Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki, the director of photography for the “one take” dark comedy Birdman, took top honors for feature film cinematography at the 29th annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards on Sunday night at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel.
This is the second year in a row that Lubezki has won the top prize, and the fourth time overall. Last year he got the ASC theatrical feature award as DP on Gravity, followed a week later with a best cinematography Oscar, his first, for the same space epic.
The weekend win for Birdman, which appeared to be shot in a single take (through some deft VFX and editing), puts him in the fast lane to win another cinematography Oscar at the Academy Awards on Feb. 22. Last week Lubezki also won the BAFTA. He previously won the ASC feature award in 2007 for Children of Men and in 2012 for The Tree of Life.
The only other repeat winner for the ASC film award was DP John Toll, who won for Legends of the Fall and Braveheart in 1995 and 1996. He went on to win best cinematography Oscars for both movies.
Lubezki, originally from Mexico, thanked his Steadi-cam operator Chris Haarhoff. “He was able to walk backwards very fast as Michael Keaton moved forward,” he joked. “I think he only fell once.” The DP also thanked Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu “for his courage, his insanity and his genius.”
The other contenders in the feature film category were Roger Deakins for Unbroken, Óscar Faura for The Imitation Game, Dick Pope for Mr. Turner and Robert D. Yeoman for The Grand Budapest Hotel. All are also nominated for the cinematography Oscar, except for Faura.
In the television categories, Jonathan Freeman was also a repeat winner for the outstanding achievement award for an episode of a regular series. The prize was for his cinematography on long-running HBO skein Boardwalk Empire episode, “Golden Days for Boys and Girls.” Last year he won for Game of Thrones.
Other nominees in the episodic TV category were P.J. Dillon for History Channel’s Vikings (“Blood Eagle” episode); Anette Haellmigk for Game of Thrones (“The Children” episode); Christopher Norr for Fox’s Batman origin tale Gotham (“Spirit of the Goat” episode); Richard Rutkowski for WGN America’s Manhattan (“Perestroika” episode); and Fabian Wagner for Game of Thrones (“Mockingbird” episode).
In the television movie/miniseries category John Lindley took the cinematography award for the pilot episode of Manhattan, about events surrounding the development of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos. Also nominated in the category were David Greene for Lifetime TV movie The Trip to Bountiful, David Stockton for the Gotham pilot, and Theo Van de Sande for Lifetime TV movie Deliverance Creek.
The ASC Spotlight Award, inaugurated last year to recognize features and documentaries screened at film festivals, released internationally or shown in limited theatrical release, went to Finnish DP Peter Flinckenberg for Concrete Night. Last year’s Spotlight winners were Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal for Ida, the fifth nominees for best cinematography Oscar.
With only four awards to be handed out, most of the evening was devoted to honorary kudos.
Providing high-wattage star power for the evening was Barbra Streisand, who received the ASC Board of Governor’s Award. She fondly recalled the many amazing cinematographers she has worked with, as an actress, director and producer. They include David Watkin (Yentl), Robert Surtees (A Star is Born), James Wong Howe (Funny Lady), Andrezj Bartkowiak, Dante Spinotti (The Mirror Has Two Faces) Harry Stradling (Funny Girl, Hello Dolly, The Owl and The Pussycat, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) Stephen Goldblatt (Prince of Tides) László Kovács (What’s Up Doc) and Gordon Willis (Up the Sandbox).
Streisand regaled the audience with a story about how had hard it was to for cinematographers to photograph her distinctively asymmetric face. She always asked to be photographed from one side, which she thought made her look best. When working with Willis on Up the Sandbox, “he said he could make me look beautiful from either side. Later he came back to me and said, ‘Barbra, you were right.’”
The ASC Lifetime Achievement Award went to DP John Bailey, who has lensed some 70 pictures. His most iconic credits include Ordinary People and The Big Chill. In addition he was cinematographer on visually arresting films like American Gigolo, Silverado and Mishima. Director-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, whose collaboration with Bailey goes back to The Big Chill, handed out the award. Bailey lamented that “it’s difficult to get non-action films made – the kind I’ve been privileged to work on.”
The ASC International Award went to British director of photography Phil Méheux. Méheux’s work spans four decades, including such films as The Long Good Friday, The Mask of Zorro, Edge of Darkness and two of the James Bond films, Goldeneye and Casino Royale.
Bill Roe received the Career Achievement in Television Award. Roe won two consecutive ASC awards for The X-Files, and was nominated for three Emmys, twice for X-Files. He’s also been DP on over 200 television episodes for shows including Las Vegas and Mad Men.
The ASC Presidents Award was bestowed on Matthew Leonetti for “impressive cinematographic contributions and dedication to the ASC. “ Leonetti’s credits include Poltergeist, Fast Times at Ridgement High, Weird Science, Star Trek: The First Contact and Dumb and Dumber and its recent sequel. Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly, the brothers behind the Dumb and Dumber films, handed out the award.
The ASC Bud Stone Award of Distinction was given to Otto Nemenz, founder and CEO of the rental facility Otto Nemenz Intl., and Denny Clairmont, president and co-founder of Clairmont Camera. The award is presented to an Associate ASC Member who has demonstrated extraordinary service to the society and/or has made a significant contribution to the motion picture industry.
Of the craft achievement kudos, the one for cinematography is different in that isn’t handed out by a guild. (The International Society of Cinematographers, ICG IA Local 600 represents those in the profession). The American Society of Cinematographers is an independent organization dedicated to the art of cinematography. To get in, a DP must be invited to join. Members are allowed to use the prestigious ASC initials after their name in all credits. And cinematographers from all over the world are members. The prestigious organization, however, is a kind of boy’s club, and has been since its origins as an informal drinking society. It was officially chartered in 1919. Currently, only 3% of its members are women, 97% are male. That is said to be changing, but very slowly.