Today on the show we have the legendary and Emmy Winning cinematographer Michael Goi A.S.C.
Michael Goi has compiled over 70 narrative credits, including films for cinema and television screens such as “American Horror Story,” “Glee,” “Salem” and “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” He has received Emmy nominations for “Glee”, “My Name Is Earl” and “American Horror Story.” He was nominated for the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Outstanding Achievement Award for the telefilms “The Fixer” and “Judas” and for the pilot “The New Normal” and the mini-series “American Horror Story: Asylum”. He also wrote and directed the dramatic feature film “Megan Is Missing” about the subject of internet predators, and several episodes of “American Horror Story” and other shows.
Michael Goi is a past president of the American Society of Cinematographers, serves on the Board Of Governors of the ASC, and is the editor of the 10th Edition of the ASC Manual. He was made an Honorary Member of the Indian Society Of Cinematographers (ISC) in 2010 for his efforts to increase international collaboration and communication amongst the world’s cinematography organizations.
Michael has appeared as a guest speaker at the American Film Institute, the University of Southern California, Walt Disney Animation Studios (for whom he demonstrated ice and snow lighting concepts for animators working on the film “Frozen,”), CineGear, IBC, and many other international industry events. He is a member of the National Executive Board of the International Cinematographers Guild, the Directors Guild Of America, the Academy Of Television Arts And Sciences and the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences.
He regularly mentors students for various industry programs. An unrepentant movie buff, he has been known to spend all night in his home theater watching selections from the over 18,000 films in his collection.
We really get into the weeds on his process, shooting every kind of film and that insane movie collection he has.
Enjoy my conversation with Michael Goi A.S.C.
Alex Ferrari 0:00
We are in Episode 299 today and I have an amazing special guest today Michael Goi who is a legendary cinematographer, as well as a director. And he is the visionary behind the look of American Horror Story we go into the weeds on how he how he works, what his process is, how he shoots film, why they chose to shoot film on that show. It is easily the most stylistic beautifully shot show on TV without question. It is stunning, and in many ways revolutionary in the way that he and Ryan Murphy, the creator came together to create this. It's again, insanity, it's chaos. But it looks amazing. And we get into a lot of the details are how he is able to create such unique and vibrant looks for the show. Michael is a member of the ASC and a former three time president of the American cinematographers society, which is a big deal. He also rewrote the manual literally helped to rewrite the American cinematography manual. So Michael is definitely a guy who knows his stuff. And I also want to give a big shout out to Austin Nord, Dell, my buddy who set this entire interview up. Thank you, Austin, for making the connection. I truly, truly appreciate it. We also get into his 18,000 plus film collection that he has in his garage. And if you guys want to see the video version of this podcast, please go to the show notes. And I will have a link to that episode. And in that episode, he actually records it in his screening suite that he has with all his movies in the background. It is insane to see. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Michael Goi. I'd like to welcome the show Michael Goi. Michael, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to the tribe today.
Michael Goi ASC 3:56
It's my pleasure.
Alex Ferrari 3:57
Thank you my friend. So before we get into it, how did you get in the film business in the first place?
Michael Goi ASC 4:04
Well, I was always shooting even as a kid I mean, I was classically the the kid who begged his parents for a used eight millimeter movie camera and I would make a millimeter and super eight films in the backyard with my friends. And by the time I got to my first year of high school when I was 14. I wanted to make professional movies so I saved up enough to get a used 16 millimeter Bullock's camera. And the film stock was so much more expensive than super eight film that I searched out mostly Mexican companies to shoot commercials for on spec on the weekends with my friends. So you know I had several television commercials on on the air and Spanish television before I graduated from high school, and I just never stopped.
Alex Ferrari 4:52
That's pretty that's pretty impressive back then, to be able to do that. How are you editing all that or do you were you editing it?
Michael Goi ASC 4:58
No, I wasn't noticing that the the owners of the companies would put it through post production through the people that they knew.
Alex Ferrari 5:06
And then how did you start from, from commercials in the Mexican market? to where you are today? How did you kind of start, you know, growing up the ladder?
Michael Goi ASC 5:15
Well, I went to the study filmmaking, a Columbia College in Chicago, and they had a very hands on film program. And what I liked about Columbia was they, they basically set you up to fail, it was really great, because they would send you out with 100 feet of film and a camera and tell you to do a dozen shots of a subject that meant something to you, knowing full well that you would probably fail in some huge way. But what it did was that it completely eliminated the fear of failure. So as I went through college, and then into my professional life, I always have this point of view that I will try anything, that nothing, nothing is off bounds. And if I felt too comfortable with something or to shore myself in terms of how to accomplish something, that was the indication to me that I was not taking enough chances and I wasn't pushing and stretching myself as an artist.
Alex Ferrari 6:12
Now you during your early career, you did a lot of feature film work, and TV, movies and things like that. And I noticed on your on your, your credits that there were a lot of horror stuff, did you is that a genre that you really feel attached to?
