Cinematographer James Chressanthis, ASC (“Ghost Whisperer,” The Watsons Go to Birmingham) has found success in shooting feature films, television movies, drama series and documentaries. In a recent interview with the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), Chressanthis discussed the early stages in his career, his decision to become a cinematographer and some inspiration for emerging shooters.
Chressanthis was first introduced to film in the 60’s when his father allowed him to use his 35mm reflex camera, which he admitted was a big deal for any kid growing up in that time. As a youngster he was also impacted by the film Lawrence of Arabia. “Freddie Young, BSC, whose work on Lawrence of Arabia is still astonishing,” says Chressanthis. “He and director David Lean told the story visually. Young made the invisible subtext palpable. His book The Work of the Motion Picture Cameraman opened a new world to me.”
Chressanthis later went on to study engineering and physics and ended up switching his studies to the fine arts and began making his own films on Super 8mm, 16mm at Arizona State University and Southern Illinois University. He went on to refine his skills at AFI, greatly inspired by the screenings and Q&A’s led by Howard Schwartz, ASC.
Schwartz later recommended Chressanthis to Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, and he got his starting position as a camera intern on The Witches of Eastwick and moved his way into second unit on some of Zsigmond’s other work. “He and his crew gave me a breadth of knowledge and confidence I applied to the smaller projects I was shooting in those days, breakthrough music videos for Hammer, NWA, Dr. Dre and even the great James Brown,” Chressanthis stated in the interview.
When asked about some of the best professional advice he’s gotten while getting his start, he noted some words of Zsigmond that were particularly useful to him: “Jim, it takes 10 years to become a cinematographer, so be patient and remember, nice guys finish first. And promise me that when you are successful, you will help the next person.”
To check out the full interview click here.