A few years ago when my mother mentioned that one of her acquaintances was married to a cinematographer, I barely paid attention. Then she mentioned that he’d worked on lots of movies that she knew I’d heard of – and still, I wasn’t that interested. But then she said, “Oh, and he’s currently working on The West Wing – and that piqued my interest!
To me, The West Wing was the most beautiful show on TV – ever. I always noticed the light, the color, the motion. It was predominantly shot indoors – yet that was never a limitation – it was always visually stunning. And it was also a bit mysterious. There was always something about the shadows…
So what a surprise to learn that the man ultimately responsible for that look, Tom Del Ruth, lived right here in Northern San Diego County? He and his wife Patricia have since moved to Oregon, but they were back in town for the film festival this weekend. Tom is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, and he also gave a seminar on Saturday morning.
He talked about his childhood growing up in Los Angeles with well-known parents, his early career, and how he managed his career. Then he showed his reel – the most visually interesting 20 minutes of his career, culled from a variety of his films and television shows. And with no sound, he was able to talk us through the scenes, as they spun by on the screen.
Honestly, it was a dream come true. How could it not be? Breathtakingly beautiful footage, and the creator in the same room explaining how and why – it was the best!
I had to ask one stupid question – the room was full of filmmakers and then there was me. Not a filmmaker… But definitely a visual person. And he started to talked about lens choices, and I didn’t know how to relate it to the lenses I do know. It’s like the difference between a 35mm camera and a medium format camera – for the first a 50mm is considered the normal lens – neither telephoto nor wide – it mimics the human eye. And for medium format an 80mm lens is normal. But where does a film camera fit? So I had to ask. I know, way way beginner question and I’m in a room full of filmmakers! But it would have driven me nuts not to understand as he threw out lens choices – and once he told me 75mm was about normal – then it all made sense.
That hour was the highlight of the weekend for me – and I suspect I’m not the only who feels that way.
Bob Fisher, Historian of Cinematography.
There was also a Q&A session with the makers of most of the major features screening over the weekend.
David Blair, director of Paper Dolls.