Michael Goi ASC 6:29
I mean, I do like horror films and and science fiction films in general, I have a special affinity for the the horror films of the 1940s, like the Val Lewton movies, or the sci fi movies of the 1950s. But horror has always been an effective vehicle for new filmmakers entering into the business, because you didn't require actors who got paid millions of millions of dollars, you know, the concept was basically the strength of a movie. And so a lot of the low budget filmmakers, the the young people who are trying to start out gravitated toward horror. And that's been true, pretty much since the beginning of filmmaking. But I have a lot of movies on on my resume of the type and other types. I mean, you know, I've probably shot more movies than that nobody has ever seen. And most people I think, you know, I think there's 50 or 60 feature films on my resume that nobody has ever seen. But, you know, I found that the more I shot, the more I learned and the more contacts you made, because this this industry is all about making connections and getting to know everybody else in the business.
Alex Ferrari 7:46
Now, when you were coming up, did you I mean, I'm assuming you didn't just, you know, come out of school and then boom, right and started doing feature film work. Did you work your way up, like traditionally through an apprenticeship or through camera in being a hammer assistant loader, all that kind of stuff?
Michael Goi ASC 8:00
Well, toward the tail end of my college education, I was actually filming feature length documentaries for PBS at the time, so I was doing a good amount of documentary work and then operating and then depayne on, on commercials. But I was more drawn to the the lighting side of the industry, I worked as an electrician, and ultimately, as a gaffer. You know, I was less drawn to the mechanics of the camera. I was a terrible first assistant camera person, I wouldn't hire me. My my interest wasn't in whether or not the shot was in focus. It was what was the lighting doing on the face of the actor at the time I was shooting so so I gravitated toward more toward the lighting side and and then worked a good amount, you know, in their field, prominently, I think for Jeff Cheshire, who's a very good friend and somebody who was a couple years ahead of me at Columbia College. And Jeff was the cinematographer that I always envisioned that I wanted to be, you know, he had a quiet control of the set, he knew exactly what he wanted, and yet he was very open and giving about people's input into the project. And I remember when I when I asked Jeff if he wanted me to rough in something for the next setup, and we were working on an industrial shoot and and I said Where do you want the lights? And Jeff said, Well, you know what looks good. Why don't you just go ahead and do what you feel like needs to be done. And it was that that kind of spirit of you know, go out there and and show me your best stuff that really stuck with me. And you know, when when I was pounding on the door of Hollywood for 10 years to try to get into television shooting. Nobody would hire me despite the fact that I think I had like 40 Features under my belt at that time, I still couldn't get hired on a television show. Jeff is the one who opened that door. And when he was doing a big show for ABC called invasion, he needed somebody to shoot additional units, you know, of large, large scenes. And he insisted to the producers that they bring me in to shoot those. And the producers were a little hesitant initially, because they were like, well, he doesn't have any credits for television. So they decided to go ahead and give me one night five scenes to shoot and, and Jeff kept insisting to them that I knew exactly the style of the show. And when I went there that night to shoot, I asked Jeff, what is the style of the show? Because I have no idea what the style of the show is. And Jeff said, well, you have a script and you know, you know what, what feels good to you just do what you feel like you should be doing. So it was exactly the same thing. He told me like 20 years earlier. And so I did that I lit those scenes the way I felt like they needed to be shocked. And the next day, they all watched the rushes. And Jeff told the producer, see, Michael knows exactly the style of the show. And they hired me for the rest of the season. And then the rest, as they say is history. Yeah, it was the jumping off point for me and television. Certainly.
Alex Ferrari 11:18
Now, that's a really great thing I'd love to kind of touch on a little bit because so many up and coming filmmakers, you know, screenwriters and also, obviously, cinematographers, they don't realize that this is not a one year plan or a two year plan, you just said that you were pounding on the doors for 10 years before someone gave you a shot, and you were working. But now where you wanted to be you wanted to kind of break into television, but yet you had 40 features behind you. And yet nobody was giving you an opportunity. But yet you were still persevere and you persevere to persevere until someone finally gave you that can you kind of just kind of really explain to the audience, how important is patience and perseverance in this business?
Michael Goi ASC 12:01
Well, and persistence, I mean, you know, it's, it's the, the a level person who is the most artistic, oftentimes is not the person who makes it. In this business, it's the B level person who will do absolutely anything, to get a job to get on set, you know, to do the best job they can in on sometimes questionable material. You know, I never made a judgement about the the things that I was working on, I was thrilled to be working, I was thrilled to be meeting other crew people. And I would bring whatever artistry that I could to the project at hand. And it's sort of the same now. I mean, people ask me, did you choose this movie? Or did you choose this television show, because you get to do artistically, this? Well, the artistry really, frankly, comes after you, you do choose the job, you know, and then you find the artists. You know, I think, you know, the bottom line for me is that this is my job. This is the thing that I've chosen to do with my life and my career, the thing that will make me money, so I can pay my mortgage and put my kids through college. And I do not have the luxury of not getting up and not going to work in the morning. So I will find the the best opportunities that I can, within the opportunities that are you know, presented to me,
Alex Ferrari 13:33
You seem to have walked into this business. And I'm sure it took time to do but without ego. Because if you show up, like you said, I don't make any judgments at the work I was doing early in my career, because I was just happy to be working. Do you find that there's so many people coming into the business now that are full of those egos, that the business will take care of by themselves? I'm not saying everybody but I've noticed that myself in my business.
