ASC Presidents Award Winner Amy Vincent Reflects On Mentoring and Her Mentors
Cinematographer Amy Vincent, ASC (r) and director Roshan Sethi on the set of "A Nice Indian Boy"
Balancing careers as an educator and a cinematographer, she is currently the Distinguished Artist in Residence at Loyola Marymount University--and lensed Roshan Sethi's "A Nice Indian Boy," which debuted this week at SXSW
  • LOS ANGELES
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In the midst of Women’s History Month--and with International Women’s Day (3/8) having been commemorated just last week--the time seems especially right to celebrate the dual career of cinematographer/educator Amy Vincent, ASC. And indeed she was formally celebrated at the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards earlier this month, receiving the coveted Presidents Award for her dedicated service to the ASC. But the truth is that her past achievements and ongoing work are cause for celebration--and a source of inspiration, particularly for aspiring women cinematographers--not just during this designated month but throughout the year, and for that matter over the past two-plus decades.

Back in 2002, Vincent became just the sixth woman on the ASC roster, joining Judy Irola, Ellen Kuras, Brianne Murphy, Nancy Schreiber and Sandi Sissell. In 2004, Vincent was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and currently serves on its Science and Technology Council. She is a past VP of the ASC, an active member of its Board of Governors and a founding member of the Society’s Vision Committee, which fosters diversity and inclusion. Vincent is a mainstay in mentorship programs, while also having taught cinematography at universities, including the American Film Institute Conservatory, Florida State University, and Loyola Marymount University where she is currently the Distinguished Artist in Residence. Vincent is a recipient of a Women in Film Kodak Vision Award for Outstanding Achievements in Cinematography. She earned the Excellence in Cinematography Award at Sundance for her work on Craig Brewer’s Hustle and Flow. Her feature credits also include Brewer’s Black Snake Moan and remake of Footloose, Paul Scheuring’s The Experiment, and Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou, which earned Vincent a Golden Satellite nomination. And this week A Nice Indian Boy, a feature directed by Roshan Sethi and lensed by Vincent, debuted at the SXSW Festival.

Vincent worked her way up the industry ladder from assistant to operator to second unit DP to full fledged cinematographer. Her accomplishments paved the way for other women cinematographers from the likes of Christina Dunlap to Ari Wegner, ASC, Rachel Morrison, ASC, Reed Morano, ASC (a DP who made the leap to director with such notable work as the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale), and Mandy Walker, ASC, ACS, the first female to win the ASC Award in the marquee feature category (last year for Elvis). Morano and Walker appeared in a testimonial video in honor of Vincent, screened just prior to her accepting the Presidents Award during the ASC Awards ceremony on March 3 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif.

For Vincent, the Presidents Award is gratifying on different levels. For one, she’s particularly honored to receive the accolade in large part for her work as an educator and mentor. “It comes at a time when I’m finding an amazing balance between my work as an educator and my work as a cinematographer,” related Vincent, adding that just a couple of years ago she and Rebecca Rhine, then the national executive director of the International Cinematographers Guild, IATSE Local 600, presented the Presidents Award to John Lindley, ASC. 

Vincent shared that to garner the same honor which Lindley had won means a great deal to her. Lindley, she explained, has been a mentor to her, dating back to when she was a camera assistant, at a time when she wasn’t sure about becoming a cinematographer. The experience with Lindley was inspiring as it had her aspiring to run a set like he did. “I wanted to become the kind of leader he was--honest, generous, kind--that really pushed me to go further with my camera career."

Fast forward to this month and Vincent had Lindley and Rhine among those sitting at her table at the ASC Awards.

Another mentor for Vincent has been Stephen Lighthill, ASC who, when he was ASC president, encouraged Vincent to serve as VP after she was on the organization’s board for three years. That, she said, was a great learning experience in terms of leadership, governance and collaboration. Additionally, Lighthill as head of discipline: cinematography at the AFI Conservatory, enlisted Vincent to spend the better part of a year as an educator of a class which included several talented artists who evolved into masters of their craft such as Todd Banhazl, Autumn Durald Arkapaw, Matthew Lloyd and Catie Goldschmidt. Banhazl, Arkapaw and Lloyd become ASC members while Goldschmidt earned the BSC designation.

