….”Participants in the early filmmaking Workshops included celebrated director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC; associate ASCmember and Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown; and Australian cinematographer Rob Draper, ACS who advanced from student to teaching assistant to one of the program’s most popular instructors.
Zsigmond, who rose to prominence as the cinematographer of such classic films asMcCabe and Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind,recalls, “August of 1976 was the first time I taught in Rockport. Rob Draper was my assistant. Those first few sessions were a bit haphazard; we were just feeling our way. For example, one time we were lighting a parking lot, and suddenly we had a blackout. The whole town went dark. There we were with the camera and lights, and the lights wouldn’t work. I said, ‘Wait a second. We can do something while we’re waiting for the lights to come back on.’ We had a lot of students who had their cars there, so we actually staged the scene by the headlights of the cars. People were crossing in front of the headlights, and their silhouettes were going in front of those lights, and the images were just beautiful. We came up with something out of nothing to show that in a desperate situation, you can use anything for a key light.”
Brown reminisces, “In 1980, I had just come back from working on The Shining. I had learned a great deal while shooting for Stanley Kubrick; doing 50 and 70 takes [on a given shot] was very productive in the development of the Steadicam. At that time, I was the only person on Earth [with an intimate knowledge of Steadicam]. There were not very many other operators who were familiar with the technology yet; there might have been 20 of us. Most were self-taught, or taught on an impromptu basis by me at my house.
“I saw an ad for the Maine Photographic Workshops in American Cinematographer,and I thought it might be a really good venue for teaching Steadicam. I called up David Lyman and introduced myself, and described what I thought was the opportunity. David was all over it. He immediately saw that this could probably be a very good thing, so we organized and advertised the first Steadicam Workshop in Rockport in the summer of 1980. It was attended by a pretty stellar collection of operators, in terms of their subsequent careers. The Churchill brothers were there, and Randy Nolan was there. I think we had 16 or 20 souls there, basically evolving the prototype for almost all of the subsequent Steadicam classes. We started with basics and then worked our way through shots right away, all over Rockport. David Lyman provided accommodations and the venue, and the various different bits and pieces that we needed. I’ve taught at maybe 10 or 11 more [seminars] since that first one.”
Rob Draper (The Spitfire Grill) recalls his first Workshop thusly: “I had read about them in American Cinematographer in 1978 when I was shooting commercials and documentaries in Australia. I tried to get into the 1979 classes, but they were full, so I went over in 1980 as a student. The first one was taught by Conrad Hall, ASC, and I wanted to see where, on the global scale of things, I fit into the picture. My trip there was as much a fact-finding mission as it was to come over and rub shoulders with some of the sophisticates of the world.
“I was the first Australian to attend in those very early days. Owen Roizman, ASC was scheduled to be teaching the class I’d enrolled in; he had just photographed The Electric Horseman. He got held up and couldn’t make it, so Frank Stanley, ASC came in and took over. Then Owen turned up on Wednesday, so for the last four days we had both Frank and Owen on the set. It was just fantastic. We were able to talk to them both about how to approach lighting problems, and they had very different perspectives.” Interestingly, another young student who benefited from this particular seminar was future ASC member Russell Carpenter (True Lies, Titanic).