Michael Goi ASC 13:58
Well, I mean, I think you know, everybody is different. But the thing is, if you're the star in college in the filmmaking class, doesn't mean that you're going to be the star in the actual industry. You know, Tommy Lee Jones, I think famously and accurately say, when he was asked, why did you do so many crappy movies in the 1970s so many exploitation films and, and Tommy said, You know, I was never a truck driver and I was never a waiter. I was always an actor. And if I was offered three crappy movies, I would do the least crappy of the three, but I was always doing my craft and I kind of felt strongly the same way. I've shot a lot of things that that I probably would never watch. But, you know, I would find something in those projects that would be exciting to me or something that I could push the limits on and see what I could make out of it. And, and, you know, it's ultimately you have to make connections with People and the best way to make connections is to actually be on the set. Because that that grip that's working on that $100,000 low budget movie with you today, tomorrow is going to go to some $50 million movie and work as a as a grip over there. And you know, you want those people to go out and say, Hey, I just worked with this tremendous, tremendous cinematographer on this no budget, movie. And and you know, that's what gets around and attitude is everything, you know, you bring your best attitude to the work, you you minimize your ego, and you do what's needed of you to be done.
Alex Ferrari 15:40
It is a very small business, isn't it?
Michael Goi ASC 15:43
It is it's a small industry.
Alex Ferrari 15:45
I mean, so many people, I it's amazing people I've run into that I've known this person or that person. And people don't realize that if you do something wrong, or you you are that you don't bring that great attitude, it will follow you. So try not to be in try to be as kind as you can while you're working.
Michael Goi ASC 16:03
Yeah, and it's, you know, a bad a bad incident or one bad reputation incident will follow you around for quite a long time. But it takes a great deal of time to build up a good reputation,
Alex Ferrari 16:17
Without question without question. Now, let's talk a little bit about American Horror Story, which is a revolutionary looking show that you had a very big part in creating the look for it. How did you how did you get involved with American Horror Story? And then how did you guys sit down with the creators? How did you sit down with the creators to kind of come up with this insane, wonderful work?
Michael Goi ASC 16:41
Well, I was alternating on the Glee for Ryan Murphy, at the time and horror story was going to make a shift because their director of photography in season one was going off to do something else. This was about mid season. And they asked me to step off of Glee and step into American Horror Story. And it was a difficult show a large show, big actors and, and it was it was it was fun, from the standpoint that I've always been the kind of person who likes to be tossed in the center of the hurricane, and then find some way to fight myself out. In Season Three and Four of American Horror Story when we were shooting in New Orleans, the nickname The crew gave me in New Orleans was the doctor and a newspaper reporter who was interviewing me asked me why did they call you the doctor and I said, because I'm the guy who fixes things in their in their perception. So you know, I like I like trying to bring the order and the reason out of out of chaotic situations. And you know, horror story had just a bigness about it that that I liked. And it was always trying to push the envelope artistically. And that's the thing that I really indebted to to Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk about is they gave me a tremendous amount of freedom. In any normal situation with a studio or a network. Anything you want to do that deviates from the norm, you have to pass through a number of channels to get approval of in the case of American Horror Story, I just had to text Ryan Murphy and say, I'm thinking about shooting the scene tomorrow on black and white reversal 16 millimeter film and he texts back. Great, sounds great. And that was it. So so that's show, I got to exercise my imagination and my creativity in ways that I was not able to do on a lot of other shows previous to that.
Alex Ferrari 18:50
And you have to basically had a very big toolbox, and a lot of toys to play with on that show to experiment, basically because it's a lot of experimenting in that show.
Michael Goi ASC 19:00
That's a lot of experimenting. But you know, the toolbox for me is actually fairly simple. I mean, everything I did on American Horror Story was based on silent movies, stuff that was done prior to 1929 I felt like an integral part of the show had to be just the organic nature of what it is that people are seeing. And to an out of that spraying out all of this, these this creativity and these different approaches to flashbacks and to psychotic episodes and to murder scenes and stuff like that. But you know, if I look over the the years that I worked on the show as a cinematographer and as a director, I mean the biggest influence was was silent cinema. You know, I can probably name all those movies that influenced me and in you made the decision to stay with film as opposed to trying to jump to a digital format on that show. Well, it was a it was sort of like a mutual under Standing I think between myself between Ryan Murphy and between Fox and you know I have to give a lot of credit to Fox at that time because the the big sweep was going on to to make most of television digital and and you know they had a conversation with me and asked me what do they think about American Horror Story should it be digital or film and you know and I felt like film was a an important part of the aesthetic of the show that the different ways we can manipulate film made it special in the eyes of the audience and and I told that to the fox executives and they said okay you know sounds good and and you know they stuck with that all the all the years that I was shooting the show so you know I give them credit
Alex Ferrari 20:48
And I mean and again with with shooting film is one thing but you shot like you just had black and white 16 million reversal you shot super eight, what format did you shoot? What film format did you shoot?
Michael Goi ASC 20:59
I did not get to shoot infrared. I really wanted to shoot infrared. And the other thing I did not get to shoot was sound recording film that really high contrast film that they use to make optical soundtracks Yeah, I really wanted to shoot a scene on sound recording film just to see what it would look like but you know we shot pretty much everything else we color negative color reversal. 35 millimeter 16 millimeter a you know, 16 black a white Yeah, we shot super eight and and we even shot very, we shot in 1970s vidicon to video. For the the episode. I am Anne Frank, part two, part of Anne Frank's previous life of home life, the director Alfonso Gomez Ryan and I were talking about it should feel almost like like a television soap opera. And then we decided well, why don't we make it look like a television soap opera. And so I located these three old 1970 standard def vidicon tube cameras, and we shot it with all of its artifacts and with all of its low resolution. And it was the perfect match. So that was the thing we were trying to find always the perfect visual match that enhance the the drama, and enhance the audience's feeling of what the character was going through.
