It’s no secret, to me at least, that I watched too much TV when I was a kid, but since I made a career for over 40 years as a cinematographer-director, looking back at it now, I don’t consider it wasted time at all.
But, by the conventional wisdom of the time, and of this time for that matter, I should have better spent my time either studying at my desk, working out in the gym, or at church, but certainly not lounging in front of the Illustrious Boob Tube.
So, the preparation for my life’s work and thus how I view the world (my internal guiding culture, if you will) came mostly at the wide, bright end of a cathode ray tube.
Howdy Doody, the Cisco Kid, Superman, Hopalong Cassidy, Lucille Ball, and Ed Sullivan and the people behind the scenes that helped made them successful were all my mentors for what turned out to be the resulting brain-factory of me.
Sure, I went to school, diligently completed all my homework, did all the math problems, wrote all the papers, essays, and reports, and took all the tests that were required of any public school inmate, but I could never get enough of sitting in front of the fantasy machine we call television. As a result of thousands of hours experiencing sit coms, adventures, movies, sporting events, news broadcasts and documentaries it was natural and appropriate for my brain to see the world in terms of opening and closing titles, words from our sponsors, beginnings, middles and endings, character development, and multiple points-of-view - basically the short form story we call TV.
Going to film school in California was a long overdue awakening for me. I’d finally found an outlet for my passion and was among others who shared my particular form of insanity - thinking like a TV producer. From then on I was never again embarrassed by my talent for conceptualizing, screen writing, directing, cinematography, and editing. I was on my way and never looked back.
Since I had such a strong visual sense, as undisciplined as it was, when I began film school I soon realized that the pivotal role as cinematographer on any film crew is the keeper of the keys to telling a story, whether a 30 second TV spot or two hour feature film. I was informed many times that the writer makes the blueprint, the director turns that into a vision, and the editor re-treats the footage to conform to the script and vision, but it is the cinematographer who tells “the story”.
Don’t get me wrong. On many of the productions I worked on, there was a full-compliment crew, and I realized that the discipline of movie making works at its best as a cooperative endeavor with all the executive control and hierarchical work flow which that implies.
Very quickly I learned from those mentors who had gone before me that The Frame seen through the viewfinder or on the video monitor was the pen of the cinema author, and that the cameraman wielded that pen.
Much of my personal career was spent working with the limitation and defining artistic craftsman duties of being a cinematographer. But, at the same time, on many projects I also performed as the writer, director, producer, and/or editor depending on the production requirements, budget constraints and the availability of talented crew members to work with.
I soon learned that my main responsibility as a professional photographer making films and videos could be minimally divided into what happens outside the frame, and what happens inside the frame. Since almost all of my projects were in the realm of “sponsored” productions (as in not funding the project with my own funds) what happened inside the frame when I operated the camera was largely due to much pre-production outside the frame. The more planning and creative work that could be accomplished before I pushed the button on the camera to begin shooting, the better (as in most effectively communicating ideas to an audience in the cultural vernacular of accepted visual expression) the final result would be.
I was also fortunate during my media career to collaborate with many accomplished writers, producers, directors, cinematographers, graphic artists, scenic artists, and fine artists, musicians, actors, editors and other film craft specialists that shared their unique talents with me in a most generous way. And, since they too, were visually literate in similar ways as I was with identical societal norms and popular American icons firmly stuck in their minds, also probably from watching too much TV, we all shared an obsession with The Frame.
So, The Frame and how images are created through 1.) purposeful isolation and exclusion, 2.) the discriminatory creation of scenes within the frame, and 3.) recording and then assembling them to create separate and distinct experiences in the brains of an audience became how I experience the world - even when not making films or videos but in my everyday life.
So, ”framing” every experience I’ve encountered throughout my life has defined my path, my way - the Tao of Video.
As far as my own brain and perceptions go, I don’t know HOW it all works, but I do know WHY. Consciously allowing my obsession with The Frame to freely roam our world became my ultimate role in life and the predominant value I have had to others and, thus, to my self.
And that, primarily, is a result of watching "too much" TV when I was a kid.