The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry

Ballhaus Will Receive ASC International Achievement Award

November 20, 2006

LOS ANGELES, November 20, 2006—Michael Ballhaus, ASC will receive the 2007 American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) International Achievement Award in recognition of the artful and enduring contributions that he has made to advancing the global art of filmmaking. He will be feted here during the 21st Annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards celebration at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on February 18, 2007.

Ballhaus has compiled some 100 narrative film credits in Germany and the United States. He has earned Oscar® nominations for Broadcast News, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Gangs of New York. A short list of his other memorable films includes The Color of Money, Goodfellas, Postcards From the Edge, Dracula, The Age of Innocence, Quiz Show, Air Force One, Primary Colors and Something’s Gotta Give. His current film, The Departed, has earned raves reviews from critics and fans.

“Michael Ballhaus was chosen for this tribute by his peers who are both awed and inspired by the breadth and scope of his artistry,” says Russ Alsobrook, ASC, chairman of the organization’s Awards Committee. “He is an extraordinary artist whose work has entertained and informed countless millions of fans around the world.”

Ballhaus was born in Berlin and raised in the Bavarian region of Germany in 1935. His parents were actors. In 1947, his family moved into a run-down castle that had a stage and rooms for 20 actors, where his parents performed and staged plays. His uncle was Carl Ballhaus, a well-known stage and screen actor.

“I saw every play many times, and also took still pictures of the actors for my parents,” he recalls. “That was my introduction to photography. I had my own little lab. At 17, I saw my first movie being made when I spent a week watching Max Ophüls direct Lola Montès. It was fascinating. There was a famous French cinematographer, who didn’t speak German, but I saw that he didn’t need to communicate with words.”

After graduating from high school, Ballhaus worked for a town photographer. In 1958, a television station in Baden Baden, Germany, hired Ballhaus to operate a live electronic camera. In 1960, he teamed up with director Peter Lilienthal to create several narrative films a year for the television station.

Ballhaus worked as an instructor at a new film school in Berlin during the late 1960s while also freelancing. He was just about finished shooting a documentary in Ireland in 1970, when an actor-producer he knew called and asked Ballhaus if he was interested in working with writer-director R.W. Fassbinder.

Ballhaus grasped the opportunity to meet and work with Fassbinder, who was already earning a reputation as “the infant terrible of the New German Cinema.” Within a few days, he was lensing WHITY, the first of his 15 collaborations with Fassbinder during a nine-year span. Some of their other joint ventures are now considered classics, including The Marriage of Maria Braun, The Stationmaster’s Wife, Fox and His Friends and Martha. Ballhaus recalls that his relationship with Fassbinder was often stormy.

“He pushed me to do the impossible and I tried to find ways to do it,” Ballhaus recalls. “I also learned about the importance of films having a visual rhythm. We never had more than 20 people working on his films, including the actors and crew. I learned to encourage and accept ideas from my crew while working with him.”

Lilienthal brought Ballhaus to New York to shoot Dear Mr. Wonderful in 1982. It was the cinematographer’s first project in the United States with an American cast and crew. The production designer was Jeffrey Townsend, who showed John Sayles the movie’s dailies. That led to his 1983 collaboration with the director on Baby It’s You.

Ballhaus subsequently shot another 35 films with other American directors, including seven with Martin Scorsese, beginning with After Hours in 1985. He has also collaborated with James L. Brooks, Mike Nichols, Francis Ford Coppola and Australian-born director Peter Yates on U.S. movies, while continuing to make films in Germany.

“Who could have predicted while I was making films at that television station in Bavaria that someday I would be working with great artists like Fassbinder and Marty Scorsese, or that my friends in ASC would honor me this way?” Ballhaus asks.

ASC President Daryn Okada observes, “Michael Ballhaus is creating an extraordinary legacy that crosses national boundaries and every imaginable genre, ranging from art house films with minimal budgets to $100 million blockbusters. He shoots dramas, comedies, romance and horror movies with consistent artistry.”

Ballhaus joins a noteworthy group of previous recipients, including Freddie Young, BSC; Jack Cardiff, BSC; Gabriel Figueroa, AMC; Henri Alekan; Raoul Coutard; Freddie Francis, BSC; Giuseppe Rotunno, ASC, AIC; Oswald Morris, BSC; Billy Williams, BSC; Douglas Slocombe, BSC; Witold Sobocinski, PSC; Miroslav Ondricek, ASC, ACK; Tonino Delli Colli, AIC; and Gilbert Taylor, BSC. He is the first German recipient of the international award.

The ASC traces its roots to the dawn of the motion picture industry in 1913, when the Cinema Club in New York and the Static Club in Los Angeles were organized by the first generation of cinematographers who were literally inventing an new language for communicating with moving images. Fifteen members of those two organizations organized the ASC in January 1919. They wrote a charter which dedicated the organization to advancing the evolving art and craft of telling stories with moving images. There are some 280 ASC members from many nations today, and 170 members from allied sectors of the industry. For information about the 21st Annual Outstanding Achievement Awards, call 323-969-4333.