The American Society of Cinematographers is a nearly 100 year-old organization that is "not a labor union or guild, but an educational, cultural and professional organization." Over their history, fewer than 800 have joined the ranks, and there are currently only 350 active members, with about half that number being associate members. The reason the organization is so elite is that it's invite-only, you can't just walk in the door and ask to become a member. These are just some of the basic requirements to even get your foot in the door:

  • Must be a director of photography for at least five out of the last eight years before application
  • Reputation is important, honesty, integrity, etc.
  • Must be proposed in writing by three active or retired ASC members

So even though most of us will never be in the ASC, it's certainly an interesting process, and the strictness is what keeps it so prestigious. In a recent post on the ASC website, Richard Crudo, President of the American Society of Cinematographers, explained how to actually become a member:

Membership is open to directors of photography who have occupied that position for no less than five out of the eight years preceding application. As you might expect, the individual’s work must have continually demonstrated superb taste and technical mastery.

In addition — and little known to the industry at large — good character is an important prerequisite. Those who are dishonest, abusive to their crews or who have any sort of dodgy reputation are inevitably found out and barred from our ranks.

Assuming all cylinders are firing, a candidate must then be proposed in writing by three active or retired ASC members. Eventually, this person will be summoned to an interview before our Membership Committee, which executes due diligence by considering the prospective member’s qualifications — and believe me, they take their job seriously. This phase also includes a screening of the candidate’s work in the form of a sample reel. Afterwards, the person is sent home, and a vote is taken on his or her suitability.

The Membership Committee’s recommendation is then presented to the Board of Governors for further consideration and a vote, with two-thirds majority required for approval. Spirited debate often ensues, and occasionally a candidate is stalled at this point. On the other hand, even a unanimously positive vote does not yet clear the way for membership.

That goal is reached only after clearance of a 30-day “posting period.” During this interval, the entire ASC membership is informed of someone’s pending invitation. Everyone is given the opportunity to review the candidate’s sample reel and bona fides, and is free to voice any objections. Sometimes, further investigation is warranted and a candidate’s advancement is tabled until matters are sorted out. In most cases, though, they pass this stage with flying colors.

So even though they don't have benefits like the unions or guilds, the ASC works to promote and educate their cinematographers and also the industry on the whole. There are nearly 20 committees that do this work, and they also give out their own awards to the outstanding work of cinematographers every year. 

It's clear that the ASC is an organization you want to be a part of, and though joining their ranks is difficult, those who make it have put in the hard work and have treated the crew around them with tremendous respect — something all of us can do regardless of our position on set or in the industry. 

Source: AC Magazine