If Owen Roizman had lived his childhood dream, he would have played baseball. Rather than keeping his eye on the literal ball, he focused on camera work instead — a decision that paid off with five Academy Award nominations for cinematography on “The French Connection,” “The Exorcist,” “Network,” “Tootsie” and “Wyatt Earp.” On Nov. 11, he’ll receive a Governors Award in recognition of his accomplishments.
Roizman’s father, Sol, had been a cameraman for Fox MovieTone News, but Owen hadn’t initially planned to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“When I went to school, I was best in math and physics, but when I went to job interviews my senior year and asked how much money I could make [in those fields], it wasn’t very exciting,” he says. “So I asked my father how much I could make as an assistant cameraman, and it was a lot more than a physicist or a mathematician, so I figured, ‘I’m going for the money!’”
Once in Hollywood, however, it quickly became evident that Roizman wasn’t in it just for the money: he was in it to deliver the best possible work.
“Not only do I applaud Owen’s expertise, but I think he’s an artist,” says Dustin Hoffman, who worked with Roizman on “Straight Time” and “Tootsie.”
Prior to starting “Tootsie,” Hoffman had been unhappy that they hadn’t conquered the makeup problem that left his beard shadow still slightly visible when he was in the guise of his female alter ego, soap opera actress Dorothy Michaels. Early in filming, director Sydney Pollack assured him that the problem would be solved when the film was color-corrected.
“I asked Owen, ‘What do you think? Is it because of color correction?’” says Hoffman. “And he said, ‘No. I think it’s a problem.’ This was in front of Sydney. And I don’t think Sydney liked hearing that. But that was Owen’s feeling, and I believed him, so I said, ‘I’m gonna stop shooting. Tell Columbia that we cannot resume until we’ve solved this problem.’ It was a tough moment, but Owen told the truth as he saw it. I think without him I probably would’ve shelved the picture.”
There were clearly no hard feelings on Pollack’s part: he secured Roizman to serve as his cinematographer on the 1990 film “Havana.”
“If you end up doing more than one picture with a director, it’s usually a good relationship,” says Roizman. “I made lifelong friends with a lot of those directors. Out of everything, that was the most gratifying.”