Alex Ferrari 22:20
What was it like when you showed up on set that day? 397 these video cameras on everyone's like, is that for BTS? What is that?
Michael Goi ASC 22:31
Well, they the crew knew I was coming because when the cameras landed, they were like holy cow. Well, how do we even output a signal from this that we can record and so there had to be a good deal of splicing and experimenting going on. And post production was certainly involved too, because when we recorded it, it had all of these kind of like, trailing video artifacts growing sideways across the screen, and they said, Well, this, this is not going to be usable. I said this is perfect. Frankly, perfect then. And, you know, it's it's a it was it was a great experiment. And
Alex Ferrari 23:11
Let me ask you a question. What did the post guys get this stuff? Because I mean, I mean, seriously, that's not nor, like they must go wrong?
Michael Goi ASC 23:20
Well, you know, I mean, I certainly, I certainly felt like I was constantly challenging post to accept things that, frankly, in any other normal universe or with any normal people would be unacceptable. But, you know, it was it was all not about just making a flashy image or to to create something that was just, you know, just flashy for its own sake, it was about finding the most effective way to, as I said, you know, plug into the mind of the character and visually depict the world as the character sees it. So, you know, I remember there was the last episode in season two asylum is called madness ends. almost a quarter of the episode is a 16 millimeter documentary that the Lana winters, Sarah Paulson's character is making. And Ryan had said to me that he wanted that documentary to look like the geraldo rivera documentary on insane asylums from the 1970s. I said, Okay, so I went online, and I did a lot of research and I could never find a good copy of that Insane Asylum documentary. Everything I saw was multigenerational copies that were really pukey looking and excessively grainy and stuff. And then I realized, well, if I can't find anything good looking on this documentary, then probably Ryan couldn't find anything good looking. So what he has seen is what I've just seen, and that's what he's reacting to who he wants that feel. So I took a shot the whole seek By free stocks on three times less light going into the film for exposure, then I forced processed at three stops to sort of bring an imbalance but it made the flesh tones and the colors really pukey and the grain humongous. And then I asked the post production team to take all of that 16 millimeter puky footage and transfer it to three quarter inch pneumatic video cassettes, which was an industrial video format that nobody had used for, like 20 years. But But everybody had a u Matic deck hidden in the back of their editing suite somewhere. And they did a test and they called me and they said, you know, we don't think you're gonna like this. It's just way too extreme. And I said, well show me Show me the test and they showed it to me and it was really pukey extremely low resolution. There were almost no discernible skin tones and it was just the grimace. McKee ista image. On I loved it. I thought it was perfect. Before we commit to this, because you know, and justifiably, I mean, it was a big part of the episode and they showed it to Ryan and Ryan said, I love it. It's perfect.
Alex Ferrari 26:14
So you kind of talk about a few things. What would you kind of experimental things you did on American Horror Story? What was in your experience and your opinion, the most experimental thing you're like, I can't believe this got on air.
Michael Goi ASC 26:29
Oh, well, I mean, it was probably and this is experimental, but in my mind, theoretically, it seemed like it would work. Ryan had called me before the day before we shot a scene a flashback scene with Jessica Lange in a freak show. And said he wanted that footage to to look somehow like Nazi fetish porn movies from the 1930s. And, you know, so when breaking it down, you know, thinking about Okay, what would Nazi fetish porn movies from the 1930s look like? And obviously, we're seeing it through today's you know, lens, which means it would be like footage that's been found or heavily damaged or whatever. And my and my camera crew and Bryce Reed would really lead the charge on this he was my camera system, we unspooled 16 millimeter black and white reversal film on the darkroom floor, tossed it around like a salad, sprayed it with water, dried it with a hairdryer flashed it with a flashlight and then rolled it back up onto a core all this in the darkroom. And then we stuck it in a hand crank 16 millimeter camera and it looked exactly like Nazi fetish porn movies from the 1930s. You know, but that was a simple process of breaking down, okay, there probably be water damage, there would probably be shrinkage of the emotion, there would probably be all the flaring of the you know, the negative and all these things, and they contributed to two that look at. And it It looked exactly the way in dailies, it ended up on the show. And that's the beauty I think for me of shooting film is you can create an extreme look without having to set it to sit in a digital sweet for four or five hours to create it.
Alex Ferrari 28:20
Now you I'm assuming you had to do research for those 1930s German fetish porn film. I'm assuming your Google history, your Google Search History might have been rough that month.
Michael Goi ASC 28:33
Yeah, my Google Search History probably reflects a whole lot of weird things.
Alex Ferrari 28:39
Fair enough. Fair enough. Now, since you've, you've lit a lot of television, obviously no. So a lot of features. Can you tell the audience a little bit of the major difference since creatively from a cinematographers point of view?
