Union members pay tribute to award-winning cinematographer Allen Daviau, ASC.
by Pauline Rogers / Selected image courtesy of Bruce McBroom
The internet exploded on April 15, 2020, when it was announced that movie icon Allen Daviau, ASC, had passed away due to complications from COVID-19. Honors and memories poured in. Journalists said Daviau was a five-time Oscar nominee for classics like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Color Purple (1985), Empire of the Sun (1987), Avalon (1990) and Bugsy (1991) – but never took home an Oscar. Or how he received a BAFTA for Empire of the Sun (1997) and no less than three ASC Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award 2007 and a second Lifetime Achievement Award from the Art Directors Guild ten years earlier, not for even more nominations in the various Arts to mention.
His early years in music – before MTV – and the hundreds of commercials he shot were recognized. Fans who had a passion for the extraordinary eye of this larger-than-life artist agreed with their favorite memories of sequences that will remain embedded in the collective consciousness of the industry (and the general public).
And there was more. The ASC published an in-depth conversation with Daviau in which he shared his memories of the work that has been his passion for so many years. There was even a reprint of a conversation about his breakout film E.T. the alien. The film's star, Dee Wallace Stone, and Avalon star Elizabeth Perkins both tweeted thoughts about the profound loss they felt, though neither had worked with Daviau for many years. And as befits an artist of his size, filmmaker Stephen Spielberg said in a letter he had written that Daviau was being read at the film and television house and in the hospital at the last moments of the enormous loss Hollywood had suffered.
All of the honors above describe the fundamentals of Daviau's craftsmanship, but they do not necessarily underline his lifelong commitment to his IATSE brothers and sisters and how much Allen Daviau has done in his long and outstanding career to support them.
For this reason, for this month's Web Exclusive, we've put together some memories of the unionists whose lives have been touched by this extraordinary person.
The title of this article – Driving in the Car with Everyone – is ironic since most of those who knew or worked with Daviau knew that he wasn't driving. But when this generous man asked others to drive him, it was rarely about getting from point A to B anyway. It was more of a way to share his passion for filmmaking with his colleagues.
Hopefully Allen Daviau, ASC, watches over his local 600 brothers and sisters as we speak and enjoys this last ride we have put together. It consists of souvenir snapshots, gourmet dinners and a community of like-minded artists who all loved to "take a ride with everyone".
John W. Lindley, ASC
“On a hot, sunny afternoon in LA I drove through the front yard of an ASC open house and as I crossed the threshold of the front door I looked right and saw a group of young men and women sitting on the floor. looking at the sunlight through the windows. Her keen attention was on someone I couldn't see, but as I walked on I saw who had hypnotized this cult group. It was Allen sitting on a low chair talking about his favorite subject – cinematography.
“Part of Buddha, part of Santa Claus, all of Daviau. He shared his knowledge, enthusiasm and experience with a group of young people who were eager to hear everything he had to say. If English were not my mother tongue, I would still have understood it simply by watching. What he conveyed on that day was the value he placed on sharing his extensive knowledge, because when Allen was mixed with his artistic talent, he had reached a climax that put him at the forefront as an artist and as a person Fachs brought.
