Steven Poster Looks Back On 13 Years As International Cinematographers Guild President
Steven Poster, ASC (photo by Frank Schaefer)
DP reflects on accomplishments, shares plans as he embarks on new career chapter
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Having recently wrapped a 13-year tenure as president of the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG, IATSE Local 600), Steven Poster, ASC, reflected not only on his rich experience in that capacity but also on how the organization has evolved, a process he will continue to participate in as a board member. Poster also remains available, if needed, to help the candidate who won out over him in the national election, Lewis Rothenberg, to ensure a smooth transition. In fact, Poster quipped that he didn’t just pass the gavel to his successor but literally bought him a brand new one, presented during a changing-of-the-guard ceremony.

In some respects, Poster views his legacy at ICG as transcended by another’s--that of Sarah Jones, an IATSE Local 600 assistant camerawoman whose life was claimed at the age of 27 by a freight train accident while on location for a movie in Georgia back in February 2014. Director Randall Miller was charged with involuntary manslaughter, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. He wound up serving a year of that sentence. Assistant director Hillary Schwartz was given 10 years of probation.

“Sarah was a rising star who lit up every room she walked into,” recalled Poster who observed that her legacy still burns bright as it gave the industry, including the ICG, the impetus to push for and organize “a whole movement dedicated to safety--and within that movement, the creation of a valuable tool, the ICG Safety App.” The app provides access to every safety bulletin put out by producers in conjunction with unions. OSHA and other safety organizations. Users can look up what safety measures are needed in assorted situations such as working with trains, cars, live ammunition or when lensing underwater. One of the safety modules deals with sexual harassment. The app lists safety hotlines to call into, enables users to track long hours and report them to the studio. It’s a way, said Poster, for users “to communicate back and forth with the union, with the studios, about safety.”

At the time of the plea deal being reached in March 2015 involving Miller and Schwartz, the ICG issued a statement from Poster which read in part, “We cannot comment on the specifics of the legal proceedings, but we hope this sentencing sends a message to everyone in the industry that the safety measures already in place must be followed at all times. No movie or TV show is worth a life, which is why safety on set is our highest priority as a union. We hope this message gets out to everybody in production--from student or low-budget films to major productions--and that workers recognize their rights to a safe set and safe working conditions at all times. We also hope all crew members will now feel empowered to speak out against unsafe working conditions. That’s why we developed our new safety app that includes the industry-wide safety bulletins and safety hotline numbers. We encourage workers to remember the spirit of Sarah and exercise those rights.”

Poster noted that today a module has been created so that different entities--such as schools and international organizations--can adapt the app to their specifications. He noted that New Zealand is currently conducting a test run with the app, and that requests have come in from other countries, such as Japan, to adopt the app in various forms and make it their own.

National profile; digital training
Poster’s legacy at ICG also includes it attaining national solidarity as well as providing pivotal training for the digital age. On the former score, Poster saw three separate camera locals (for the West Coast, East Coast and Central States) come together and turn from competitors into one local for the entire country. When Poster first assumed the Guild presidency, membership was at a little more than 4,000. Today, the ICG boasts some 9,000 members.

On the training front, Poster’s work included forming the ASC’s new technology committee, and then bringing that educational wherewithal to the ICG once it started to secure jurisdiction in the digital field. “Digital gave us control over images we never had before,” he observed. “It was essential that crews and craftspeople we have understand digital methods and take control over them so that the original intent of the visuals is maintained throughout the process. We started that at ASC and brought it over to ICG, developing our own training contingent.”

Fast forward to today and Poster noted that there are 48 different training modules this year alone across the country. And in that mix is “legacy training” for the young artists and crewpeople who are now being taught to handle film. “Now we have a film loading class that goes back to the origins of filmmaking, just as we have digital workshops for DITs (digital imaging technicians) and DPs.”

Training also extends to people looking to advance their careers. For example, ICG has a four-day training session to help those who aspire to become camera operators move up the industry ladder.

Emerging Cinematographer Awards
Poster also points with pride to the ICG’s annual Emerging Cinematographer Awards, which was started as an internal film showcase by past president George Spiro Dibie, ASC. This year will mark the 23rd Emerging Cinematographer Awards, a competition that has come of age during Poster’s tenure at the Guild.

