DP Curtis Clark on Technology's Future, Receiving Academy's John A. Bonner Medal

Carin Baer/Courtesy of ASC
Curtis Clark's credits include 1989's 'Triumph of the Spirit' and 1985's 'Follow That Bird.'

The cinematographer, who will receive the medallion at the Sci-Tech Awards on Feb. 9, also discusses the challenges facing his field of expertise.

In early 2003, the American Society of Cinematographers held the first meeting of its Motion Imaging Technology Council, made up of ASC members, associates and entertainment technology leaders. Since then, the group chaired by member Curtis Clark has done pioneering work in advancing entertainment technology. For instance, in 2010, ASC began a collaboration with AMPAS on the development of a color management system called Academy Color Encoding System (ACES), which received a Sci-Tech Award from AMPAS in 2015.

Clark, 72, whose credits as a cinematographer include Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract, will receive the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' John A. Bonner Award, a medallion given for service to the motion picture industry, at the annual Sci-Tech Awards (Pixar's Ed Catmull and ILM's John Knoll will also be honored) on Feb. 9.

What are some of the council's initiatives?

High dynamic range — HDR, meaning a wider range between the blackest blacks and whitest whites in an image — and looking at display devices that will need to be sophisticated enough to handle that. We're looking at the difference between professional reference monitors and consumer monitors so we can narrow the gap in terms of what consumer monitors are able to reproduce to maintain the integrity of the filmmaker's creative look.

With an eye toward making recommendations to manufacturers?

Yes, that's in the works with UHD Alliance and DCI [studio consortium Digital Cinema Initiatives]. All of them are concerned with the issue of how our display technologies are evolving because there is this increasing need and demand that whatever creative look is established in postproduction with the final master grade, the integrity of that look should be maintained as much as possible in the final distributed content for consumers, whether it be digital cinema or home theater. It should be the same movie and not appear to be different.

You're also examining developing LED cinema screens.

We've been doing testing with two manufacturers who are dealing with it at the moment, very actively for cinema — Samsung and Sony. We graded selected material in HDR on a Samsung Onyx [LED screen] at Roundabout Entertainment [in Santa Monica] and then we took that material to the Pacific Theatres Winnetka [in Chatsworth].

What are your findings so far?

We're still looking into it, but I can certainly tell you that it is immensely encouraging. It's very effective [in displaying HDR].

From a technology standpoint, what is the biggest challenge facing cinematographers?

It's HDR. It's becoming commonplace in terms of the studios and streaming services wanting to emphasize that as an important part of what they're doing. It is definitely a way into the future, but we also have that now available in the present. Not in any extensive way — it's still very selective and not very common, but many of the latest versions of 4K TV sets are now HDR compliant.

Interview edited for length and clarity. 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.