Veteran DP Adam Greenberg on His Journey to Hollywood, Work on ‘Terminator’ Movies

Cinematographer Adam Greenberg, who earned an Oscar nomination for his work on James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” began to learn the craft of filmmaking working in the Israeli Army’s photo section.

Landing a technician job in a one-room production lab in Tel Aviv, he used his downtime wisely. “Reading old copies of Cinematographer magazine was my training,” says Greenberg (born Grinberg), who wound up in the Middle East at age 3, after fleeing from the Nazi war machine in his native Krakow in 1942 with his two sisters. “The articles taught me how to shoot newsreels.” Using “short ends” — partial rolls of unexposed film stock left in a camera — he applied techniques he learned from the magazine and processed the film himself.

Eventually earning an assistant’s job, Greenberg interned on David Perlov’s seminal 1963 short documentary “In Jerusalem.” That led to work on Israel Becker’s far-out Hebrew-language musical comedy “The Flying Matchmaker.” He reunited with Perlov in 1967, lensing the documentary “Theatre in Israel,” and crewed on the director’s celebrated 1969 doc “42:6 — Ben Gurion.” To film aerial coverage, Greenberg parachuted from an airplane and shot while plummeting earthward. 

After landing cinematographer status with hit Israeli television series “Lool” (1970), he made his first connection with Hollywood on Jerry Hopper’s “His Name Was Madron,” starring Richard Boone. The low-budget Western filmed in Israel’s Negev desert, and Greenberg was among the locals hired on the shoot.

Popular on Variety

He continued working on Israeli action productions like Menahem Golan’s “Diamonds” and “Operation Thunderbolt” in the mid-’70s, and stretched into romantic comedy for Boaz Davidson’s “Lemon Popsicle” in 1978, produced by Golan. Greenberg’s Tinseltown breakthrough came two years later. Roger Corman’s brother Gene, a producer on “The Big Red One,” whom Greenberg had met while working on 1976 drama “The Passover Plot,” connected the DP to the film’s director, Sam Fuller. Though barely able to speak or read English, Greenberg impressed Fuller in dailies with hand-held action footage, assigning five cameras to the mix. 

Greenberg most remembers the film for its star. “I was in heaven working with Lee Marvin,” he says. “He got it.” The cinematographer recalls Marvin as a “father figure,” running a mini-boot camp for the other actors.

Emigrating to the United States soon after, the DP made a name for himself in 1984 with James Cameron’s “The Terminator.” When Cameron asked him why he wanted the job, Greenberg responded: “I need exposure. I need people to see what I can do, and I think this will be a very big movie.” He proved himself right. Shooting Arnold Schwarzenegger from the thighs up to look larger — and lit in full blues and half-greens — he strove to give the film a signature cold and static look that audiences would remember. 

For Greenberg, the project also established a bond with Schwarzenegger, with whom he worked on “Terminator 2,” “Eraser,” “Junior” and “Collateral Damage.” Other films that bear Greenberg’s stamp include “Rush Hour,” “Ghost,” “Dave,” “Sister Act,” “First Knight,” “Snakes on a Plane” and “Sphere.”

Currently retired, Greenberg lives with his wife, Varda, in Brentwood. But, he admits, he’s “still looking for a great script.” 

More Artisans

  • Claire Danes as Carrie in HOMELAND,

    Lesli Linka Glatter Breaks Down the Beginning of the End of 'Homeland'

    The idea that Showtime’s “Homeland” is drawing to an end after eight seasons hasn’t quite sunken in yet for executive producer Lesli Linka Glatter. “It’s bittersweet,” she admits. “In any career, you only get a few of these where the material is incredible, challenging and provocative.” But although she is already onto scouting locations for [...]

  • John Singleton Victoria Mahoney Spike Lee

    In Honor of Black History Month, a Look at Black Directors Who Made History

    In 2019, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reported that 2018 was a historic year for black filmmakers, noting a “record high when it came to hiring black directors.” The report reflected a significant change, showing the push for diversity both behind and in front of the camera. Though the numbers are increasing, the report also [...]

  • Mychael Danna Billion Dollar Composer

    Mychael Danna Is the Man Behind the Music of 'Onward' and a Billion-Dollar Composer

    Mychael Danna may be the leading proponent of musical multiculturalism in film music. An Oscar winner for “Life of Pi,” an Emmy winner for “World Without End,” composer of scores as diverse as “Moneyball” and “Girl Interrupted,” he often blends ethnic sounds with a traditional orchestra in ways that few would dare attempt. Pixar’s new [...]

  • Benh Zeitlin Wendy Movie BTS

    Benh Zeitlin Goes Old-School With Stunts and Puppets for His Peter Pan Film 'Wendy'

    It has taken eight years for Benh Zeitlin to deliver the follow-up to his Oscar-nominated 2012 feature debut “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” But you could say the idea for “Wendy,” which reimagines the classic “Peter Pan” from the viewpoint of his female friend (played by first-time actor Devin France), has been percolating far longer [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content