The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry

George Spiro Dibie Will Receive ASC Television Career Acheivement Award

September 11, 2007

LOS ANGELES, September 4, 2007—George Spiro Dibie, ASC will receive the 2008 American Society of Cinematographers Career Achievement in Television Award. The tribute will be presented to Dibie during the 22nd Annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards celebration here on January 26 at the Hollywood and Highland Grand Ballroom.

Dibie earned five Emmy Awards and seven additional nominations for multi-camera, episodic television series between 1985 and 1998. His award-winning programs were Mr. Belvedere (1985), Growing Pains (1987 and 1991), Just the Ten of Us (1990) and Sister, Sister (1995). The other nominations were for Night Court (1986 and 1988), Growing Pains (1992), Dudley (1993) and Sister, Sister (1996, 1997, and 1998).
Dibie worked on six television series, which broke through the 100-episode barrier, beginning with Barney Miller in 1975. He also shot every Warner Bros. pilot for multi-camera series over a 10-year span, including My Sister Sam, Head of the Class, Murphy Brown, Driving Miss Daisy and The Trouble With Larry.

“George Dibie broke all the rules because he understood that there can be drama in comedy, and comedy in drama,” says Russ Alsobrook, chairman of the ASC Award Committee. “He ignored the broadcast engineers mandate to make all multi-camera shows look bright. George knew how to photograph beautiful actresses but he didn’t hesitate to use darkness and create gritty images when that was the right visual grammar.”

Dibie compiled between 1,500 and 2,000 hours of situation comedy credits on primetime television. He also shot between 60 and 70 television movies, including a number of programs for a regular, late-evening drama series called The ABC Armchair Mysteries.

“George earned this tribute from his peers in recognition of his artistry as a cinematographer,” says ASC President Daryn Okada. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that he overcame daunting odds to achieve a seemingly impossible dream. George has also dedicated himself to helping many other people achieve their dreams.”

Dibie was born and raised in Jerusalem, in Palestine, before Israel was a nation. His father was Greek and his mother came from Lebanon. He was a dedicated movie fan and an avid still photographer during his youth. After completing high school, he was hired by the United States Information Agency (U.S.I.A.) in Amman, Jordan. His job was translating reports written by members of the army in Jordan. One day, Dibie told his boss that his dream was to go to school in the United States and become a director or cinematographer in Hollywood. Seven days later, he had a U.S.I.A. scholarship and was on his way to Los Angeles.

Dibie enrolled in a film studies program at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he focused on lighting and directing stage plays. Dustin Hoffman was a classmate. Dibie supported himself by working as a waiter and busboy. He also bought a couple of 16 mm cameras and a projector, and shot films of weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events.

After Dibie graduated in 1963, he worked as a checker in a supermarket, where he shared his dream with shoppers. One of those customers worked for 20th Century Fox, and called one night to tell him to report on the studio lot for work as a day player on an electrical crew the next morning.

His first day on the job was on a set where Leon Shamroy, ASC was filming Cleopatra. He worked his way up through the ranks. He became a best boy and then a gaffer, working on crews with legendary cinematographers, including Harry Stradling, ASC, James Wong Howe, ASC, Harkness Smith, ASC, Howard Schwartz, ASC, Jack Marta, ASC, Harold Stein, ASC and Philip Lathrop, ASC.

“I learned so much by watching and listening to them,” Dibie recalls. “I was Harry Stradling’s gaffer when he shot On a Clear Day, starring Barbra Streisand. She was beautiful. I invented the Stri-light for her. Barbra really knows how to find her light.”

In 1966, Dibie and Dr. Roger Dash organized a company for the purpose of producing and distributing 16 mm documentaries and educational films. Dr. Dash researched and wrote the scripts. Dibie directed, shot and edited the films. Their first project was a 22-minute film about six black people who grew up poor in ghettos and succeeded in life. Dibie-Dash produced and distributed 20 films during the next 10 years.

Dibie’s breakthrough in Hollywood happened in 1975 when Danny Arnold recruited him to be the director of photography for Barney Miller, an episodic series produced with multiple cameras in video format. It was a 30-minute situation comedy set in a police precinct headquarters, starring Hal Linden, Abe Vigoda and an ensemble cast.

“In those days, video shows had technical directors who looked at wave form monitors in the control booth, and made sure that the key-to-fill light ratio was 2:1,” Dibie recalls. “It was a broadcast standard that the engineers wrote because they believed all video programs needed a bright look like game shows. Danny Arnold told me that he wanted a dramatic look that was right for the mood and environments where scenes were happening. If it was supposed to be dark and moody, he wanted that look.”

Barney Miller became a fan favorite with an eight-year run on television, but Dibie re-fought the same battle with television engineers on various other programs. For a number of years, the camera guild rules limited Dibie to working on multi-camera TV programs produced in video format. He challenged that rule and broke through that barrier in 1983 when he shot the multi-camera episodic series Buffalo Bill on film.

At the time, there were three different Locals representing cinematographers and camera crews in the United States. They had organized in 1928. The Local in New York represented members on the East Coast. The Local in Chicago represented members in the Midwestern states. The Los Angeles Local represented members of the West Coast.

Frank Stanley, ASC, president of the Los Angeles Local, encouraged Dibie to run for second vice president in 1984. He was elected and stepped up to president after Stanley retired because of a health problem. Dibie was re-elected in 1985. He served as president for 20 consecutive years. During that period, the three regional organizations were merged into the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600.

Dibie is credited with initiating a diversity program designed to assist women and members of racial minorities, who were under-represented in the industry, to succeed as cinematographers and camera crewmembers. He also supported a plethora of training programs designed to enable members to nurture their talents and skills.

Dibie recently participated in a seminar for film students and other aspiring filmmakers when one of them asked how he kept his spirits up when things were difficult. Dibie responded, “That’s simple. I love the work. You are helping the director, writer and producers create a fantasy world. You read a script and start to dream about what it should look like as you tell the story. To me, that is like painting, and I love to paint. This was my boyhood dream and it has all came true.”

The ASC was chartered in January 1919. There are currently 290 active members of ASC who have national roots in some 20 countries. There are also 150 associate members from sectors of the industry that support the art and craft of filmmaking. Membership and associate membership is by invitation based on contributions that individuals have made to advance the art of visual storytelling.