Michael Goi ASC 28:51
Well, there for me, there's not much difference between shooting a television show and shooting a feature film. But you know, I would say one of the the few differences for me is on a feature, I know I'm never going to go back to that set, I'm never going to have a chance to another chance to to light that set in a different way and stuff like that. So there's there's a certain degree of, of, you know, you have to commit to something that's your strongest vision when when you're in there at that time, because you're never going to be able to revisit it as opposed to television. Sometimes you'll go back to the same set three times and in the same episode, but you know, that carries with it another responsibility for me is, you know, on my work on television, I never felt like the same set, especially if it's in multiple scenes in the same episode, you should always look different every time you're in it. You know, it never worked for me that if I flicked this switch, it would become the day look in there and if I flick this switch, it would become the night look. Because that's that's completely different. Regarding the fact that that character in that room feels differently, the different times that they're in there, and like I said, I feel like cinematography should reflect the internal feelings of the character and visually depict the world as the character sees it.
Alex Ferrari 30:17
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Michael Goi ASC 30:28
So we, we, meaning I, my crew, headed by my gaffer Java gallon, and my operators and grips, would always be throwing away the first idea and trying to find the second third or fourth idea for shooting in a space. And, you know, it's, it's, it's a good exercise in something, you know, that I do every day. If if something comes to me, as the first idea, it comes very easily. And that's the best indication for me that I shouldn't do it. Because, you know, because it's gonna be very conventional. And I probably did it before, you know, and, you know, I'm looking to find the things that I haven't done before.
Alex Ferrari 31:14
Now, you also are extremely knowledgeable about VR. Can you talk to tell the audience a little bit about that? And what makes you so excited about VR?
Michael Goi ASC 31:23
Well, I'm excited about VR, for the same reason that a lot of people are excited about the technology, it's it's very immersive, it enables you to maneuver around within an environment that you otherwise would not have access to. And also, I think it has great storytelling potential. And I know that a lot of cinematographers, and a lot of directors were very hesitant about VR, when the technology was in its infancy stage, because they were like, well, where are the frames? Were? Where are the boundaries and the borders? Because if you don't have frames, then you're not doing compositions, you're not guiding the audience to what you want them to see? Well, I think you can, I think you can guide the audience to what you want them to see. And what's important to the story. It's just you have to approach it in a little different way. And so I think the VR has tremendous potential for a whole number of things, including narrative filmmaking, including traditional narrative filmmaking, including certainly documentaries and sports for which it's already been widely used, and geographical surveys. But I think storytelling and VR is very exciting. And, you know, we, we meaning the ASC, the ICG, the International Civil Carver's Guild, the Art Directors Guild, the visual effects society, and we're all part of a VR subcommittee to explore the the use of virtual reality and traditional narrative storytelling where the traditional jobs in narrative storytelling in terms of the crew fall into that, that technology. So I think I think it's great potential.
Alex Ferrari 33:09
Now, you you've just mentioned ASC, obviously, you're an ASC member. And you also did two terms as a as the President, as return three terms, excuse me three terms as the president, and you also helped, right, then the latest version of the ASE manual, correct? Right? What was your additions to that manual? Because I remember getting that manual in film school, which is very different than the one that's been around. What was your, what was your contribution to it?
Michael Goi ASC 33:38
Yeah, well, the the 10th edition of the manual, the one that I edited, probably has the the largest sweeping changes in the manual that have occurred in a great many years. You know, I felt like the technologies had evolved so fast in terms of digital and and there needed to be kind of a comprehensive overview of the technologies and what they actually were and what they were called. And, you know, I i've always considered myself to be the low tech voice of high tech, I don't consider myself to be a high tech person. And when they asked me to be the editor of the manual, I said, Well, I don't know that I'm the right person. And they said, Well, you know, you you can make the manual, whatever you want. And I said, Well, if I can make the manual, something that even I could understand, then I'll tackle it. So you know, there's there's probably more digital information in my version of the manual, I think, than any other version that had come before it, you know, glossary of terms and and just the methodology and how it differs from film, but I also wanted to make sure that the manual kept the foundation of film expression and film technology and, and one of them for me was Lynwood. Dunn's article on the optical printer. You know, they they asked me are my keeping the Linwood done article? And I said, Yes, absolutely I am. Because that is the foundation of motion imaging, whether you're shooting on film, or you're shooting on on video, or digital or whatever format, that article is the foundation of motion imaging, and it's important for it to remain in the manual. So it was that balance between the enormous respect I have for tech, the technologies that formed this industry and the knowledge of the technologies that are evolving and vital now, and it took a while it took me five years to get that book out. Because every time I thought I'd finished it, the technology had changed so rapidly, that I had to rethink a third of the book. And, you know, when I started the manual, digital intermediates were the exception, you really had to fight to get a digital intermediate done. And five years later, you have to fight to make a film print. So, you know, it's changed that rapidly. Sometimes Sometimes for the good and sometimes not. You know, I think sometimes we embrace the change over in technologies without adequately knowing what the longevity and the non obsolescence of the technologies we're using are.
Alex Ferrari 36:25
Now you also, I've started to direct a lot more. And recently, first of all, what do you like, about both? I mean, I know you love cinematography, what what made you start to go towards directing? And? And yeah, just what what made you start going more towards directing? And also, how do you work with cinematographers? You being a very accomplished cinematographers last director.
