Above-the-line obituaries tend to generate big headlines and major retrospective packages in the media, but the untimely loss of a below-the-line worker usually receives far less attention.
Sally Menke’s death at 56 was not one of those that went unnoticed. The disappearance of Quentin Tarantino’s longtime editor (she worked on every Tarantino film since “Reservoir Dogs”) during a Los Angeles heat wave in September, 2010, got nationwide publicity.
She had gone hiking in Griffith Park; her body was found in a ravine with her dog nearby. A lover of the outdoors, she learned she had landed the “Reservoir” job while hiking in Canada. At the time, Blighty’s Guardian newspaper quoted her as saying, “I let out a yell that echoed around the mountain.”
Natural causes claimed cinematographer Ric Waite in February. Despite being 78 he was far from retirement. Rather, the former Air Force vet-turned-photographer was prepping 2013’s “Legacy” when he died. Photography led to a career in film, plus three Emmy noms for his TV work. He segued into features with “Footloose” and “Red Dawn.” On his final blog post, one month before his death, he reminisced about shooting “Red Dawn” in minus-39-degree temperatures: “Now that’s tough filmmaking.”
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D.p. Denny Hall died while his career was in full swing. The 54-year-old suffered a heart attack in his hotel in New Orleans in October. Hall got his start as a camera operator and became known for his work on shows including “Magnum, P.I.” He was working on USA’s “Common Law” at the time.
The Big Easy is also where Tarantino shot some of the upcoming “Django Unchained.” Veteran production designer J. Michael Riva was preparing to work on-set there when he suffered a stroke in June and died a week later.
Riva, 63, had four decades of experience, an Oscar nom for “The Color Purple,” and worked on films including “The Goonies” and “Iron Man.”
He came by his Hollywood stripes naturally: his grandmother was Marlene Deitrich, his mother a stage actress and his father a Broadway set designer.
“Design has been an extraordinary gift for me,” he said at 2009’s 5D Conference.