From Emerging to Industry Success

How the Emerging Cinematographer Awards Changed the Careers of its Honorees

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January 29, 2020
2018 ECA Awards Honoree Alicia Robbins with ICG Staff member MaryAnne MacDougall
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Over the last 23 years, the International Cinematographers Guild has showcased the outstanding work of selected members at its annual Emerging Cinematographers Awards (ECA). The recognition can act as an invaluable boost to the careers of those who win, propelling them right into the director of photography’s chair–or at least affording the opportunity.

Where other unions may recognize the best work of their membership’s top talent, the ECAs are a distinction to help the less-established among Local 600’s ranks grow and find new opportunities in their careers.

“It was a way for me to change my perception of myself in the workforce,” noted Amy Vincent, ASC, of her experience. Vincent was honored at the ECA’s first event in 1996 for her film “Dr. Hugo,” and again in 1998 for “Tuesday Morning Ride.” “It was also a way for my coworkers, department heads, and colleagues to recognize that I had aspirations higher than, or beyond, my camera assisting life,” Vincent added. “And that’s an important part of moving up through the ranks.”

For several honorees, the award landed them representation with an agency – many, for the
first time.

“[Agent Patricia] Mack was in the audience and we knew each other, because she represented a lot of the directors of photography that I was working with at the time,” Eric Zimmerman, a 1998 ECA honoree for his film “Jackpot,” said. Impressed with his work, Mack approached Zimmerman after the ceremony to ask if he had any representation, and signed him shortly thereafter. “I was shooting people’s shorts and occasionally doing some documentary work,” he recalled. Zimmerman had aspirations, at the time, of becoming a director of photography, and “I wanted to move in that direction, but getting the award gave me a path.”

For Alicia Robbins, the spotlight of winning an ECA (“Internet Gangsters,” 2018) created what she considers “a perfect storm of events.” Robbins had worked with Christian Sebaldt, ASC, on a project two years before her ECA win. When Sebaldt was hiring crew for the Shonda Rhimes-produced “For the People,” he called Robbins in to interview with the producers.

“In that meeting, Christian actually told them [I was] also one of this year’s ECA recipients, which is a huge honor and a huge deal,” Robbins continued. “That was just the little cherry on top that landed me the job.”

When “For the People” wrapped, Robbins was asked to shoot two episodes for “Grey’s Anatomy,” another Shonda Rhimes-produced series. “They asked me to come back this year as the full-time alternating director of photography,” added Robbins with excitement. “And this all happened since the ECA last year.”

Aaron Medick received calls from agents after his dual ECA wins (once in 2008 for “Para-Normal,” and again in 2010 for “Weequahic”), but the recognition it afforded him among colleagues ultimately led to new opportunities. When fellow camera operators and ACs would mention Medick’s ECA, “it would get into cinematographers’ minds that if they needed to do a pickup day, or a splinter unit, or insert unit, that they could trust me to do it,” he noted. Medick has shot multiple episodes for both “Person of Interest” and “Power.” In October, he will begin as a cinematographer on a new episodic TV series.

“I really believe in the ECA awards,” Rodney Taylor, ASC, a 1999 ECA honoree for his film “Grind,” explained. “I think it’s a tremendous platform for young cinematographers.”  Taylor has since deepened his involvement with Local 600, mentoring young cinematographers and encouraging them to submit their projects for selection, noting “the important thing is persistence and don’t give up.”

Robbins has also become more involved in the union where she can. She is considering a run for an NEB position and was a judge for the 2019 awards. The experience led Robbins to urge more women to submit their projects to the awards.

Robbins noted that, for the last two years, only about 10% of submitted films were shot by women. “There could be a lot of DPs out there – men and women – that are maybe second-guessing their work and not submitting because they just don’t think it’s going to be good enough,” she said before urging members to “submit anyway.”

“You are your worst critic, so you might be thinking that it’s not good enough,” Robbins said, “but you might’ve actually shot something incredibly beautiful that other people are noticing.”

It is a message echoed by Vincent. “My favorite thing about the ECAs is that it encourages our membership to get out and embark on creative endeavors beyond their current positions.”

She added that she forwards the submission deadline to everyone “that has shown me before that they are shooting or want to be shooting.” Vincent concluded, “seeing who gets out there and makes movies and submits them to the ECAs, that to me is the greatest thing about it.”

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