Vincent noted that Lighthill has done much for her and more importantly, the overall industry. She described his work in regard to inclusion as “unparalleled.” Vincent related that Lighthill “insisted on gender parity in the AFI cinematography discipline. You can see the results of it in the workforce. A very large number of the young female cinematographers entering the workforce have been touched by Steven’s efforts at AFI." 

In her Presidents Award acceptance remarks, Vincent acknowledged Lighthill and Lindley. Later in a chat with SHOOT, she noted that another mentor, Swiss cameraman Marin Schaer, was not mentioned. At the very beginning of her career as an assistant, Schaer made an indelible mark on her, teaching her about “the joy of being part of a filmmaking team.” Among their collaborations was Little Man Tate, Jodie Foster’s feature directorial debut, on which Schaer was camera operator and Vincent served as second camera assistant. Experiencing unbridled enthusiasm and fun on set have been his everlasting gifts from Schaer to her. Schaer introduced Vincent to the industry dynamic of “meeting like-minded collaborators and becoming lifelong friends.” Schaer too was at Vincent’s ASC Awards table the night she received the Presidents Award.

Passing it on
Having been the beneficiary of mentorship from Schaer, Lighthill and Lindley, among others, Vincent made a conscious decision to pass that gift on to others as an educator. While the aforementioned AFI class included students who went on make names for themselves in the industry, Vincent is confident that a number of aspiring professionals under her tutelage at Loyola Marymount will do the same. 

And while she helps to prepare them for careers, they too enable her. Learning, she observed, is a two-way street, noting that she has gained and learned much from her students over the years. “I love the wild creativity that an untainted, inexperienced young cinematographer can bring to the table. It inspires me to break my own rules sometimes.”

Additionally, Vincent related that her students have made her “much more sensitive to the human condition” as she sees the different struggles that young creative people face. It has made her better at listening in order to help them “find a path--not telling them what to do” but rather devoting herself “to be of service to them” as they figure things out for themselves.

In the wake of the writers’ and actors’ strikes this past year leaving the industry vulnerable. Vincent very much felt the responsibility to “help keep the dream alive” for her students--being honest with them about what’s going on but still fueling optimism for the future and about the creative possibilities which still exist.

SXSW
The aforementioned A Nice Indian Boy made its world premiere this week in the Narrative Spotlight section of the SXSW Festival. The Sethi-directed feature was described by Vincent as “a beautiful LGBTQ-centric love story.” 

Sethi is a physician, screenwriter and director who began writing as a student at Harvard Medical School and co-created Fox’s series The Resident. His directorial debut, 7 Days, won the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature Award in 2022. Sethi also co-wrote Call Jane, directed by Phyllis Nagy, and directed the 2023 Disney+ film, World’s Best.

Vincent was in the running for the latter project, a kids’ hip-hop musical. She and Sethi met and hit it off but ultimately Disney decided to hire a cinematographer who had more extensive music video experience. Still, Sethi and Vincent connected and a year and a half later the director sent the script for A Nice Indian Boy to the DP’s agent, resulting in their first collaboration. While Sethi is some 30-plus years younger than Vincent, she said the two relate to one another and have a natural creative rapport. Vincent called Sethi a remarkable person, noting that the filmmaker still spends half the year as an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. In her youth, Vincent wanted to be a veterinarian. She conjectured that her math-science mind “got along” with Sethi’s “doctor mind.” They also, said Vinent, share a strong work ethic, simpatico creative sensibilities and a penchant for thorough preparation. All that came to bear in the making of A Nice Indian Boy.

Vincent marveled at Sethi’s talent and profound passion for both his careers. She was inspired by him, explaining that “if he can be a director and an oncologist, I can be a cinematographer and a professor.” 

Of her dual career, Vincent affirmed that it’s most gratifying to be a cinematographer while having a hand in helping “the next generation of cinematographers” to advance. 

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