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

  • Shaun the sheep

    How '80s Sci-Fi Films Inspired 'Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon'

    Shaun, everyone’s favorite sheep, is back, and this time he’s facing aliens and robots in “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.” Directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan teamed together on this film for their first full-length collaboration. While the two have been working at Aardman Studios, Phelan’s background was as a story artist and Becher’s [...]

  • Emma Movie 2020

    Opulence and Frugality Inform the Look of the Latest Take on Jane Austen's 'Emma'

    Jane Austen’s “Emma” is a world of elegance and refinement; its story centers on class distinction and the power of vanity, and how those cause tension between friends and lovers. The challenge for costumer Alexandra Byrne and production designer Kave Quinn to help director Autumn de Wilde deliver her vision of the classic, which hits [...]

  • Avenue 5 HBO

    How 'Avenue 5' Set Designer Used 3D Tech to Create Spaceship Locales

    Simon Bowles designed the massive set of the Judd spaceship on HBO’s “Avenue 5” with one central thought in mind: It doesn’t matter how beautiful an environment is when you realize you might be trapped in it forever. “I’ve designed these types of enclosed spaces before,” says the production designer, who collaborated with series creator [...]

  • Diane Warren poses for a portrait

    Dear Diane Warren: Here's How to Win a Best Original Song Oscar in 2021

    Dear Diane Warren, We’re sad. When you didn’t win the best original song Oscar on Sunday’s telecast, it was like we too had been handed our 11th rejection in a row. We’ve been on this journey with you, and gosh darn it, your time to be “Academy Award winner Diane Warren” is long overdue. In [...]

  • The New Pope HBO

    Italian Casting Agents Hit the Streets for Fresh Talent for Shows Like 'The New Pope'

    When Paolo Sorrentino needed a new conclave of cardinals for HBO’s “The New Pope,” his specialized casting agent Alessandra Troisi sent a team combing through Rome’s community centers for senior citizens who, she says, are the “biggest reservoirs” from which high-ranking prelates get picked.   For cloistered nuns, Swiss Guards and papal chair-lifters, instead they [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content