ASC Closeup: Rodney Charters

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Fantasia. It opened my young mind to the power of the moving image as a storytelling tool.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Jordan Cronenweth, ASC; Conrad L. Hall, ASC; Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC; James Wong Howe, ASC; Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC; Robert Krasker, BSC; Owen Roizman, ASC; Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC; Janusz Kamiński; and Henri Decaë.

What sparked your interest in photography?
My father was a photographer in New Zealand. I was raised in the darkroom and acted in his 16mm short films.

Where did you train and/or study?
The University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts in New Zealand and the Royal College of Art in London.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Tom Hutchins, a Time Life photojournalist who was my first tutor; Arthur Lawrence, an art-history lecturer; and Ridley and Tony Scott, with whom I did commercials for a short time in London.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Direct Cinema: Albert and David Maysles, Richard Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker. The French New Wave: François Truffaut. And then came Stanley Kubrick.

How did you get your first break in the business?
I got a U.K. union card while working during summer [vacation] at the BBC in the sound department at Ealing Studios, and was then able to work in the industry. I boomed for a classmate, Bob Bentley — we were the only two card-carrying students able to work at the time — on Merchant Ivory’s Autobiography of a Princess. Walter Lassally, BSC was the cinematographer. It was my first professional movie job — an amazing experience. I left the U.K. for Canada and became a documentary recordist. I did that work for several years until I bought an Eclair ACL and was finally hired to shoot.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Observing Conrad Hall on the set of Jennifer 8 and introducing him to the Xenon Maglite. Working with Zach Braff on Going in Style — and hanging out with Michael Caine, talking about his youth in the English countryside chasing Spitfire dogfights on his bicycle during the Battle of Britain.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
I’ve shared too much set life on social media.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘Always consider turning off a lamp before you roll.’

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you? 
The buildings of Dame Zaha Hadid, the art of Antony Gormley, Banksy, David Hockney’s History of Pictures with Martin Gayford — a pivotal work on photography — and the work of Dame Robin White and Darcy Lange, who were both classmates of mine in art school. 

Do you have any favorite genres or genres you would like to try?
I love comedy. I never laughed as much as I did working on Shameless.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Working as an architect, designing spaces for living.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Owen Roizman, Mark Irwin and Robert McLachlan. 

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
It has been an extraordinary career honor, and it has enabled me to share my knowledge of the art and craft via the ASC Master Class. It is also deeply satisfying to attend functions at the Clubhouse, where companionship with fellow cinematographers can thrive — and, in the current situation, even more so online!


Charters is not only a member of the ASC, but also the New Zealand Society of Cinematographers and Canadian Society of Cinematographers. 

You'll find his personal site here.

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