His loss is heartbreaking, but his legacy will only grow. "
Steven Poster, ASC
“Shortly after I first moved from Chicago to Hollywood in 1975, I received a call from Allen Daviau who invited me to lunch. Allen said he heard that I was doing the big migration and trying to get a foothold in the market. I was excited. We met in the old Formosa Café, where we sat down in one of Allen's famous lunches! He had already arranged a payment, so there was nothing I could do about it. But he said to me, "You have a car? I need to go home and have to make a couple of stops along the way. “Of course I took the opportunity. The stops he had to make were to introduce me to some of his customers. And that's how some of my very first jobs in Hollywood came about. "
Dejan Georgevich, ASC
“One night in 2006, I offered to drive everyone home after hours of negotiations. As we drove down Ventura Boulevard in the valley, Allen pointed out passing shop windows, photo shops where he had worked in his early years in Los Angeles. It was an unforgettable evening when he shared his excitement and passion for cinematography and culminated in an exquisite dinner in his favorite restaurant in Burbank. I will always remember Allen as a warm, kind, brilliant, legendary cinematographer who has inspired so many of us. "
Shelly Johnson, ASC
Allen Daviau, ASC, was a major mentor and teacher for me, and he seemed to be involved in all of my career milestones. He opened many doors – not only professionally, but also artistically. I met Allen when I was 18 and I was thrilled with his energy and love for the art of cinematography. He taught me to think about new techniques. New ways to tell a story by striking a balance between acquired knowledge of the science of film and a pure, artistic truth. He was generous with his wisdom and showed me that an exchange of ideas was the key to becoming a respected cameraman. One story that struck me was when I was offered the film Jurassic Park III. Allen called me home to show his film Congo and to discuss the nuances of filming a stage-jungle set. He wanted to show me what worked and what he didn't think worked (by the way, there wasn't much that didn't work). This interaction seemed to benefit me only and not to him at all. Still, we talked for hours, and what I learned went much deeper than a lighting discussion. He talked about his "reasons – why", why he made the decisions he made to best satisfy his artistic intent. I don't know why he treated me so generously for so many decades. Sometimes I am asked why I help young cameramen … and why. It is possible that Allen has presented priceless and valued debt on behalf of a former teacher. For those who haven't had a chance to meet him, you can meet him through his films, my favorite is Empire of The Sun. Allen's films are made from the heart and lovingly with wisdom and a talented mastery of art. He said his primary goal was to create images that make the pauses as eloquent as the words speak, and to create screen moments that only existed because of their photography. I think its effects on our lives are similar and I am grateful that I can continue with his pictures and his words.
From his E.T. Family…
Bruce McBroom, still photographer
“In 1982, I was hired for a small film project called A Boy’s Life, directed by Steven Spielberg. None of us received any scripts to read, just the pages for the day's shooting. We signed all security agreements and had I.D. Badge. If you showed up without your ID, you were not approved by the security forces.
“It was then that I met Allen Daviau for the first time. He was very nice, calm and generous. It was obvious that he and Spielberg had a plan, but the bulk of the crew remained figuratively and literally in the dark. There was very little light, a lot of smoke and technically demanding sets. It is still unforgettable to see how Allen and Steven worked together with all their give and take. Allen knew exactly how to achieve Steven's vision, which was sometimes very risky in terms of traditional cinematography. Each of them got the best out of the other. Given this current crisis, it feels so ironic now that I can still remember how I looked at E.T. Every morning at Laird Studios and with an N95 mask to navigate the huge, smoke-filled stage. "
Jim Plannette, gaffer
"When I was working on Cannery Row, Allen Daviau was looking for a gaffer for an upcoming project that he said would try to do a lot with little." We met and clicked immediately. Without really saying it, we played "good cop, bad cop" in this "little movie". If there was anything Steven (Spielberg) would be happy with, Allen said to him. If it wasn't good news, I told Steven! The hours weren't too long because of the children. We saw daily newspapers at Steven's because his projection was better than in the studio. A boy's life became E.T., and it became a lifelong friendship. I saw Allen at the Motion Picture Home a few months ago. Henry Thomas, the young man, the Elliott in E.T. had sent me a commercial that was on E.T. that I wanted to show everyone. He loved it and had a big smile on his face when he saw it. "
John J. Connor, cinematographer (retired as cameraman)
From commercials to features like E.T. and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Connor says he learned a lot from this "informative, always reluctant" and controlling person. "Everyone was always keen to share his knowledge," recalls Connor. "A treasure trove of information. He had a feel for all the drawbacks of assistant recording when it was difficult, and he thought about when you were recording. He was a great collaborator, open to everyone around him, and listened to all thoughts about recordings. He was a perfect mentor for everyone. You will be missed by anyone who has had the privilege of knowing and working with you, my friend. "
From his Avalon family
Barry Wetcher, still photographer
“A few weeks before we started main photography on Avalon, Allen called. It was the first time for me that a cameraman called me before we introduced ourselves. During the weekend production, Allen borrowed my magnifying glass and light box and looked at a selected group of slides. Again, who's doing this?
“Allen was really a master who painted with light in such an elegant way. Always optimize. Sometimes I looked over and there was Allen, who stuck his finger in front of a light, only to cast the slightest shadow anywhere in the frame.
“He loved eating great food and I will always appreciate a Thanksgiving dinner that he and I shared at a Baltimore hotel.
