The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Shutter Island
John C. Flinn III, ASC
Sol Negrin, ASC
Page 2
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Five-time Emmy nominee Sol Negrin, ASC is honored with the Presidents Award for his long record of leadership and generosity.

Photos courtesy of Sol Negrin, ASC
When Sol Negrin, ASC accepted the Society’s Presidents Award last month, it capped a career of storytelling with images. Negrin began his professional career working as a camera assistant for ASC legends whose roots were in silent film; today, he is busy cultivating the cinematographers of tomorrow through his tireless education and training efforts. “Sol’s constant efforts to organize industry events and teach the next generation of image-makers their craft are selfless and without compare,” observes ASC President Michael Goi.

Negrin earned five Emmy nominations, three for episodes of the series Kojak (in 1974, 1975 and 1976), one for the telefilm The Last Tenant (1978), and one for an episode of the series Baker’s Dozen (1982). His cinematography in television commercials earned four Clio Awards, including one for American Tourister’s Bouncing Suitcase campaign in the early 1970s.

Negrin’s other credits as a director of photography include episodes of the series McCloud, The Lucie Arnaz Show, The White Shadow, St. Elsewhere and Rhoda; the telefilms Best of Friends, