Monday, October 12, 2009


When I was first offered this picture I was, actually, less than thrilled. I mean I'd read the what. I mean, another kids picture. Why couldn't I be offered something meaty again, like Red Dawn? Or Uncommon Valor? A man's picture. Action. You know, all the stuff about being a cinematographer that's really fun. Little did I know then that Footloose would become a cult favorite. Actually the one redeeming thing about Footloose was that I would first have an opportunity to work with Herbert Ross, arguably one of the best directors around and one of only two who knew how to photograph the 'dance' - which I desparately wanted to learn. About ten minutes after I'd accepted the job over the phone from Herbert - I'd had the interview, read the script and all that, I got a call from Walter Hill. He was going to do a picture called: 'Streets of Fire". Hell, just in time only too late. A man's picture with Walter again. Reluctantly I told him I had just accepted a picture with Herbert Ross. He understood and wished me well. What a great guy! So...A story about Herbert. He is one of the most...severe, intimidating men I have ever met. He is well over six feet tall, gaunt would be a generous way of putting it. A very, very serious face and rarely least not in interviews. So, we're on a location scout trip to Provo, Utah and we're having breakfast the first day. Now I barely knew my director so with someone like Herbert (He as always Herbert, never Herb!) you tread softly and carry a big...I'm not sure what. So, as I said we're having breakfast and during the course of the conversation I said to Herbert..."You know Herbert, I like a light set." I look at that inscrutible face and...nothing. No expression, nothing. I thought oh dear, what have I signed up for. This man has no sense of humor what so ever. He looks at me and says; "What do you mean, Ric?" I swallowed rather hard, did my best to look pleasant and said; "Well, you know, I mean, it's hard work, long hours, the crew works pretty hard. We're all intent upon what we're doing, making the picture...hopefully making your life easier..."
"Yes, he says. Still his face a mask of blank. So I continue; "Well, I mean I like to tease my people, you know, joke around a lot. I mean I love my crew, most of them have been with me for a long we know each other pretty well. That sort of thing." Herbert just looks at me like I've maybe lost my mind or perhaps just arrived from another planet. I mean, I am thunderstruck. I thought, wow, this is going to be the longest fourteen weeks of my life. Will I ever survive it? I doubt it. Okay, fade out. It's a couple weeks later. We're rehearsing a scene between Kevin Bacon and the actress who plays his mother. We're in the living room of a house in Provo that we had rented for the movie. Everyone is sitting around, absolutely quiet. And I mean QUIET! No one, no one moves, talks and, hopefully, even breathes when Herbert is rehearsing. Well, Harold Rabus who is my key grip and who's been with me for probably six years comes into the living room. He's tiptoeing and for Harold, who's probably six feet four and well north of two hundred pounds, tip toeing is a pretty amusing thing to watch. So he comes into the room and ever so gently begins to seat himself on an apple box. Only half down to his destination a huge pair of pliers falls out of his pocket and lands on the hardwood floor. Everyone, and I mean everyone's head swiveled around to see who the dunce was making all the noise. Herbert spun around so fast I thought he'd be dizzy and glared at Harold, who is now looking very sheepish. Herbert says, in a very loud and angry voice; "YOU, get out of here...pack your things and leave this set. Forever!" Well, needless to say Harold was mortified. I was too only for what Herbert had just pronounced. Harold was a very good key grip, well liked by everyone and he ran a very tight ship. I loved the guy. Not only did I not know who I could replace him with, I really didn't want to. I was hoping I might be able to dissuade Herbert after we'd finished the scene. So it's now, maybe half an hour later, we've finished rehearsing and the electric crew is starting to place the lights I'd called for. I wander out to the grip truck to console Harold. I no sooner arrive at the truck when Herbert arrives right on my heels. He marches right up to Harold, who is almost in tears at this point, puts his arm around Harolds shoulder and says: "I was just kidding Harold. Don't take me seriously. I love to tease." And with that Herbert turned to me with the biggest smile I've ever seen. No sense of humor? Huh! And the humor continued for the rest of the picture. A wonderful man, he is dearly missed. He passed away several years ago. I went to his funeral with Goldie Hawn who had also recently worked with him. We all spoke, well some of us. Nicolas Meyer said some very nice things, (Nicolas was the director of 'Volunteers' which I shot.) And I repeated the story I've just written here. Herbert was a very dear man, a very talented director. He is missed by all that knew him.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

NO WAY OUT aka Finished with Engines

As promised in the top blog, I have another story to tell about..."telling the truth". I received a call from my agent telling me of an interview with Roger Donaldson over at MGM. I arrived punctually...with a name like Waite I hate to be tardy! As always, we went through the usual opening pleasantries and then got down to specifics. I had read the script - they almost always send you the script first to see if you're interested in shooting it - and Roger, seated comfortable behind a desk roughly the size of a Buick asked: "Ric, how do you see this picture?" Well...I knew it was Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman (whom I'd just finished working with) and it was placed in Washington, DC - a political thriller. So I rather grandly stated I thought it should be very stately. Very square...pristine. Since it was a political story, Gene was a Senator and Costner a naval officer...that seemed like a good idea. Well-----Wrong! Roger confessed he wanted a grainy documentary look. Needless to say, I didn't get the picture. I was very disappointed since when I saw the film and saw th scene in the back of the limo where Kevin and Sean Young really get it on...I was doubly disappointed. Ah well, so you see, sometimes telling the truth doesn't work out the way you'd like. The production manager whom I'd also just worked with on "Uncommon Valor" - Mel Deller and who was responsible for getting me on the short list for interviews walked me out to the elevator and expressed his regrets. A very nice man! As it turned out, when I saw the picture in the theater some months later - no surprise - it wasn't at all grainy - or documentary looking. It was, indeed, a very stately, pristine and square looking film. Go figure.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Walter Hill

I shot three pictures for Walter Hill. What a great director! And good friend...and all around great person. I first met Walter on an interview for the picture; "The Longriders". Walter had only done a couple of pictures prior to this one. My agent had sent me the script several days in advance and then set up this meeting. I think it was at Fox but I'm not sure. Anyway, I went into the meeting trembling from head to toes. I had only shot one other feature film at this point - "The Other Side of the Mountain, Part II" and that had been three years previous. So to say I was nervous would be gross understatement. We went through the usual pleasantries in the beginning and then Walter asked me the "QUESTION". Who was my favorite director. I sat there absolutely numb. I mean, this could well be, and in fact usually is a trick question. Do I tell the truth? Or do I say Walter Hill of course - lying thru my teeth. (I had never heard of Walter Hill at that point. So..I took a deep breath and said: Akira Kurasawa...the great Japanese director. I meant it, Kurasawa is beyond great! I continued to hold my breath for another - what seemed like an hour - minute and then heard Walter say: "Good choice, he's mine too." Music to my ears. Moral to this story, always tell the truth...and pray. He admired Kurasawa's asymetrical composition - as I did - and wanted to try it on this movie. We chatted a while longer, he thanked me for coming. I had barely walked in my door back home when the phone rang. It was my agent, Crayton Smith telling me I got the job. To say I was ecstatic would be gross understatement. I could probably write a whole book about the making of that film. It was, of course, my breakout movie. Everybody eventually get's a chance to do something that really gets noticed. Generally, many job offers follow. That's why they call them breakout movies...because you finally - after God knows how many years of working and waiting you are able to break out of obscurity. Thank you Walter...thank you. Our next mutual venture was '48 HRS.". I'll talk about that in another blog later. Suffice it to say...The Longriders launched my career and all because I told the truth. I have another story to tell later where I told the truth and didn't get the job!


My wife and I have known Goldie for over thirty-five years. We met her at a dinner party with her soon to be - then - husband, Gus Trikonus. She had signed the contracts for a new television show that season entitiled: 'Laugh-In". And what a show that was. My wife, Scout and Goldie along with Julie Cristie used to hang out a lot together...friends called them the three bobsy twins. (Sort of a malaprop it seems.) We lived in Brentwood on Westgate avenue...Goldie then lived in Pacific Palisades. One morning, while Scout and I were having a cup of coffee in our kitchen, we heard the front door open, then the sound of high heeled footsteps in the hallway then a door closing. I stepped out into the hall and a moment later Goldie emerged from the powder room announcing she just couldn't hold it any longer. She gave me a peck on the cheek and was on her way. We had that kind of a friendship. Some years later Goldie called me and asked me to shoot her debut directorial movie - "Hope". We shot it in Houston, the summer months. I can't tell you how hot and humid that city is in August and September. One night we had a four and a half page scene to shoot outside the theater. I think we were actually in College Station for this sequence. Well, after shooting for something like four plus hours we took a break. That's when my film loader came to me with tears in her eyes. D.P.'s don't like to see film loaders with tears in their eyes. It means that bad news is soon to come. On this occasion I was informed she had white-lighted the negative while downloading it. White-lighting means, she turned on a light with the exposed film out in the open. Needless to say, the entire roll was ruined. Even worse, virtually the entire nights work was on that roll. I think that's when I started to tear as well. It was my job to inform Goldie of this tragedy. With great trepidation I went to Goldie's motor home. She was seated with a couple of the producers having coffee. I gave her the bad news, fully expecting something of a meltdown. Instead Goldie sat there a moment then said: "Ric, give me a few moments to think about this." So I stepped out side and waited. I half expected the producers to come out and send me back to Los Angeles. I mean, it really wasn't my fault but then...I did hire the loader. So...ten minutes later Goldie came out of the motor home and announced: "Here's what we're going to do..." Well, she had, in that ten minute period quickly rewrote the scene, truncating it down to one page. We shot the new scene in about an hour and went home. And you know, the scene she rewrote...under duress to say the least...was so much better than the original. And of course it's in the movie. Now that is a great director! She has played the role of the bubble headed blonde so many times but I am here to tell you...she is one of the smartest, most level headed people I have ever known. Of course I adored her for what she did that night...but then, I have adored her almost all of my life. We remain close friends with Goldie and Kurt to this day. Wow...what a woman!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Patrick Swayze

Recently, Patrick Swayze passed away after a prolonged fight with cancer. We're all sorry to see him go and wish his lovely wife Lisa out best wishes. I did two pictures with Patrick. Uncommon Valor and Red Dawn. I have an amusing tale to tell about Red Dawn. One of the other actors - his breakout movie was C. Tommy Howell. Now, Tommy's father is a stuntman and a rodeo champion. Tommy had been riding horses from the age of, oh probably five or six. By the time he came to make Red Dawn, he was an expert horseman. He even brought his own horse to the picture. Patrick, not to be outdone by an upstart, went out and bought a horse for himself. What he bought was a plug mare that couldn't even get out of his own way. In the scene where the Russian helicopters ambush the kids, Tommy jumped on his horse and entirely unrehearsed, he pulled the horse back on his hind legs - ala the Lone Ranger if you can remember him - and galloped away. Well....Patrick, not to be outdone asked John Milius the director if he could also have a special. John agreed, we set up the cameras..John called action...Patrick leaped tot he back of his mighty steed, pulled back on the reins...the horse reared up...and up...and up....and finally, over! We all did our best to hide the chuckles and laughter. John simply said, okay, next shots over here. End of story. Now I don't tell this to ridicule Patrick...he was a very nice guy, very considerate of is fellow actors, usually on time and always knew his lines. He shall be missed.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Border

The Border was my second feature film after the Longriders. Tony Richardson, the director, had seen the movie and called me in for an interview. Vilmos Zsigsmond had started the picture but due to a writers strike had taken another picture. (He told me later he was happy to be off the Border and away from Tony. There is a saying in Hollywood that is quite common; 'who do I have to F... to get off this picture." I believe that is how Vilmos felt. Anyway when strike was settled we went back to work with me as Director of Photography. Naturally with a cast of people like Jack Nicolson; Warren Oates; Harvey Keitel; Valerie lucky could a guy get? My first day of the set it was handshakes and introductions all around. I was standing in the parking lot where all our vehicles were parked, everyone busy unloading equipment etc. when Valerie Perrine comes walking up to me. She introduced herself, a big smile on her face...she is a very attractive woman with all the necessary attributes that a woman should have...says to me; "Ric I have just one problem."
I smile and say, what's that, Valerie? Where upon she pulls up her dress almost over her head revealing her legs and just about everything else since Valerie did not believe in lingerie - "I have cellulite, please don't photograph my legs." The dress stayed up for what I thought was an awfully long time before being lowered. Of course every grip, electrician, technician on the crew was just standing there gawking.