“Everyone was afraid of heights. I will always remember two handles on both sides that lead him up a very high steep staircase. On some occasions he gave me his meter and asked me to read the light. It was an honor for me. I have lost a friend. And the world has lost an incredibly talented person. "
Peter Norman, cameraman (retired as cameraman)
“Allen was a gentle man because I didn't hear a single complaint during the Avalon Bulrush demonstration. My fondest memory was of a few scenes in which he had hung a large black paper over the set directly in front of the cameras. After each shot, he came in and ripped off only a small piece of paper. Here an inverted V; there a crack; taken out a bit here – everything to let exactly the right amount of light through the scene. He did this after each shot and I could see director Barry Levinson shaking his head and smiling. It was typical of everyone. When we were filming, his whole being focused on the scene. I have a feeling that, if allowed, he would still tear off a small piece of this black paper until he "let's roll!" Listen
Bobby Mancuso, 2nd alternating current (now A-camera 1st alternating current)
“I was a second AC with Reggie Newkirk on Avalon. Allen would explain to me why he illuminated in a certain way. One little thing he told me was one of the DP's best friends, the set designer on the set. Of course, this was when we were still making films and before most of it could be done in the mail. After we finished, he asked me if I would like to come to LA to make an Albert Brooks film called Defending Your Life. I was not a member of Local 659. He said that as long as I had 100 days I was eligible. I needed letters from DPs. She called everyone personally. If it hadn't been for me, I probably would never have been 659 and would have had the career I had. He was a special man for me. And an incredible cameraman. "
From his family Van Helsing
Jimmy E. Jensen, A-camera 1st AC
“Allen was calm and shy. He was afraid of someone who knew his birthday because he was afraid that everyone would sing to him! So we found out the date and told operator Paul Babin. He organized our camera department – a cake and a Happy Birthday song on the set. The entire crew sang on time, while Paul, the second AC Nick Shuster and I all hid and laughed behind the green screen. Allen was so embarrassed and red. But it was worth the celebration he deserved so much. "
Craig Fikse, steadicam operator (now Director of Photography)
“It was just before the end of the Van Helsing schedule that Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale filmed a horse-drawn carriage scene. Out of the blue, Allen turned to me and said, "Craig, do you have a light meter?" I was surprised because I wasn't sure where he was going with the question. It was years since I used my light meter. I would have to dust it off and I was sure that the batteries were long empty. Still, I answered, "Yes." Allen said, "Great, you need to take a quick splinter shot. It's a close-up of Frankenstein in the rain with a flash that hangs 20 feet over a 40 foot by 40 foot blue screen. Do you think you can do it? "
"I'm freezing. Did he actually ask me to make a film about this huge film for him? Try my cameraman chops? We briefly talked about his vision and he sent me, the lighting man and the key handle, on our way. Within a few hours, I found myself and my first AC, Al Cohen, 30 feet in a condor and looked straight down the wall, and actor Shuler Hensley, who had been doing makeup for hours, was raised and director Stephen Sommers came over to direct the scene I stretched out my light meter (with fresh batteries).
"When the scene was done, Allen asked," How did it go? "I hesitated and replied:" Ok. "Allen nodded and smiled." Great. Tomorrow morning, at 5:30 am, I want you to meet me at Technicolor. We'll check your newspapers together. "
"I was so nervous when I sat next to him the next day. I was hoping we wouldn't stare at a black screen with nothing visible. He thought I had underexposed the key light a third of an aperture. But he also said that the eyesight and the strikes were on the money. "Sometimes you have to make decisions," he told me. "I think you made the right ones." When someone places a task in front of me or a shot that appears to be out of my comfort zone, I think back to Allen and his encouragement. I remember that this business is about taking on challenges. "
Cameraman Shana Hagan, A member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences for Feature Films, who has made Oscar-winning documentaries such as Breathing Lessons and more than a dozen Sundance Film Festival debuts, sums up what it was like to enter the world of Allen Daviau. Daviau not only shared his art, special car rides with intimate insights into his past and of course the best gourmet dishes, but also taught life to everyone he touched, as Hagan says:
“Everyone has taught us how important it is to keep your creativity alive. Especially when the work is slow. Do something every day to stay creative. Watch a movie, read a book, go to a museum, work in your garden, walk around your neighborhood, take some pictures.
"And when we do that," Hagan concludes, "watch and remember the moments that inspire. Maybe it's like the late afternoon light falls on a curtain that blows in the wind and how you emotionally wake up react this light, or maybe it's a painting or a sculpture that somehow moves you, or the color of a flower that blooms in your garden, it's about staying creative by watching the world around us and from it learning. It was a gift that everyone gave to all of us. "