Michael Margulies dreams up the idea of the American Society of Cinematographers presenting an annual award for their work in 1984-85, noting that a long string of Oscars had been presented to so-called “picture postcard” movies — epic stories with sweeping exteriors. Margulies felt ASC members were more attuned to character-driven work and artful lighting that may be transparent to noncinematographers. He finds an ally in Sherwood “Woody” Omens.
The first ASC Outstanding Achievement Award, limited to feature films, is held during a dinner at the organization’s clubhouse in Hollywood. It’s a modest affair of 80-90 attendees enlivened by Gregory Peck as the emcee. Jordan Cronenweth, best known as the d.p. of “Blade Runner,” is awarded the prize for “Peggy Sue Got Married.”
ASC moves the awards to a screening room at Universal Studios with several hundred people present. The competition is expanded to include a Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to George Folsey (“Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Adam’s Rib”), as well as TV series and miniseries/movie of the week awards. Woody Omens wins the first TV episodic series award for “Heart of the City.” Feature film legend Philip Lathrop won the TV movie category for “Christmas Snow.”
The awards are moved to the Beverly Hills Hotel, and the event is opened to outsiders. German d.p. Dietrich Lohmann becomes the first non-American winner of an ASC award, taking top honors in the TV movie category for the miniseries “War and Remembrance.”
Two new awards are created: Board of Governors, for a noncinematographer who has made substantial contributions to advancing the art form (Gregory Peck) and the Presidents Award, initially designed to recognize historically influential filmmakers (Linwood G. Dunn). Stanley Cortez (“The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The Night of the Hunter”) receives the Lifetime Achievement Award. Haskell Wexler wins for the feature “Blaze.”
Board of Governors Award goes to L.A. Times film critic Charles Champlin, an early advocate for recognizing the artistry of cinematographers. The Lifetime Achievement award is presented to Charles B. Lang Jr., (“Sabrina,” “Some Like It Hot”), who earned 18 Oscar noms and took home the prize for “A Farewell to Arms.” He tells the younger crowd: “Never give up on your dreams. I knew a lot of people who were more talented than me who got discouraged and quit.”
Philip Lathrop, equally adept at character studies (“Lonely Are the Brave,” “The Cincinnati Kid”), action (“Point Blank”), comedy (“The Pink Panther”) and big-budget spectacles (“Earthquake,” three “Airport” movies) is honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Allen Daviau (“Bugsy”) wins for features.
The first ASC Intl. Achievement Award is presented to Freddie Young, notable for his epic work with David Lean (“Lawrence of Arabia,” “Dr. Zhivago”). Haskell Wexler (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Bound for Glory”) receives the Lifetime Achievement Award. An open house at the ASC clubhouse the Saturday before the ceremony draws hundreds of students, ASC members and fans, becoming an annual rite.
Steven Spielberg, who charters a plane from New York to attend the event, is given the Board of Governors Award. This is also the year Conrad Hall receives both a Lifetime Achievement Award and top honors in the feature film competition for “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” He receives the longest standing ovation in the history of the awards.
Martin Scorsese receives the Board of Governors Award from presenter Robert De Niro, who quips that no one had warned him that a clip of him from “Taxi Driver” was going to be shown. Legendary Mexican d.p. Gabriel Figueroa (“The Night of the Iguana,” “Simon of the Desert”) is given the Intl. Achievement Award. Lifetime Achievement award goes to Gordon Willis, d.p. of “The Godfather” films as well as the Woody Allen pic “Manhattan.”
Jodie Foster accepts the Board of Governors laurel, while the Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to Ingmar Bergman’s frequent collaborator Sven Nykvist and Intl. Achievement kudo is given to Henri Alekan (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Wings of Desire”).
Robert Wise, director of “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music,” receives the Board of Governors Award, while French New Wave proponent Raoul Coutard is given the Intl. Lifetime kudo. The Lifetime Achievement Award is accepted by Owen Roizman (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”), a five-time Oscar nominee who never took top honors.
Francis Ford Coppola receives the ASC Board of Governors Award from Vittorio Storaro, who reminisces that on “Apocalypse Now” Coppola spoke very little Italian and he spoke very little English, but their minds blended. ASC also paid tribute to a documentarian for the first time by presenting the Presidents Award to Albert Maysles (“Give Me Shelter,” “Primary”).
ASC launches the student Heritage Award, designed to provide encouragement and practical support for talented students in the final stage of their education as well as to recent grads.
William Fraker receives the Lifetime Achievement Award and Warren Beatty is given the Board of Governors Award, both stealing the show with their ad-libs.
Beatty stages a return engagement in presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award to Vittorio Storaro, recounting their adventures together on “Reds,” “Dick Tracy” and “Bulworth.” Board of Governors honoree Sally Field enthralls the throng with tales about the relationship between performers and cinematographers, recounting that if Bill Fraker didn’t have a “twinkle” in his eyes after a take on “Murphy’s Romance,” she told the director the shot didn’t feel right.
Laszlo Kovacs (“Easy Rider,” “Paper Moon,” “Shampoo”) receives a Lifetime Achievement Award during a touching presentation by Zsigmond, who recounts stories about their escape from communist Hungary and their long quest for careers in Hollywood.
It’s an especially emotional evening, with Hall receiving posthumous top honors for his work on “Road to Perdition.” Bill Butler (“Jaws,” “Grease”) receives the Lifetime Achievement nod.
Historian Kevin Brownlow receives the Award of Distinction, and his comments reinforce the notion that cinematographers have an innate ability to speak a global language without words.
For the first time in the org’s history, a non-ASC member, France’s Bruno Delbonnel (“A Very Long Engagement”), is given the feature film kudo.