I said I would make every effort to avoid filming her legs. And with that she shook my hand again and walked away. Now this is only my second film and I had never worked with stars like I now had. I thought, is this how it works? Well, it doesn't work quite that way every time. But it was a most memorable moment. I have lots of other anecdotes to relate as to the making of this film which I'll share with you later in the week. Stay tuned in.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lighting the Stars

When I first arrived in Los Angeles I was visiting the set of "Butterflys Are Free" - Goldie Hawn was a very close friend of my wife and I. The cinematographer - Charles B. Lange - took me to lunch. I of course knew very little about lighting a feature film. One of the pieces of advice he gave me was: "You gotta make the stars look good". That thought stuck with me through out the rest of my career. So...when shooting the film "Class" with Jackie Bissett; Andrew McCarthy, etc. there was a scene where Jackie is waiting in a motel room for Andrew to show up. She was dressed in all that black lacy stuff that some people seem to thing is sexy. Now Jackie had some very peculiar and very, very strong views about her lighting. She didn't want the 'key' light higher than six feet. No matter what! Well, using a standin - I lit the loving hell out of that scene. I mean, it was bloody gorgeous! So, now Jackie comes on the set - the director talks to her a moment and we roll the camera. Perfect take! Let's just do one more, says the director - Louis John Carlino. So, as we're preparing to roll again, my operator - who knew better! - ask Jackie to pick her chin up a little for the key light. That's when she noticed the key was about ten feet in the air. Jackie pipes up - "Ric, would you please lower the key light?" I explain that I can't do that or I will ruin the beautiful lighting I have created for her. She insists. I insist - on not changing the lighting. All this leads to Jackie storming off the set to her motor home and me storming off the set to an exit door. Now we're shooting this in Chicago in Jauary. Chicago is very cold in January. Jackie had her motor home to keep her warm. I had nothing. I'd forgot to grab my coat. I mean, I am freezing. Meanwhile Carlino is running back forth pleading - first with Jackie to return, then to me to relight. Finally, and only because I am not in jeopardy of turing into a block of ice - I return. I turned off all the other lights on the set, placed one huge light directly behind the camera (absolutely the worst place to EVER place a light) and announce that I am ready. Jackie returns, assumes her pose on the sofa and the camera rolls. I mean, the lighting was purely awful! End of shot. The next day the lab had printed both takes. The first one with my lighting and the second one with Jackie's. Jackie was there - in the viewing room. Guess which take is in the picture? You got it. So much for making the "Star" look good.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Getting into the "Business"

People are always asking me "how do I get into the movie business?" That's kind of a tough question to answer. I can tell them how I got into the movie business. I was a fashion photographer in New York for ten years before I tried for the "industry". I had met a lovely young gal - model, actress - former airline stewardess (yes, we call them that back then) who said to me one day, "why don't you go out to California and get into the movie business." It was a statement, not a question. As the saying goes, behind every successful man there is a good, smart woman. Well, my wife - Scout - was just that. So, in all my ignorant bliss, I took my portfolio of still photos - I had NO reel at that point - and when to Los Angeles. I bought the local production guide - now called LA-411 and starting knocking on doors. Only commercial producers mind you - I started with the 'A's" and kept going. Five days later - I was in the "P's" by then, I knocked on Chris Peteson's door. Chris had a commercial producing company and was then very successful. For some reason - I've never been entirely sure - he liked me...and hired me! As a director/cameraman. Wow. So my bride and I moved to Los Angeles. A few weeks after I'd started with Chris I got my first assignement - as a cameraman - on a Navy training film. The next day I arrived at the stage, introduced myself to the director. Imagine - a young kid from Chicago via Korea (war) via New York was actually on a Hollywood sound stage about to start shooting my first picture. Only problem was, I didn't know how to even begin.

