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The Magic of Cinematography with Dean Cundey, ASC

The Magic of Cinematography with Dean Cundey, ASC

As we close out the year, a highlight event is always Band Pro’s One World Open House. Beyond the wonderful company and amazing food is always Band Pro’s choice for guest of honor. This year however they made real magic happen by bringing award-winning cinematographer Dean Cundey, ASC to the stage. An amazing DP and wonderful guest, Cundey was generous enough to spend time with us to discuss his extensive body of work, the magic of cinematography and much much more.

Cundey’s career in filmmaking began as a child, where he found his love of stage magic intersected wonderfully with his love of films. More specifically about how the filmmakers crafted an illusion made the audience believe in what they were seeing on screen. “I loved the illusion that film could pull off. I think I decided at that point that’s what I wanted to do, become part of the people that make this illusion”. In particular, Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” became a touchstone film for Cundey, inspiring him to start picking up the ASC Magazine to learn all he could. Not long after, his mother subscribed to the magazine, and before he knew it Cundey was attending UCLA Film School.

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Dean Cundey, ASC on the set of “The Thing”

Fresh out of school, Cundey worked on any job he could get, working as an editor, in makeup, special effects and anything else he could find. This lead to a number of small films that weren’t notable but still incredibly educational for him, eventually even leading to working with the legendary Roger Corman. However, he always wanted to be a cinematographer, always wanting to be part of the “…ones creating the illusion”. This sort of career diversification is something Cundey teaches students to this day as it led to a deeper understanding of the art and craft of filmmaking as a whole and forged important working relationships. “There’s no job I would say I’m sorry I took. Almost.”

John Carpenter (Left) with Dean Cundey, ASC (Middle) on the set of Halloween.

As important an education these early jobs were, Cundey still wanted more from his work, to really craft a story visually. The turning point would be John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. Introduced by John Carpenter’s producing partner and writer Debra Hill, Cundey felt this was a turning point for himself, John and the rest of the team. “‘Halloween’ was a turning point for the lot of us because, for me, it was really visual storytelling, using the camera to involve the audience, to move them and go places.”

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Dean Cundey, ASC with the “Halloween” crew.

“Halloween” was also an open field to play and expand his art, as there was a great deal of creative control due to Carpenter’s self-producing of the film. With all of the talent involved, the free flow of ideas obviously led to craft the legacy of one of the greatest horror films of all time. The film also had a lasting effect on Cundey and Carpenter’s working relationship, as they’d continue to work on many more films together over the next several decades such as “The Fog”, “Escape From New York”, “The Thing” and more.

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Always looking to make magic wherever he went, it’s no wonder Cundey would be an architect of some of the biggest developments in film history, such as the growth of animation and special effects. He notes that “Back to the Future II” was the first time he saw the special effects team use computers to digitally erase the wires that made the famous DeLorean fly in the film. However it was a short time before that Cundey (always interested in and a collector of animation) worked on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, another classic that changed the way animation was seen, filmed and experienced.

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Dean Cundey, ASC behind the scenes on “Back To The Future II”

As it is now, Disney was THE world of animation, the rule writers and (in some cases) breakers whose legacy needs no introduction. Cundey and his team took some time to learn about shooting animation and live action from Disney, specifically pointing to the films Mary Poppins and Pete’s Dragon for inspiration. Disney taught them what they needed to know, but with several caveats: only use a wide shot, make sure the camera is stationary at all times (so the animated characters can move within the frame), never handle real-world objects and don’t have the characters move in and out of light.

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Dean Cundey, ASC (Left) and Stephen Speilberg (Right) on the set of “Jurrasic Park”.

As magic in real life is used to break the rules of reality, so too did Cundey and his team, proceeding to break every one of those rules. So they shot some test footage with animator Richard Williams who was willing to help them achieve climbing each hurdle Disney had laid out. The test footage so impressed Disney that they moved forward with the film, leading to yet another history-making credit for Cundey. This experience would only further develop during his time on “Jurassic Park”, where the art and science of animation took the next leap forward in its evolution.

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Dean Cundey, ASC with an animatronic dinosaur from “Jurassic Park”.

We’ve only scratched the surface on Cundey’s work and legacy, something Band Pro honored during their One World Open House with a special Lifetime Achievement award. It was presented by Band Pro’s own president, Amnon Band, during the event.

This is really only about half of what Cundey discusses at Band Pro’s One World Open House. He continues to discuss how the Cinematographer is the “second director” of the film, the importance of knowing about classic filmmaking beyond the digital space, knowing as much about other aspects of filmmaking and much much more. This is an amazing opportunity to learn from a true master that every cinematographer, director, filmmaker and anyone with any interest in the film industry should experience.

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Dean Cundey, ASC (Left) on the set of “Escape From New York”.

For more information on Band Pro, be sure to visit BandPro.com

For more information on Dean Cundey, ASC and his work, you can view his very extensive IMDB page at www.IMDB.com/name/nm0005678

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