#1: 2005

 

   


BILL BUTLER   ASC

 

Born: 7 April 1921, Cripple Creek, Colorado, USA, as Wilmer C. Butler.

Education: Iowa Wesleyan College, Mt. Pleasant; The University of Iowa, Iowa City [Electronics].

Career: 'I studied electronic engineering and learned about radar and radios. During the Second World War, I joined the Army Signal Corps, but they gave me permission to continue my education and study high-frequency electronics. After I was discharged from the Army, I got a job at a radio station in Gary, Indiana. It was an all-music station. I was responsible for picking up performances by Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa and all the other big bands that came to Chicago. I was recruited to help build a TV station at WBKB in Chicago. Later it became Channel 7. We literally built it with soldering irons and spare parts. After we finished, Elmer Kathorn, the man who had hired me, was asked to build a television station for WGN, in Chicago. He invited me to come along with him. When I went to WGN, they had me picking up live big band shows for their radio network. When the TV station was ready to go on the air, they made me part of the engineering staff. I also operated a live television camera. It got boring after a while, because it all looked like plays, but I was always trying to do something different. One of the programs I was quite proud of was a live music show with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. […] Billy Friedkin was kind of the wonder kid at WGN. We tried a lot of new techniques. He was very inventive. […] I won an Emmy for electronic camera work. It was for the live shows we did with the symphony orchestra. I was quite shocked. […] Billy Friedkin came to me one day and said, let's shoot some film. I thought that that sounded like a great idea. Understand, neither he nor I had ever shot a foot of motion picture film. There was a group of religious organizations that get together about once a month in Chicago. They aided teenagers who were in trouble and helped people in prisons and hospitals. They asked if we could make a documentary about their work for $500. We checked case histories of teenagers who had problems and picked out a story about one who was arrested for stealing fur coats. Our film won first place in the San Francisco Film Festival. We couldn't wait to try another one. [That] was a film about a person in prison whom we met while we were shooting the first picture. It was called 'The People vs. Paul Crump'. It was a story about a man who was accused of killing a guard at a baby food factory when they held it up. Billy condensed the court records from that trial and Paul Crump's version of what happened into a script. The format was what they called a docudrama in later years. The governor looked at an early cut of the film, and based on that, he decided to commute Paul Crump's death sentence at the last moment. We were working on the film in our own time at night and on weekends with our own money. The station didn't want us to work with film because it was a different union. We knew we would get fired when they found out that we were still shooting, so we quit. Red Quinlan, at ABC, hired us and paid to finish the film. Red asked us to stay on and shoot documentaries and special shows for ABC. Billy and I did several shows at ABC including some musicals. We did that for a year or two. […] David Wolper spotted our work at a film festival. He offered both of us jobs in Hollywood. Billy went to work for him, but they didn't really need a cinematographer. I decided to stay in Chicago where I continued shooting documentaries. Billy did several nice things for Wolper and he eventually got a film with Sonny and Cher called 'Good Times'. He got part way through shooting that film and ran out of money. He called and asked if I could help him finish it. […] Billy Friedkin introduced me to Francis Ford Coppola, who was getting ready to shoot 'The Rain People'. Coppola wanted to do the entire film with all of the camera gear loaded in a pie truck, so part of the requirement was to use as few lights as possible. I told him we could do it with 20 1,000-watt quartz lights. They weren't very big. They looked like tin cans without lenses. We also had a dolly and two cameras and all the sound equipment loaded in the pie truck. We started shooting in New York and went on the road, ending up in Nebraska. After 'The Rain People', I shot a TV film called 'A Clear and Present Danger'. I was hired in Chicago and we were shooting in a Mid-Western town where they were making iron and burning coal that was smoging up the atmosphere. When they found out what we were shooting, they chased us out of town. I shot some quick background plates before we got out of town that same day. We finished the show on a stage at Universal Studios. I wasn't in the union in Los Angeles, but the rules said if you lost your location you could finish the show on a stage in Hollywood. After that, I did second unit for Bill Fraker in Canada on 'The Fox'. I shot this outdoor footage with a trained little fox in the snow. It was a beautiful setting, so what could go wrong? The producer liked the footage so much that he then hired me to go to Australia and shoot a picture called 'Adam’s Woman'. It was a period movie about the time when the prisoners in Australia were being given land to settle. When I came back from Australia, I moved to Los Angeles.' [From interview with Bob Fisher on the 'International Cinematographers Guild' website.]