The director gave my my first set up. A nurse leaves a room down the hall, comes toward us to the nurse's station, chats with another nurse for a moment, then walks away up another hall. I thought to myself - she's going to move? Hell, I'd been photographing people - mostly girls - on a seamless background using strobe lights. How the heck do you light a person to get fom A to B? I hadn't the foggiest. So I confessed my sins to the Gaffer. (He's the guy in charge of lighting, usually how the cameraman tells him, but not always.) His name was Cal Bassin and what a terrific guy he was. He just smiled, told me to follow him around and pay attention to what he did and how he did it. I followed his advice. Finally, he announced we were ready and I should tell the director so. I did and he - the director - said fine Ric - just climb on the dolly and we'll get a rehearsal. I took one look at this hugh camera mounted on this funny looking device that had a hand wheel in the back and another small hand wheel on the side. I thought to myself, what the hell's that? I'd been used to a small tripod and either a Rolleiflex or Hasselblad. So, I conjured up myself and said to the director: "You know, I really like to sit in a chair and watch the actors - make sure they're hitting their marks, staying in their lights, etc." He said "okay, we'll get an operator over here right away." They did (And he subsequently taught my how to operate what I eventually learned was called a Worral head) and we were off.

Well, that's how it went for the first six months I was there. A bit of lying, a hint of cajoling; a little bit of stalling and a lot of watching, learning and keeping my mouth shut - but a smile on my face - Always! And I began to learn how to be a cinematographer. My "lessons" continued for another what? Twenty years? Thirty? Hell, you never stop learning. And when you do, you're dead.

I have a sequel to this story which I'll post later this week.

Monday, January 5, 2009

More on Second Generations in shobiz

It occured to me how many second generations there are now in the "industry", as it's so often least in LaLaLand. Other day I saw a movie with Zoohey Deschanel...daughter of Caleb Deschanel - a most excellent cinematographer. Then a saw a Director of Photography credit for Florian Balhaus...son of Michael Balhaus...and the list goes on. Hurray. Some people might want to accuse the "industry" of being nepotistic. Of course it is! It's always been that way! Heck, the industry was practically founded on nepotism. You don't think lawyer's son's get into schools like Harvard or Yale because their fathers are alumni? Or doctors whose sons want to follow in their father footsteps into a top rated Med school. How about Wall Street? Or the plumbing industry. How may fathers and sons do you see advertised on their trucks? Or electricians? The only reason people might gripe about the movie industry being that way is because they want to be in it...and don't know how to do it! Viva la difference! After teaching film making at the Colorado Film School for five years...I have told ALL my students...if you want to get into the "industry"...really want it...then go to Los Angeles, buy the local production guide book (LA411) and start knocking on doors. And don't stop until you've got a job. Then start paying your dues. There are no short cuts. I would guess from the time you get your first job in the industry until you get your first really BIG break? Ten years. Some go faster, most don't. So, be paitent, work your butt off - keep smile on your face - keep asking for more and...if you have any talent at all, you WILL succeed. I can practically garantee it.

Friday, January 2, 2009


My wife and I saw "Marley and Me" yesterday. Nice little picture...Marley kind of steals the movie but then, that's almost always the case. Two rules in Hollywood...never costar with animals or children. Second rule: never costar with children and animals. I enjoyed seeing Jennifer on the big screen. I used to bounce her on my knee. I have pictures of Jennifer and my son, Richard floating in our pool in the backyard. Her parents, John and Nancy Aniston and my wife and I frequently would go on camping trips up north where we'd play bridge all day and Jen and Popper (Richard's nickname) played in the dirt. Fond memories.

As for Kate Hudson...another one who bounced on my knee. My wife and I have known Goldie Hawn for over thirty-five years. Scout, my wife who was quite an accomplished still photographer took pictures of Kate and Oliver Hudson with their mom on many occasions. She has certainly grown into a beautiful young woman. It's really a pleasure seeing them both succeed in careers that are - generally - very difficult to even get started in. My son, Popper grew up to become my assistant on the set. Richard jr. worked with me on over twenty-five feature and television films. It's great to see second generations in the industry.

The only tough part of all this is that they are the constant reminders that I'm growing older...and no one likes to endure that! Kate's got a new pic coming out this month - starring with Ann Hathaway. Promises to be very funny. Like her mother, Kate's a natural comedienne.