MISTAKES: I’VE MADE A FEW – OK, A LOT

How I love American Cinematographer magazine. Next to Digital Video, it’s my all-time favorite. Every month I open it to the inside back cover, the same as you do with Digital Video, but instead of my stuff, there’s an interview with a famous ASC cameraman.

And every month there’s the killer-diller question that stumps them all: “Have you made any memorable blunders?”

Now if you were earning $XX,000 a day, would you admit to any wrongdoing? No, of course you wouldn’t.

Don Burgess, ASC: “Blunders? Cinematographers don’t like that word, but we do like ‘happy accidents,’ which we take credit for all the time.”

Nice one, Don. Completely sidestepped the issue—should be a politician.

Darius Khondji, ASC“Many, many blunders.”

That’s it? Just three words? Come on, tell us some mistakes you made on Midnight in Paris or Se7en. Please, we really want to know…

Dante Spinotti, ASC:Thirty years ago I was shooting 16mm reversal and pushing to 2000 ASA. Later, all I could see in the shot were the torches the actors were holding.”

Well, I guess it was a mistake—but 30 years ago. Tell us a blunder on X-Men or L.A. Confidential. Something recent…

And on and on they go with pathetic, trivial mistakes:

I accidentally turned on a smoke machine…

I played the piano in front of…

I put the film in the wrong way round when I was a clapper-loader 40 years ago…

Now It’s My Turn

It’s 1975. I’m hired to go to Portugal, where SuperSer butane heaters are made. I shoot their factory, the draftsmen, the cargo ship being loaded, and somehow, don’t ask me how, the SuperSer rep and I wind up on a Portuguese beach. I shoot the beach, the sunbathers—nice atmospheric stuff. We have a beer and enjoy the view.

I reload an Éclair 16mm magazine on top of an upturned boat, change magazines and—wait for it—leave the can of precious film on the upturned boat.

We fly back to London. Quelle horreur—there’s a can missing. Of course it would be the 400 ft. can that has all the really important shots.

My U.K. client speaks Portuguese and phones the police station nearest the beach. Wonder of wonders, it’s been handed in. The police overnight the film can back to London and it’s all there, unopened, intact, perfect.

It Was Only Last Week

None of this “when I was an assistant 40 years ago.”

iPhone shoot

My good friend Dennis is doing a shoot. He wants me to cover reverse angles. I’d do anything for Dennis since my cat bit and peed all over him. So I turn up with not one camera but three.

And, would you believe it, all three die, one after the other. The GoPro runs for a while, powered by a USB supply, then locks up, stone-cold dead.

Camera two: I thought it had a 64 GB chip; nope, it’s a partially full 16 GB chip. One hundred percent full and dead after just 30 minutes.

The camera I’m operating has a battery that says 4.5 hours. It lies. Dead before two hours. I go to get another battery and the hotel staff has kindly put my camera case into Lost and Found … and the guy with the key is away at lunch.

A camera! A camera! My kingdom for a camera. Hey, I’ve got an iPhone. I balance it on the tripod and shoot. I feel pretty stupid but it works.

Have You Made Any Memorable Blunders?

Yes, many, many.

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