Was scheduled to make his debut as director in January 1979 with 'Adrift & Beyond'.

Was named KODAK Cinematographer in Residence at the University of Arizona [Department of Media Arts] in 2006.

His daughters Genevieve and Chelsea are film/tv actresses.

Appeared in the doc's 'Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography' [1991], "The Making of Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws'" [1995, Laurent Bouzereau; 125m], "The Making of 'Frailty'" [2002, Scott Thomson], 'Jaws: The E! True Hollywood Story' [2002; tv-doc/85m], 'Tell Them Who You Are' [2004, Mark S. Wexler; 93m], 'Cinematographer Style' [2005, Jon Fauer; ph: J. Fauer, Jeff Laszlo, Brian Heller & David Morgan] & 'The Shark Is Still Working - The Impact and Legacy of 'Jaws'' [prod: James Gelet, Jack Gove, a.o.; ph: Erik Hollander; 120m].

Awards: 'Oscar' AA nom [1975; shared] & BAFTA Film Award nom [1977; shared] for 'One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest'; 'Emmy' Award [1976/7] for 'Raid on Entebbe'; 'Emmy' Award [1984] for 'A Streetcar Named Desire'; Stockholm FF Award [1997] for 'Deceiver'; ASC 'Lifetime Achievement Award' [2002].


Jason Whyte [2005]: How do you feel that the advance of technology has affected your job? By that I mean newer film stocks, the advance of high-definition, the digital revolution.

Bill Butler: All of the things that you mentioned definitely affect my job, and affect what I do and how I do it. It's a challenge for me to keep up information-wise to know what these things all mean. If you're talking about digital photography, the challenge is to know how to get the best quality and which system is best to use. Some of these systems use compression, there are several kinds of compressions; it is important to understand what that is and what it means. For example, the new Viper cameras do not use compression at all, but records onto a hard disk and adds the corrections later. They claim by that to get better quality, and so on; the point is that it is important to understand all of these things, to make a decision on your own part if you're shooting digital, which system you want to use. Panasonic has a system where they use curves to correct what their camera does so it looks more like film and that is quite impressive.

JW: Where do you stand on high-definition versus 35mm film?

BB: It isn't a matter of just having an opinion, but your opinion must be based on fact. And the fact is that film is probably about twice the quality that the best high-definition has. Film still is the best. Part of the reason is the latitude that you get on film far exceeds anything that you can get on high-definition video yet, at this point in time. Someday it may get better, but at the moment, film far out-reaches the quality of the amount of information that can be captured in one little area. Film still stands as the leader, and the new stock that Kodak is putting out has an extra stop of latitude towards to both top and bottom. It's absolutely beautiful.

JW: Do you have a personal preference in which aspect ratio to shoot in for each project?

BB: It doesn't matter too much in which aspect the director decides to shoot in. It's a different composition; you compose differently in one format against the other. Close-ups are easier in the spherical 1.85:1 format, and in any of the widescreen formats you have to do it a little differently. They both work and they both have their own challenges. If you're showing a large horizontal view and you want the widescreen to show the territory, then that's a good choice. If it's a little, tight, personal film, then maybe not.

JW: Where do you stand on the Super 35 widescreen format? [Super 35 is a spherical widescreen process where the film's negative is shot in the 1.85:1 "Flat" format and then optically converted to an anamorphic release print.]