ICG’s Emerging Cinematographer Awards gives Local 600 members an opportunity to present themselves as directors of photography by submitting a short film with a running time of 30 minutes or less for consideration. The awards are open to any member of the Guild who is not already classified as a DP. The films are selected by a panel of ICG members from across the country and can be also be seen by a wider audience at selected film festivals throughout the year, including Camerimage in Poland.

Now there are more than 100 entries annually with 10 honorees ultimately selected. The Emerging Cinematographer Awards provide much needed exposure and a career boost to aspiring DPs. This year the collection of 10 selected short films will be showcased at the Emerging Cinematographers Awards premier event in Los Angeles on Oct. 6 at the Saban Media Center’s Wolf Theatre. Additionally, screenings will follow in New York at the SVA Theatre on October 27, Atlanta at SCADshow on November 3, and Chicago at the Logan Theatre on November 3.

Besides showcasing work, the awards proceedings offer practical career advice to the honorees. The day prior to the debut screening, the winners gather at ICG headquarters in Hollywood to gain expertise from DP agents who provide career counsel, insights into how to go about getting work, how to market yourself, and how to connect with the right agent and support people. Emerging Cinematographer Award honorees get the opportunity to have their concerns and questions directly addressed by agents.

Poster noted that the Emerging Cinematographer Awards competition has launched “some terrific careers along the way.” The awards are underwritten by a community of manufacturers and suppliers, with media sponsors also providing support.

Additionally during Poster’s reign, the ICG successfully integrated entertainment publicists into its membership. This process, which took a few years to be fully realized, began after the Publicists Guild merged with the ICG in 2002. The first Publicists Awards Luncheon was held in 1964 and has since grown to an event attended annually by around 800 publicists, press, motion picture and television industry leaders, and other IATSE leaders.  

Motion Picture and Television Showmanship Awards and Lifetime Achievement Awards have been bestowed upon numerous esteemed actors, directors and executives. Additional awards include the Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Award for a Television Campaign and for a Movie Campaign, Les Mason Award for Career Achievement in Publicity, and the Bob Yeager Award for Community Service. The Guild also publishes the Annual ICG Publicists Directory.

Poster acknowledged a major loss last year with the passing of legendary publicist Henri Bollinger at age 89. Bollinger played an integral role in the success of the Publicists Awards, having served for over 55 years on the Publicists Awards Committee and as chairman of that committee for 37 years. He retired from that position in 2018 while remaining a committee member.

Poster noted that various people chipped in to make up for Bollinger’s absence, yielding a successful awards show this past February. At that ceremony, the inaugural Henry Bollinger Award was presented to Bollinger posthumously as the very first recipient. Bollinger’s wife Sandy accepted on his behalf.

Looking ahead
The silver lining for Poster no longer being at the ICG helm is a more flexible schedule that can accommodate lensing gigs across features, TV and commercials. While he’s managed to stay active in features and  TV during his Guild tenure, earning an ASC Award nomination for the Ridley Scott-directed Someone to Watch Over Me, and a primetime Emmy nod for the telefilm Mrs. Harris, Poster would like to now return to commercials where he made a major mark earlier in his career, lensing a Pepsi Super Bowl commercial as well as a Gatorade spot, both directed by Ridley Scott, as well as director Jake Scott’s very first ad for GM’s Saturn automobiles. Poster’s shorter form exploits also have included Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” music video.

Poster additionally expects to continue his TV and feature endeavors which respectively over the years have included the Netflix series Hemlock Grove as well as the theatrical releases Donnie Darko and Amityville: The Awakening

He also figures to be proactive on the organizational front. Besides serving on the ICG board, Poster is a member of the 2019-’20 ASC board.

Among what he will miss most about being ICG president, said Poster, is working day to day with his Guild colleagues. “We are getting some of the most exciting people I’ve seen in trade unionism running our organization,” assessed Poster, citing for example national executive director Rebecca Rhine whose contributions include fortifying union-wide solidarity, helping to attain what he described as “the best contract we’ve had in years” and earning the respect of the overall IATSE and all the other locals. “I’m sad about no longer being able to work directly with her,” related Poster. “She has helped positively reshape our business.”

Meanwhile Poster will continue to make a positive impact as an educator. He just wrapped his first year teaching The Power of Observation, a course at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. He describes the class as one that explores light and promotes an understanding of what light does when you put it on a subject. “In the course I’m also teaching students how to observe movies and understand what it is they’re looking at,” related Poster. “It’s more a class about creativity than the specifics of cinematography.”


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