Director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki won the feature film top prize at the 28th annual American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement Awards Saturday night for his landmark work on Gravity, in which he combined traditional and virtual cinematography in the 3D special effects-laden film about astronauts stranded in outer space.
In the three television cinematography categories, Jonathan Freeman won the one-hour series award for the “Valar Dohaeris” episode of HBO’s historical-fantasy hit Game of Thrones. Jeremy Benning won the TV miniseries or movie award for the History Channel’s Killing Lincoln, about the events surrounding the assassination of the 16th president, which starred Tom Hanks. For half-hour series, Blake McClure was honored for his work on Comedy Central’s inebriated storytelling skein Drunk History. “I shot a show called Drunk History so I’m a little drunk right now,” joshed McClure, before thanking his camera crew. He won his award on his first ASC nomination.
The ASC feature film honor, which Lubezki has received twice before – for Children of Men (2007) and The Tree of Life (2012) – makes him the putative front-runner for the best cinematography Oscar, to be handed out at the Academy Awards on March 2. This is his sixth cinematography Oscar nomination (the others for The Little Princess, Sleepy Hollow, The New World, Children of Men and Tree of Life) with no wins so far.
For the ASC award, Lubezki triumphed over Philip Lesourd (The Grandmaster), Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis), Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska) and Roger Deakins (Prisoners) – the other four Oscar nominees this year – as well as Barry Ackroyd (Captain Phillips) and Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave). The seven nominees were the largest ASC field ever in this category, resulting from an unprecedented three-way tie for the fifth slot, and also reflecting the high level of cinematographic achievement in this year’s movies.
In his acceptance speech, the Mexican-born cinematographer said he wanted to share his award with “my friend and teacher,” Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron, also from Mexico, with whom he has now collaborated on five films, and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber and his team at Framestore in London. “I am very humbled and happy that my peers have given me this award,” Lubezki told Below the Line after the ceremony. “You are not thinking of awards when you are making the movie. You are thinking of the audience and how it will respond, so when something like this honor happens it’s phenomenal.”
The first annual ASC Spotlight Award, designed to honor excellence in cinematography for work that is not commercially mainstream, went to Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski for Ida, a Polish film about a nun who discovers Nazi secrets in her past. DP John Bailey gave out the prize.
A number of pre-announced special awards were also handed out at the ASC event held in the Ray Dolby Ballroom in the Loews Hotel at the Hollywood and Highland center:
The Lifetime Achievement Award recipient was DP Dean Cundey, who received a standing ovation when he went up to accept the award from long-time collaborator John Carpenter, the director of Halloween, The Fog and Big Trouble in Little China among a half-dozen films which utilized the cinematographer. Cundey joked that he would prefer it to be called “the half-a-lifetime achievement award.” The DP’s other major credits include Who Killed Roger Rabbit, which got him an Oscar and BAFTA nomination, and the Back to the Future trilogy, all four with director Robert Zemeckis. He also was the cinematographer on Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Cundey hailed Carpenter “for being the first director I worked with who actually wanted to use the camera for visual storytelling and not just to record partially-clad women with machine guns… though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
The International Achievement Award was given to Portuguese-born DP Eduardo Serra, known for his work on The Girl With the Pearl Earring, which garnered him Oscar and BAFTA nominations, and also such films as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, parts I and II and Blood Diamond. “His images serve the story but never become the story,” said director Ed Zwick who presented the award and accepted it on behalf of the absent Serra.
The Career Achievement in Television Award went to Richard Rawlings Jr. He was presented with the honor by Charlie’s Angels star Cheryl Ladd, who met Rawlings when both worked on the hit show. “This talented man worked his ass off for four years to make me look good,” said Ladd. Rawlings’ many television credits also include L.A. Law, Gilmore Girls and Desperate Housewives. He thanked his “lifetime mentor, my Dad,” DP Richard Rawlings senior, who was cinematographer on Gilligan’s Island and Dynasty among many other TV shows.
Prolific producer, writer and director John Wells, who has over 800 credits in his multi-hyphenate career, received the ASC Board of Governors Award. Wells thanked DP’s in the room he has worked with and gave a special shout out to the unsung crew on a shoot, “true artists laboring in relative obscurity.” Among his notable projects unspooled on-screen for attendees were network series ER and The West Wing and HBO’s award-winning mini-series Mildred Pierce, which he executive-produced. He is the director of current feature release August: Osage County, which is up for Oscars for Meryl Streep in the best actress category, and Julia Roberts, for best supporting actress.
ASC president Richard Crudo presented the Bud Stone Award of Distinction to Beverly Wood for her work with the ASC. “You DPs, I love you all and I do what I can to make you feel you’re the only one who matters to me,” said Wood. Burton “Bud” Stone was president of Deluxe Laboratories for 18 years.
There were over 800 in the audience at the presentation, one of the handful of awards ceremonies not put on by a Hollywood guild, which for lensers and camera crew is the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600. The ASC, founded 95 years ago, is an honorary organization that cinematographers join by special invitation. The DP’s then are allowed to use the prestigious ASC initials after their names, most notably on film, television and documentary credits.