Lensers bask in spotlight

The following quotes from Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated cinematographers are in response to the question of how the award affected them, personally and professionally:

STEPHEN GOLDBLATT

nominated for “Prince of Tides” and “Batman Forever”

“I was on the set of ‘Consenting Adults’ in Atlanta when a publicist told me I’d been nominated for ‘Prince of Tides.’ That had been a stressful shoot and a number of times I had to stand my ground for what I thought was correct.

“I felt this nomination had been a true recognition by my peers that I had been right to do so. I don’t know how much it changed my life – it’s an impossible experiment. But it gives one a certain authority, and it didn’t hurt what I got paid either.

“The morning they announced I was nominated for ‘Batman Forever,’ I was up and sitting at the kitchen table but I couldn’t bear to listen to the broadcast. I was pretending to be calm, filling in a magazine subscription, when the producer, Stephen MacGregor-Scott, called and said I’d gotten the nomination. I woke my wife with champagne, and we began to celebrate. At about seven, my son came into the room. He went to school that day and told everyone his mom and dad had been drinking first thing in the morning.”

JANUSZ KAMINSKI

winner for “Schindler’s List”

“The nomination itself was an incredible form of recognition. I didn’t need an award. But after I was nominated, of course, I thought about winning. It is the biggest recognition that could happen in this business, and it would be stupid to say, ‘I don’t care if I win blah blah blah.’ The ceremony was bigger and more elegant than I expected. I genuinely admired the films I was competing against. But when you’re sitting there, you want to win. Then when you win, you go on a press line – radio, print, then TV – and I remember through all of it I was floating through the air.

“At that time I was a smoker. After the show, I was backstage and there was a big sign that said ‘No Smoking.’ and there was a fire marshal standing right under it. I took out a cigarette and lit up. He and I exchanged looks, but he didn’t say anything. I had just won the Oscar, and nobody was going to stop me from smoking.”

JOHN SEALE

nominated for “Witness” and “Rain Man”

“By the time the nominations came out, ‘Witness’ was nine months old, and I wasn’t really expecting a nomination. Peter Weir, Harrison Ford and a lot of us who had worked on ‘Witness’ were together on location shooting ‘The Mosquito Coast’ and the location man said he’d heard we’d all been nominated for ‘Witness.’ I thought it was a hoot, but it didn’t really dawn on me how important this nomination was until the studio offered to send us by Lear Jet to the ceremony. We couldn’t go anyway because it would have cost us three shooting days on ‘Mosquito Coast.’

“The first time I actually got to attend the Oscar ceremony was when I was nominated for ‘Rain Man’ and it was a pretty heart-thumping affair. I didn’t get the award, but I honestly do believe that the nominees are all winners – just one of the poor buggers has to make a speech and collect the doorstop.

“That year it was Peter Biziou for ‘Mississippi Burning,’ and I admit I think it was a perfect choice. I remember he was very generous that night and said he thought the award should be chopped into five bits for all the nominees.”

DEAN SEMLER

winner for “Dances with Wolves”

“When I was working in Australia, Hollywood was like another planet. The nomination was very exciting to me, of course, but the press back home reacted far more than I would have imagined. That helped me realize how very important this particular award was all over the world.

” ‘Dances With Wolves’ had been well-received, and it is the type of picture that has a good chance with the Academy, so I was hopeful about winning. I had one or two speeches prepared, and I rehearsed them like mad for days before the ceremony. I was driving to a meeting with Simon Wincer, a director, and I was so busy practicing my acceptance speech that I missed my turn and showed up to the meeting half an hour late.

“After I’d won, it was like a great big party for days, but again, it was the response from my countrymen that really showed me the significance of the award. My wife and I flew home on Qantas with the Oscar, a Kodak award, an ASC award and other awards I’d received for the film in our carry-on bag.

“We knew the stewardess, and she came up to us and whispered, ‘Do you have it with you?’ meaning the Oscar. I let her see it, and she asked if I’d like to let everyone on the airplane see. I told her, ‘These people don’t want somebody shoving some trophy in their faces.’ But she convinced me that everybody on the plane, mostly Australians, wanted to see it and have their picture taken with it. It was like I’d won the Americas Cup.”

JOHN TOLL

winner for “Legends of the Fall,” “Braveheart”

“It means everything, literally. It’s everything you dream of, it’s incredible. That may sound trite, but it’s true. I never put any conscious energy into winning awards. I just went out seeking the work. And the award just happened. I consider myself to be very fortunate and I won’t ever have to think about not having won one.”

VILMOS ZSIGMOND

winner for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind;” nominated for “The Deer Hunter” and “The River”

“We were shooting ‘The Deer Hunter’ when I got a call saying I was nominated for ‘Close Encounters.’ When I found out I was nominated I was totally out of my mind. The nomination has a special significance because it comes from your peers and for me, win or not, that is the ultimate recognition. I didn’t expect to win. I didn’t think I had a chance as a first-time nominee.

“At the ceremony, when they announced my name and I accepted the award, many things came to my mind at once. I thanked my professors in Hungary who had taught me in film school, I thanked the Academy members, and I thanked the country that gave me a new start.

“When you are starting out as a cameraman, you think, ‘Some day I’m going to do big pictures, respected pictures.’ Some of us are lucky and the dream comes true. But you have to be very, very lucky. Many great cinematographers never get the award or never even get nominated. You have to be lucky enough to photograph the right picture that is seen by many people and has a great audience appeal.”

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