A quick glance at Sherwood “Woody” Omens’ resume reveals a deceptively selective list of credits. He cut his teeth as a d.p. in television before working with two celebrated bigscreen funnymen: multihyphenate Mel Brooks on “History of the World — Part I”; and B.O. kingpin Eddie Murphy on a trio of films that began with 1998’s “Coming to America” and ended with 1992’s “Harlem Nights.” The credits appear to end there, but not the work.
Omens, as anyone who’s met him will attest, radiates warmth and civility, which makes him a born educator and mentor. His d.p. resume would no doubt be longer had he not decided to dedicate himself to teaching, and it’s this selflessness that has earned him the ASC’s President’s Award.
“He’s an excellent teacher, and he built a marvelous department at USC,” says William Fraker, who, in 1988, was asked by Omens — already a part-time teacher at USC — to help find a new head for the school’s cinematography program. Owens ended up in the position himself.
“When he asked me to join the department (in 1988), I was too busy, or anyway, that’s how I felt at the time,” says Fraker. “But looking back, I was wrong. Now that I’m teaching, it’s wonderful to see what students take from your experience. Woody knew that long before I did and has received great gratification. But let’s not forget, he’s also an excellent cinematographer and could have done many more features if he had chosen to.”
Omens, now a professor emeritus, says he “always felt my students could do more with what I know than I could myself, and I’m very happy with that choice.”
Omens hopes the Presidents Award will help promote his newest educational mission: fund-raising to build the ASC’s proposed Art, Technology and Education Center.
“The center is my dream, and I’m hoping recognition from this award will give me more credibility as a fund-raiser,” he says. “(The center) will have a screening room of 150 seats — a lecture hall that ASC cinematographers can use to mentor new cinematographers, and that’s very important.”