Vilmos Zsigmond: Cinematography Masterclass

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Vilmos Zsigmond Cinematography Masterclass

While actors, directors and even producers are attached in public and prominent ways to the films they work to create, it would be foolish to pretend that the individuality and quality of a film is reliant only on such figures. As the 2012 documentary Casting By showed us, the chemistry between leads or the cohesiveness of an ensemble cast is often due to casting directors, not just the actors themselves.

Interviews such as this one from Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, reveal how important the work of hair and makeup artists is to bringing out a character’s identity, maintaining authenticity and building the look of a film. Films like Laurent Cantet’s Entre les murs reveal just how integral a screenwriter’s role can be, even in a film with largely improvised dialogue.

Related: Cinematography Master Class

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However, one of the most underestimated contributions to filmmaking is that of the cinematographer. Many tend to view visual framing, camera movement and cinematographic effects as the sole work of a director. Yet cinematography is a fine art in itself, and as proven by recent films such as The Revenant, shot by Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubeski, a skilled cinematographer can elevate an entire film.

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Yet perhaps the greatest cinematographer of the last 50 years is the Hungarian-American Vilmos Zsigmond ASC, who passed away on January 1, 2016 at the age of 86.

Beginning his career behind the camera for Robert Altman in the 1970s, Vilmos Zsigmond shot such varied and renowned films as Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (for which he picked up an Oscar® for Best Cinematography), Brian De Palma’s Obsession, George Miller’s The Witches of Eastwick and Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda.

To pass from Altman to De Palma to Allen requires a technical flexibility and artistic fluidity few can harness. Directors are often lauded for developing an idiosyncratic filmmaking style. Yet cinematographers like Vilmos Zsigmond showed their true talents as artistic chameleons, bringing a multitude of filmmaking styles to life.

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If you have an opportunity you should definitely watch No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & VilmosHere’s some info on this amazing documentary:

They left one revolution behind only to create another. László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond filmed and survived the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, immigrated in poverty to America, helped each other up the ladder out of the underbelly of Hollywood all the while holding onto their dreams. After ten years of no-budget toil, László s camera broke Hollywood s rules with EASY RIDER. Suddenly in demand, he recommended Vilmos to both Peter Fonda and Robert Altman where Vilmos Zsigmond poured his poetic realism into THE HIRED HAND and MCCABE & MRS. MILLER.

They were the go-to camera guys of the New Hollywood. Among their 140 credits, Laszlo shot FIVE EASY PEIECES, PAPER MOON, SHAMPOO, FRANCES and MASK AND MASK. Vilmos Zsigmond lensed SCARECROW, THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, THE ROSE, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, BLOW OUT, THE DEER HUNTER and HEAVEN S GATE all the while elevating the visual style of our movies. This is the story of a 50 year journey, an intimate portrait of two giants of modern image-making and their deep bond of brotherhood that transcended every imaginable boundary. It is a Cold War story, an American immigrant story and a glamorous, Hollywood success story where dreams do come true.


This is an intimate portrait of two giants of modern image-making and their deep bond of brotherhood that transcended every imaginable boundary. Two heroes. One road.

Below I have curated a collection of videos from the master Vilmos Zsigmond.



VILMOS ZSIGMOND Masterclass | Higher Learning

Vilmos Zsigmond, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer, joined the Higher Learning audience for an in-depth master class and a look back at his 50-year career at the forefront of the industry.

This Higher Learning event was held on August 8, 2014 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.


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Art of Cinematography with Suki Medencevic A.S.C
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