Michael Goi ASC 36:51
Well, I mean, directing because I've always directed to some degree throughout the course of my career, either on commercials or, you know, short films or features. No, I wrote and directed a very low budget feature, Megan is missing, before I worked on American Horror Story. And that was a $35,000 movie that we did an eight and a half days with 13 to 16 year old kids. So nice. So so it was a directing comes easily for me if it's a subject that I'm especially tuned to, and, and I believe that, you know, at the start of my really professional directing career in narrative, episodic, I think I have to attribute to Jessica Lange, because I know she was the one who went to Ryan and Fox and said, Why isn't Michael directing the show, because he understands the show better than anybody and he understands us better than anybody. And that's that, that opened the door. And, you know, starting my, you know, my directing career, my legitimate directing career on a show, like American Horror Story, where I knew all those actors and we all had tremendous respect for each other, it wasn't it was a great creative environment and, and gave me a lot of freedom. And I was still shooting the show. So I was I was cinematographer of the episodes I was directing as well. But it was, it was a great place to to kick off and then as I branched off into other shows, it was like overnight the hit the switch was flipped in the industry. And everybody started calling me to direct their shows and and I realized wait a while after 30 something years as a cinematographer, nobody's calling me to shoot anything anymore. But they're all calling for me to direct you know, which is like rich person's problems. Right. But it's, you know, and I know that a great part of that was Ryan. Ryan, you know, told Fox that you know, Michael is a director you know, he's not a shooter, he's a director and you know, he reinforced that that kind of vision to the the industry so and you know, I've enjoyed working on these various shows I enjoy working with other cinematographers they don't tell me if they're nervous shooting for me,
Alex Ferrari 39:17
I would imagine they would be
Michael Goi ASC 39:19
Well possibly but you know, I think once they realize that I'm not going to shoot in any direction of the set that looks bad and I'm not going to ask to roll when the lighting on the leading lady isn't isn't finished, you know, we get along great and because we can speak the same language because you know, I've worked with hundreds of directors and and learned as much from the not so good ones as the good ones. In terms of the amount of prep you need to do and and coming to the set. Having done your homework and knowing what the vision is, you know, we we just get along really great and we work very efficiently. So it's, it's it's all good
Alex Ferrari 40:00
Now, I wanted to ask you a question. I've always love asking cinematographers in today's world, because of all the high resolution where the 4k is the tank at, you know, obviously HD and 4k and higher. Sometimes, older actors and actresses, you know, they need a little help from you. What advice can you give young cinematographers coming up as far as like, don't use this light, please do just throw a little bit of this or this on it, I know it varies from set to set, but just any kind of generalized tips that you can give them.
Michael Goi ASC 40:33
Well, the the idea that like HD or 2k, or 4k is sharper, you know than film and therefore can make somebody look harsh, I think is is a little bit of the misunderstanding, because you know, film 35 millimeter film is actually sharper than 4k, it has more more pixels, for lack of a better word of information of color information, density, information, brightness, contrast information, then, then the, the, what he called sensor on a digital camera, but the digital camera has a finite number of pixels that it can use for to resolve an image, there's, there's not any more than what is on that particular sensor. Whereas film emotion is infinite, it will infinitely readjust itself into any number of configurations to visually depict the image in the most accurate organic way. So as a result, you know, a lot of times when you're watching an image on a digital camera, and you say, Wow, that's really sharp, what you're responding to, is the contrast that's built into that image, because it cannot resolve as much detail as the film image can. So it's just going to resolve what it can. And, you know, it can create an artificial, you know, impression of contrast or sharpness, but it doesn't actually have as much details. So what we actually want is not cameras that are lower in resolution than 4k, we don't want higher resolution cameras, we want 8k we want 10k, we want 12k because that is going to approach more of the organic natural feeling and the look that you get that people associate with film. And you know, the The irony is that it will look softer, because it is seen so much more of the detail, the gradations the yellow, in the red, you know, in the green grass, there'll be the brown, and there'll be the yellow and all those other towns in there, those will be visible, whereas with some, you know, digital formats, it is not.
Alex Ferrari 42:51
Now, how important is it's to save film as a viable shooting format moving into the future, because it's been a battle, it has been a battle to just to maintain it is an option. And a lot of this new generation coming up, you know, I've shot film, I've shot all formats of film, you've obviously done the same. A lot of these kids and younger generation just don't understand it. They're just like, well, it's slow, and it's cumbersome, and I can't see it instantly. And there's all these negatives to it. How important is it really for you to to keep them alive?
