Terry Clairmont, co-founder and chief executive of Clairmont Camera, a leading supplier of camera equipment to many of Hollywood’s top cinematographers, and a director of photography for commercials, passed away on Oct. 28.
Born in Hollywood, he was 64. He died of cancer after a brief illness, and spent the final weeks of his life at the home of Denny Clairmont, his brother and partner, according to a family announcement. Terry and Denny, whose lives and careers intertwined, founded Clairmont Camera in 1980 and together built it into one of the industry’s largest and most highly regarded suppliers. The camera house has become known, in particular, for its large inventory of Arriflex cameras and, even more, for the custom modifications and improvements it has made to various Arri models over the years.
“Outside of Panavision, Clairmont is probably the most successful camera house in the world,” said veteran cinematographer and ASC member Robert Primes, a longtime client. “They have legendary integrity and everybody knows if you get a camera from Clairmont it will be 100 percent.”
“They defined a standard of camera preparation and support that was a tremendously important thing for this industry,” said DP Tom Stern, another ASC member and the cinematographer on Flags of Our Fathers and other films for director Clint Eastwood. Stern recalls Terry and his brother “sitting in their offices across from each other at these big battleship desks. They were like one person but they complimented each other’s skills.”
Terry, typically clad in a Hawaiian shirt and jeans, interacted with customers, while Denny, more mechanically inclined, has concentrated on camera modifications and repairs. Under the encouragement of his father Leonard Clairmont, a cinematographer who had immigrated from Sweden, Terry started working in the movie industry as a stand-in and extra before he was even a year old. He ultimately appeared in over 50 movies as a child. In their teens, Terry and Denny were avid drag racers, which led to their opening up an auto “speed shop” which they ran until 1966. The business taught both, but especially Denny, precise machining and engineering skills that would prove useful when translated to repairing and modifying cameras. Inspired by their father’s profession, Terry and Denny both decided to go into cinematography. In 1967, Terry, while working as a camera assistant, landed a staff job with N. Lee Lacy, a large company that produced commercials. He became a staff cinematographer and later went freelance, and had a long successfully career. After the launch of Clairmont Camera (a successor to Clairmont/Engle, a partnership with Edward and Mitzie Engle that was dissolved in 1980), Terry continued to shoot commercials while directing the operations at the camera house in his off hours. As business boomed, requiring more attention, he retired as a cinematographer and became Clairmont Camera’s fulltime CEO as well as its treasurer. Under his aegis, the company expanded to Canada, setting up operations in Vancouver and Toronto. Terry Clairmont and his brother, over the years, earned the loyalty of customers with their involvement in the nuances of the craft. “What I’ve learned to appreciate is that their connection with filmmakers is very personal,” observed ASC member Michael Goi. “They really care of what you’re trying to achieve with the equipment you’re taking out.”
Terry also was known for mentoring aspiring cinematographers. Clairmont camera helped university film schools out by supplying them with camera equipment when it was needed. The company, based in North Hollywood, will continue to serve the filmmaking community with Denny Clairmont as the head. Terry Clairmont is survived by Denny and two half-brothers, Toby and Lenny; and by nephews Jon and Joel Clairmont.