BB: Super 35 is a great format. It's one of the best choices that you can make today, and the reason it's better now is because of digital intermediate printing.

JW: What's great too is that digital intermediates have recently went up to 4k resolution as opposed to 2k resolution, which greatly enhances print quality. 'Spider-Man 2' and 'I, Robot' are examples of films shot in Super 35 and DI'ed to 4k resolution and they look absolutely breathtaking on screen.

BB: Oh yeah. You're doubling your image quality, digitally, but they still have to back off the film quality a little bit.

JW: But I still want it to look like film. You're going to a theatre to see FILM, not digital. A lot of the films shot in HD look a bit disappointing to me [when transferred to film].

BB: Digital both in sound and in picture has a harsher quality, and in fact sometimes the detail lacks the softness that you get from a lens, especially a lens that's out of focus in the background and sharp focus in the foreground, which tends to bring that image forward and focus your attention on it better. In situations like that, sometimes the digital doesn't feel quite as right, it isn't quite as natural… That kind of human experience, you're kind of further away in digital sometimes than you are in film. [From interview - Profile Interview Series Vol. #7 - by Jason Whyte published on the EFilmCritic.com website, 2005]


 

 FILMS

1962

The People vs. Paul Crump [William Friedkin] 16mm/b&w; doc/53m

196?

A Tale of Two Cities [William Friedkin] ?; doc/?m

1964

Fearless Frank/Frank's Greatest Adventure [Philip Kaufman] ts/c

1967

The Rain People [Francis Ford Coppola] c; as Wilmer Butler

1967

D.H. Lawrence's The Fox [Mark Rydell] c; uncred titles + outdoor ph; ph: William Fraker

1968

Adam's Woman/Return of the Boomerang [Philip Leacock] p/c

1969

The Return of Count Yorga/Curse of Count Yorga [Bob Kelljan] c

1970

Drive, He Said [Jack Nicholson] c

1971

The Godfather [Francis Ford Coppola] c; uncred 2uc (shot West Coast scenes and finished prod after Gordon Willis had gone to another assignment); ph: Gordon Willis

1971

Deliverance [John Boorman] p/c; 2uc; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1971

Hickey & Boggs [Robert Culp] c; 2uc: Rexford Metz & Rex Hosea

1972

Melinda [Hugh A. Robertson] c

1972

Running Wild [Robert McCahon] c; unit cinematographer: Jack Willoughby

1972

Deathmaster [Ray Danton] c; as Wilmer C. Butler

1972

The Conversation [Francis Ford Coppola] c; took over from Haskell Wexler after 3 weeks

1973

The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery [Dean Hargrove] c

1973

Sunshine Part II/My Sweet Lady [Daniel Haller, John Badham, Robert Day, Joseph Sargent & Leon Benson] c; cph: Harry L. Wolf & Leonard J. South; released 1975; see Television (1973)

 

"Jaws"

 

1974

Jaws [Steven Spielberg] p/c; live shark ph: Ron & Valerie Taylor; uwph: Rexford Metz & Michael Duggan

1975

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest [Milos Forman] c; cph: Haskell Wexler; addph: William Fraker; was addph but took over 1st unit ph from Haskell Wexler during shooting

1975

Lipstick [Lamont Johnson] c; addph: William Fraker

1976

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings [John Badham] c

1976

Demon Seed/Proteus Generation [Donald Cammell] p/c; montages (+ ed): Francisco Mazzola

1976

Alex & the Gypsy/Love and Other Crimes [John Korty] c

1977

Capricorn One [Peter Hyams] p/c; aph: David Butler

1977

Grease [Randal Kleiser] p/c

1977

Damien: Omen II [Don Taylor (replaced Mike Hodges)] p/c; Israel ph: Gilbert Taylor; miniatures ph: Stanley Cortez; uwph: Al Giddings