Michael Goi ASC 43:23
It is vitally important for the history of our society as well as our industry to to have film for for this simple reason. There is no such thing as a digital archival media. Yes, it does. It does not exist. You know, when you think of the history of video, and digital, and you think of the fact that there have been, I think about 100 different formats since the advent of commercial television in the 1950s. And 95% of them cannot be played anymore, because they're obsolete, or because the machinery doesn't exist, you know, but you can take a roll of film that's over 100 years old, thread it on a projector and run it. I mean, that's that's a big statement right there. And the films that are going to suffer in this wave of people shooting primarily on digital are the independent filmmakers, the student filmmakers, and the documentary filmmakers, because a lot of their movies aren't, aren't covered by protection agreements, buy storage agreements, but with major studios. So it's up to them the filmmakers to migrate their data every year and a half to two years to make sure that it doesn't inadvertently get erased. And there was a great video on YouTube A number of years ago with a guy who worked in a data migration facility where he was videotaping himself and he says Now watch what happens and he started screaming at the machine and you see All these sensors going off into the red, which means that it was developing digital data errors, which means that data could not be accessed anymore. And that's just from the sound waves of his voice screaming at the machine. So, you know, we've advanced a little more since then. But the fact of the matter is that, you know, as I say, anything that can be erased with one push of a button, I don't know that I would call archival. You know, you want to make sure that you're all the effort that you spend to create a movie can be seen by people, 50 years from now. And right now, the safest way to ensure that that will happen is to transfer it to film, even if the the thing that ends up happening 50 years from now, as you transfer it from that film, to whatever format is going on at that moment in time. But, you know, none of these none of these other formats have any longevity, that the obsolescence is really kind of astounding when you think about how many times you have to update your iPhone or your computer, programming software, you know, all these things, you know, it's you leave behind what you've created, you know, within that technology at the time that you you capture it in that technology, and then it's it's very fragile. So film is very important. And can you discuss the importance of finding mentors? Because I know I'm sure you had many mentors growing up and a lot of filmmakers they're, you know, I've met 19 year olds, like I've shot six feature films, I don't need a mentor, I already know everything.
Alex Ferrari 46:39
How important is that? Please, please tell everybody.
Michael Goi ASC 46:43
Yeah, well, nobody makes it on their own. And it's, it's, you know, they're fond of saying, well, a student doesn't know anything, until they get out into the real world. And then they start to learn stuff. Well, I disagree. I think a student knows everything, until they get out into the real world and discover that they know nothing. Because you know, a huge part of that completion of your education is how the professional industry works. And the best way to find out how the professional industry works, is to be guided through it by somebody who's in it, who has gone through the things that you will be going through. And cinematographers especially are very open to mentoring young filmmakers. I would say that, you know, almost almost all the members of GAC that I know personally, you know, have Take a deep pride in the people that they help with getting into the industry. And it's very nerve wracking, I think, for the young filmmaker, to make that contact to find people who are their heroes who they want to be mentored by, but the fact of the matter is, is that it's an essential part of what you need to do. And so you need to get over your fear and approach these people and make, you know, a contact with that leads to a relationship that leads to you getting access to information you otherwise wouldn't get. So it's huge. mentorship is huge. And the people that I've mentored over the years, and I've mentored quite a few, who are now you know, rising up to top levels in the industry, which so gratifying to me. You know, I've always felt that mentoring, the next generation is the most important thing that I will ever do. More so than anything, I would direct more so than anything I would never shoot. Because, you know, you're you're ensuring that, you know, this craft goes on.
Alex Ferrari 48:45
Now, I hear you like trains. I love trains. Where did your love for trains come from? This is not a cinematography question, but I've heard of the legend of your, your train set at home. So I'd love to talk about it.
Michael Goi ASC 48:59
Yeah, I mean, you know, I mean, we grew up not destitute, but without not a lot of money in Chicago. And so there was there was just, you know, not that much for toys and certainly not extravagant toys. And I always wanted to have my own train that I could ride on. So I used to take chalk from the school and draw railroad tracks around our apartment building, pretend I had a train. And, you know, I started planning, we have a house in Los Angeles, I started planning to build a railroad around our house, you know, to jackhammer the cement around the house and put in steel rail and, and have trains that we could actually ride around the house. And it was two years of planning. And my wife at one point said, don't you think the kids because we have two sons, they're now 11 and eight. At the time, I think they were seven and four. She said, don't you think by the time you finish this train, you know, the kids who could be sick of trains. I said, Well, it's not really for the kids. And she was like, Okay, then we should go ahead and build your train. But no, I love trains, there's something just just really romantic and just really primal about just climbing on that engine and being able to take passengers on the ride and hear the clickety clack on the track. So you know, the train ride around our house is like 45 seconds of pure bliss.
Alex Ferrari 50:21
And I'm assuming you've gone many times to the Griffith Griffith Park train.
Michael Goi ASC 50:26
Sure. And and I have a steam engine we have an electric train at the house but I have a real coal burning steam engine that I keep out in Riverside and and we've gone out to train mountain I don't know if you know about train mount I don't it's, it's it's up in in Oregon. And we take our trains up to train mountain and there's like 20, I think 23 miles of track in the same gauge as our railroad and I got lost, I took the wrong switch, and I got lost for three and a half hours. out there. It's really great. It's really beautiful.
Alex Ferrari 51:00
That's awesome. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions, I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Michael Goi ASC 51:15
I think the key pieces of advice I would give them is that you should embrace the fact that there will never probably be enough time, money or resources to do what you actually planned to do. Amen. You know, so you know, and I am fond of saying, they'll probably put this on my tombstone, that I created an entire career out of making enormous compromised look like an intentional style. And you know, that's exactly right. Because I couldn't do what my great idea was, instead of doing a scaled down half assed version of that idea, I would throw it away and come up with something radically different or very bold, bold to the point that people would would, could not believe that I did not plan to do that, you know, so that's, that's one thing. The other thing is that, you know, in regards to perseverance, it's it's one of the most important things to to not give up. But it's also important to to have a life
Alex Ferrari 52:26
Michael Goi ASC 52:27
Yeah, I mean, because especially when you're young, you tend to be all consumed with the the industry and making your way in, which is a natural thing. But if all you do is is read, Hollywood Reporter instead of a book, if you know if you don't go to see you know, offbeat cinema and instead of just go to see the commercial films that you want to copy from or whatever, you you end up endlessly repeating yourself and breaking new boundaries. And so you have to constantly expose yourself basically to life. You have to go out and you know, and and have sex with a girl or a guy, you need to go out and do those kinds of things, skydive, scuba dive, whatever it is, that you find interesting in life, because you will bring those experiences and then those feelings to the films that you make. And that's those are the main things I think
Alex Ferrari 53:25
Now can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?
