Life is good for ‘Breaking Bad’ cinematographer

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A. Sue Weisler

Award-winning cinematographer Michael Slovis ’76 worked with School of Film and Animation students on lighting techniques when he visited RIT in May.

Michael Slovis ’76 (professional photographic illustration) had just returned to New Jersey from traveling abroad when he got the call to shoot a television show he had never heard of in New Mexico.

“I said, ‘No, thank you. I don’t really want to travel away from home,’ ” he said.

After he hung up, his wife, Maria, asked him who called. “She said to me, ‘Is it called Breaking Bad?’ I said, ‘Yes, that’s it.’ She goes, ‘Stop. Turn around. Call them right now.’ ”

Slovis did, was messengered the first season and from the first image knew it was a project he wanted to tackle. AMC’s Breaking Bad became the “pinnacle of creativity” for the Emmy-award winning director of photography, who developed his love of visual storytelling as an undergraduate at RIT.

Slovis became interested in photography as a child using his mother’s Kodak Tourist folding camera. His grandfather taught him how to process and develop film in a homemade darkroom in the basement of his home.

After one of his photographs was a finalist in the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival, Slovis was invited to attend RIT. By the time he was a senior, Slovis had run out of photography classes to take, so he signed up for one film class.

“I made a really awful, horrible, unwatchable movie,” he said. “But I was bitten. I really was hooked and I started watching movies and I started becoming film literate.”

He enrolled in film school at New York University and after graduating got a job as an electrician and assistant cameraman on film sets.

One of the first films that got him noticed was Party Girl, a hit at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival. Other independent films and direct-to-DVD work followed.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Slovis decided he wanted to stay closer to home. He took a job in television working on Ed on NBC followed by CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, for which he won the 2006 Emmy Award for outstanding cinematography and was nominated again in 2007.

He began shooting Breaking Bad in 2008, which earned him two more Emmy nominations. The drama was shot on 33mm film.

Slovis also photographed the pilot of ABC’s Castle, Fringe on Fox, Royal Pains for USA Network, Rubicon for AMC and Running Wilde for Fox.

In 2010, he became a member of the American Society of Cinematographers.

For the past year, he has focused exclusively on directing, a career he began engineering since directing one episode of Ed, as well as a few episodes of CSI and Breaking Bad.

This summer, he directed two episodes of Game of Thrones, which will air next year.

“It was a hard decision to make, but I just didn’t know what to shoot after Breaking Bad,” he said. “It was that good. And it was that good of an experience.”

Slovis said he considers himself to be the luckiest man in the world and he uses what he learned at RIT— such as sensitometry and basic photo sciences—on a daily basis.

“I get to do what I love to do,” he said. “How many people can say that?”