1978

Ice Castles [Donald Wrye] c

1978

Uncle Joe Shannon [Joseph C. Hanwright] c

1978

Rocky II [Sylvester Stallone] c; addph: Bruce Hoffman

1979

Can't Stop the Music/Discoland [Nancy Walker] p/c; 2uc: Dick Kratina

1980

It's My Turn/A Perfect Circle [Claudia Weill] c

1980

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia [Ronald F. Maxwell] c; addph: Fred Batka

1980

Stripes [Ivan Reitman] c

1981

Rocky III/Eye of the Tiger [Sylvester Stallone] c; special ph: Neil Leifer

1981

The Sting II [Jeremy Paul Kagan] c; spec vfx: Albert Whitlock; matte ph: Bill Taylor

1984

Big Trouble [John Cassavetes] p/c

1985

Rocky IV [Sylvester Stallone] c

1985

Beer/The Selling of America [Patrick Kelly] c

1985

Legal Eagles [Ivan Reitman] p/c; addph; ph: László Kovács

1986

Wildfire [Zalman King] c

1987

Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues [Mike Nichols] c; aph: David Lawrence Butler

1988

Child's Play [Tom Holland] c; 2uc: James Blanford

1990

Graffiti Bridge/Purple Rain II [Prince] c

1991

Hot Shots! [Jim Abrahams] c; aph: Paul Byrd; anim ph: Robert Maine; matte ph: Brian Adams

1991

Sniper [Luis Llosa] c

199?

Vampire Blood [?] ?

1992

Cop and a Half/Cop & ½ [Henry Winkler] c; 2uc: Frank Flynn

1993

Beethoven's 2nd [Rod Daniel] c; 2uc: Michael Benson & Earl Clark; aph: James Gavin

1995

Flipper [Alan Shapiro] s35/c; uwph: Pete Romano

1995

Mother [Albert Brooks] c; San Francisco ph; ph: Lajos Koltai

1996

Anaconda [Luis Llosa] s35/c; aph: Toca Seabra; uwph: Pete Romano; vfx ph: Allen Blaisdell

1996

Deceiver/Liar [Jonas & Joshua Pate] J-D-C Scope/c

1999

Ropewalk/Hanginaround [Matt Brown] c

2000

Frailty [Bill Paxton] c; uncred 2uc: Malik Hassan Sayeed, Arthur Jafa & Patrick Turley; ph 'b' cam unit: David Golia

2003

Berserker [Josh Eckberg] scope/c; short/25m

2003

Barely Love [William Lawrence Hess] short; announced as doph; status unknown

2003

Seizure [William Lawrence Hess] announced as doph; status unknown

2004

Zombie Prom [Vince Marcello] s35/c; short/36m; cph: Brian McAward; 2uc: Andre Lascaris; prod USC

2004

Funny Money [Leslie Greif] c; 2uc: Gabriel Kosuth

2005

The Plague [Hal Masonberg] s35/c/V

2006

Redline [Andy Cheng] s35/c; 2uc: Andrea V. Rossotto; aph: Steve Koster

 

[Left] with dir Richard Dutcher - "Evil Angel"

 

2006

Evil Angel [Richard Dutcher] c; 2uc: Matthew Williams

2007

Looking Up Dresses [Jared Ingram] c; short/12m

2008

Limousine/Kierowca/Limo Driver/The Chauffeur [Jérôme Dassier] c

2012

The Boys at the Bar [Richard Dutcher] c

2013

Mars [Sohrab Mirmont] pre-production

 

 TELEVISION

1964

The Bold Men [William Friedkin] doc/b&w/52m/16mm; cph: Vilis Lapenieks, James Crabe, Primo Sanchez, a.o.