Michael Goi ASC 53:31
I think probably initially the film fantasy scrapbook by Ray Harryhausen, Ray Harryhausen, it was it was essentially a photo book with some information that Ray put in there about his stop motion animation, and his career. And I got a copy of that book when I was 14 years old. And I just looked at it over and over and over again. And Ray was appearing in Chicago at a record store, and I brought it with me and I had him sign it. And then years and years and years later, I was president of the ASC and we invited Ray Harryhausen to come to the ASC clubhouse. And I brought that book with me. And I said, Ray, you signed this for me when I was 14, would you sign it again? Now that I'm president of the ASC and he opened he looked at a signature He's like, Oh my god, you were 14 and he signed the book again for me. That's amazing. Yeah, so it was very inspirational.
Alex Ferrari 54:28
Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Michael Goi ASC 54:39
Hmm I think maybe this applies to life as well as the film business but there's a lot of it's very difficult to get through a film shoot. And you have a lot of personalities on a film shoot and and some of those personalities You don't get along with that, well, you know, you butt heads right away. And, you know, I, I used to butt heads with people as well. But then I adopted a point of view that whoever I had the most disagreement with, I was gonna actually make my best friend. So I would take that person out to lunch, and I would get together with him. I said, Listen, I don't know what you're going through. I imagine it's a lot to me, because this is very difficult production, but I will do anything that I can to help you. You know, and in forging that kind of relationship. I feel feel like it erases all of those animosities and put you both on the same plane to try to get the best work done that you can. So I won't go through a production with an antagonistic relationship with anybody. It's it's completely out of my, my wheelhouse now, you know, it's, it's, I need to have feel like everybody is working towards the same thing.
Alex Ferrari 56:01
That is amazing advice. That's a really great piece of advice. And of course, now the most difficult question of the day, three of your favorite films of all time.
Michael Goi ASC 56:11
Alex Ferrari 56:12
Michael Goi ASC 56:13
Winged to migration.
Alex Ferrari 56:15
Oh, wow, that's a great doc.
Michael Goi ASC 56:16
Because it made me feel like I knew what it was like to fly. You know, it really opened my eyes and the graduate was instrumental in my development, because I first saw it when I was eight years old by accident. You know, my parents thought they were taking me to a cartoon festival. But that was only the man named the graduate was a regular feature. We got too late there too late for the matinee. So we stayed to watch the movie and I had never seen a movie like that, that had so much darkness where the emotions you didn't know whether to laugh or cry. And it was designed to make you feel like I said, like Benjamin Braddock, the Dustin Hoffman character. So the graduates an amazing movie. And I would say, you know, number three probably vacillates a little bit over the years. But, you know, I, I really, you know, it's probably one of two very different movies. Okay. You know, what are the you know, the first one would be Richard Lester's film, the first film with the Beatles A Hard Day's Night. Because I felt like it really kind of redefined. You know, the style of the musical movie, when you look at the musical movies during that time, and I'm a huge fan of musicals. There was nothing like A Hard Day's Night, at the time that it came out. You know, it was it was really groundbreaking. And, you know, the other would be probably sunrise in the 1929 movie, because almost every major technological achievement that we tout today as being an innovation really was in sunrise in 1929, in some other form in some primitive form. And, you know, yes, it's greatly influential.
Alex Ferrari 58:04
Michael, I want to thank you for taking the time out. I know you're an extremely busy man. So thank you so much, for
Michael Goi ASC 58:11
There's my family waiting to watch a movie.
Alex Ferrari 58:14
I see that.
Michael Goi ASC 58:22
No, it was my pleasure. It's my pleasure.
Alex Ferrari 58:24
I really truly want to thank Michael Goi for coming on, and stropping major, major knowledge bombs on the tribe today. And I hope you and your family enjoyed your episode of Family Guy. You watch right after our episode. But if you want to get a link to the video podcast on IFH TV, just head over to indiefilmhustle.com/299 for the show notes, and if you haven't gone please go to indiefilmhustle.com/mob to preorder my new book shooting for the mob, an allegory of how not to follow your filmmaking dream. It's about how I almost made a $20 million movie for the mob and my crazy misadventures through Hollywood and the mafia. If you haven't heard about it already, is a heck of a story. Just head over to indiefilmhustle.com/mob to preorder on Amazon. And that's it guys for this episode. I will see you in Episode 300. It's insane. We'll talk more about that later. As always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.
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- IFHTV Video Podcast – Shooting American Horror Story with Michael Goi
- Michael Goi – IMDB
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- Alex Ferrari’s Shooting for the Mob Book- Amazon Link