, we’re living in a digital world and clearly it’s a digital future.  More than anyone, I wish we were living in a film world, but that’s just not so anymore.  On the other hand, the traditionalist in me hopes that film can hang in there forever.”

When asked if he’s seen a lot of change in the ASC during the decade-long gap between his presidencies, Crudo admits that the organization has changed enormously.  “It’s incredibly busier,” he says.  “The operational pace of what’s going on at the clubhouse has just skyrocketed in the past ten years.  The membership is demanding a lot more and they’re getting it.  It’s an incredibly busy place.  Busier certainly than anytime in the history of the organization.”

As ASC president, he is involved not only in the day-to-day operations of the club but also in many of the outreach programs that the association offers, including their Master Class series.  “They’re not basic classes at all,” he explains.  “They’re aimed at people who have been out in the world working on an advanced level but are looking to bump up their game in a significant way.  We cover the usual aspects of cinematography and aesthetics: practical issues, lighting, post production, DI, color science, etc.  Each program lasts five days and they’re very full, indeed!  We have some of our best people doing the instruction and the response has just been through the roof.”  With five sessions offered each year, Crudo says that the ASC staff is keeping the pace but they are hoping to expand classes further in the coming years.

Crudo says the ASC has also been very concerned about excessive working hours.  “The ASC is not a union,” he says, “and we have no legislative power.  But on numerous occasions we have taken a stand against excessive working hours.  We’ve also publicized a statement formulated by Conrad Hall, ASC shortly before he passed away.  It states that the cinematographer – as the leader of the crew – has a responsibility not just to the image but also to protect the crew and to look out for the crew’s well-being.  In what other industry in the world do you work fourteen, sixteen, eighteen hours a day – regularly – and think of that as the norm?  That’s ridiculous!”

He says that over the last ten years the Society’s Technology Committee, – spearheaded by Curtis Clark ASC – has grown to a point in which it has become influential to every debate on evolving technologies.  “Curtis has done an amazing job along with the many members of the committee.  Cinematographers everywhere would be truly adrift without their steadfast efforts.”

As for shooting comedies, Crudo says that his basic approach is to is to show the action clearly, but the material and director’s vision for the story will dictate the style of his photography more than anything else.  He’s absolutely ecstatic about current lighting situations and sensor technology, however.  “The speed of the sensors today is incredible!” he says. “We’re all on sets now where you can’t read a newspaper by the light levels that you’re using, and yet the image is beautiful.”

He says that modern sensors have had a ripple effect in the industry, resulting in cooler lights that use less power.  “LEDs have come into play now as a big part of what we do,” he elucidates.  “There’s much less bulk and much less heat.  They take up less space on set.  They’re easier and quicker and more efficient to put in place.  The tools have evolved as they should and they’re getting better all the time.  I was at this year’s NAB convention and the things that are right around the corner are going to be fantastic. ”

Crudo will begin prep on a new feature next month.  “People think that you stop working when you’re president of the ASC.  That’s not true at all – I’m always working!  The ASC is the “hobby”, you know?” he laughs.  “But it’s time to hand it off to the next guy and let some fresh blood get take over.  And you know, people must be getting tired of me by now, anyway.”

Our immense thanks to Richard for the great insight on his journey as a filmmaker. Make sure to follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Vimeo. You can find out more about the ASC on their website, and don’t forget to read  Richard’s letter from the President’s Desk in this month’s ASC Magazine.