1969

A Clear and Present Danger [James Goldstone] 2hr pilot for series 'The Bold Ones: The Senator'

1971

Something Evil [Steven Spielberg] tvm

1972

Savage/Watch Dog/The Savage File [Steven Spielberg] pilot; for NBC-tv

1972

Ghost Story/Circle of Fear [ep #1 'The Dead We Leave Behind' dir by Paul Stanley, #2 'The Concrete Captain' dir by Richard Donner & #3 'At the Cradle Foot' dir by Don McDougall, #5 'The Summer House' dir by Leo Penn & #6 'Alter-Ego' dir by David Lowell Rich] pilot + 22-part series, 1972-73; other ph: Joseph Biroc (pilot/ep #0) & Emmett Bergholtz

1972

Hernandez [?] ?

1973

Sunshine [Joseph Sargent] pilot; for CBS-tv; comp of pilot + several ep was shown in theatres outside USA as 'Sunshine Part II/My Sweet Lady' (1975)

1973

I Heard the Owl Call My Name [Daryl Duke] tvm

1973

Deliver Us from Evil [Boris Sagal] tvm

1973

Indict and Convict [Boris Sagal] tvm

1973

The Execution of Private Slovik [Lamont Johnson] tvm

1974

Target Risk [Robert Scheerer] pilot; for NBC-tv

1974

Hustling [Joseph Sargent] tvm

1974

The Big Rip-Off/McCoy [Dean Hargrove] pilot; for NBC-tv

1975

Fear on Trial [Lamont Johnson] tvm

1976

Raid on Entebbe [Irvin Kershner] tvm; 2uc: Terry Meade; also in theatres outside USA

1977

Mary White [Jud Taylor] tvm

1979

Death Ray 2000/T.R. Sloane [Lee H. Katzin] tvm

1981

Killing at Hell's Gate [Jerry Jameson] tvm; 2uc: Roger C. Brown

 

 

1982

The Thorn Birds [Daryl Duke] 4-part miniseries

1982

Hollywood: The Gift of Laughter [Jack Haley Jr.] 3-part comp + guests

1983

A Streetcar Named Desire [John Erman] tvm

1987

Bates Motel [Richard Rothstein] tvm/b&w-c (originally made as a pilot for NBC-tv)

1989

When We Were Young/That Magic Moment [Daryl Duke] tvm

1991

Brooklyn Bridge [Brad Silberling & Craig Zisk] 34-part series, 1991-93; other ph: Kenneth Zunder

1994

A Walton Wedding [Robert Ellis Miller] tvm

1996

Dark Skies [pilot 'The Awakening' dir by Tobe Hooper] 20-part series, 1996-97; other ph: Steve Yaconelli; 2uc: David L. Parrish

1997

Don King: Only in America [John Herzfeld] tvm

1998

Passing Glory [Steve James] tvm

1998

G vs E [ep #1 'Orange Volvo' dir by Jonas & Josh Pate] 22-part series, 1999-2000; 1st season, 1999 (11 ep); cph: Bill Marley & Mike Grady; other ph: Michael Grady (#2 & #4-11) & Patrick Darrin (#3)

1999

good vs evil/G vs E [ep #22 'Underworld' dir by Jonas & Josh Pate] 2nd season, 2000 (11 ep); cph: Michael Grady; other ph (#12-21): Michael Grady; ep #22 was originally intended as the pilot; see 1998

2000

Hendrix [Leon Ichaso] tvm; cph: Claudio Chea Ariza

2001

Joe and Max [Steve James] tvm; 2uc: Sönke Hansen

 

 MISCELLANEOUS

1959

1001 Arabian Nights [Jack Kinney; anim/75m] co-c.op

1965

Good Times [William Friedkin] special cons on mus seq (as Wilmer Butler); ph: Robert Wyckoff

1979

Xanadu [Robert Greenwald] tech asst skating seq; ph: Victor J. Kemper

1981

The Secret of NIMH [Don Bluth; anim/82m] uncred visual cons

2006

brando. [Leslie Greif & Mimi Freedman; doc/165m] lighting cons; ph: Randy Krehbiel