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Noted Cinematographer Makes the Connection

(Last Updated On: August 22, 2017)

The Artistic Connection will present a special event featuring award-winning cinematographer and University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking faculty member Thomas E. Ackerman, whose credits include such perennial favorites as Beetlejuice (1988), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), Jumanji (1995) and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2002).

The event is called “Sight Line,” and will take place Aug. 30 at Altair Casting & Production Services in Winston-Salem. Ackerman will discuss his career and his adventures in the screen trade, as well as offering advice and pointers to aspiring filmmakers. Ackerman’s 40-year (and counting) career makes him an ideal guest, Amanda Hoey, one of the event’s organizers, said.

“We’ve actually had Tom speak before, and I feel every opportunity to learn from his vast experience is invaluable,” she said. “He has worked on such a broad spectrum of films that he’s a perfect example of what the Artistic Connection is about: Thinking outside the box.”

Shortly after arriving in Winston-Salem, Ackerman said he took part in an Artistic Connection event. He said it was a good opportunity to meet the “local movie buffs and kindred spirits.”

Although the majority of Ackerman’s features have been comedies, “I don’t think there’s a ‘comedy look,’” he said. “Even if there were, the best comedy directors and producers aren’t interested. John Hughes produced three of my favorite projects – Dennis the Menace (1993), Christmas Vacation and Baby’s Day Out (1994) – and there was never a more dedicated fan of photography and production design. After he screened our Christmas Vacation dailies of a cold and frustrated Clark (Chevy Chase), trapped in the Griswold attic, John sent me a fax (remember those?) exclaiming: ‘This is the essence of how an attic should look!’ You know what? I actually worked very hard to make sure it looked that way. Filmmakers can be obsessive about these things.”

Of all his projects, be they big- or small-screen, music videos or film shorts, Ackerman does count a few favorites: in terms of photography, he said he favors Beetlejuice and Jumanji. He said regarding the less rewarding films, they’re very few and not worth mentioning. “I’m extremely fortunate to have made a good living doing what I love,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman is returning for his ninth year at the School of Filmmaking and he is eager to begin the new year, he said.

“It’s been a privilege to teach at the school,” Ackerman said. “Oddly, I’ve had some industry colleagues who say, ‘It’s wonderful that you’re giving back’ – as if it were a form of charity. Truthfully, I get as much from experience as my students. It’s rewarding in so many ways. They help me explore things in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a vacuum, and it’s exciting to help them exploit their potential and grow as artists.”

UNCSA has remained steadfast in its support of working faculty, he added having taken the occasional semester off to work on a feature film (including Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked in 2011).

“I’ve been able to continue shooting – with a bit of directing here and there,” he said. “It’s all carefully coordinated, of course. I don’t just walk in and say ‘Oh, by the way, I’ve got to be in L.A. tomorrow.’”

Hoey said they are thrilled for the opportunity to “pick the brain of one of the greats.”

“Tom’s experiences with those that have been gracing the screen for decades, both living and dead, make him a speaker that the Artistic Connection hopes will make those of all ages excited about their potential,” she said. “If we are ever going to succeed, we need to learn we need to be willing to ask the questions. North Carolina has an enormous amount of talent, and the Artistic Connection is doing all it can to not only accentuate those that have vast experience, like Tom and many others but also to help those at all levels grow and reach the next level.”

Throughout the year, the Artistic Connection hosts special screenings, panel discussions and meetings at Altair Casting Services. These events bring together the region’s artistic contingent to promote their individual and collective endeavors, discuss their experiences, and foster new collaborations. It’s an opportunity for professionals, aspiring professionals, students, and film fans to learn firsthand about the process.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.  © 2017, Mark Burger.


Wanna Go?

The Artistic Connection’s “Sight Line” event with guest Thomas Ackerman will take place 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 30 at Altair Casting & Production Services, 703 Coliseum Plaza Court, Winston-Salem. Admission is $5. For more information, call 336.734.8285 or email The official Artistic Connection website is You can also find them on Facebook.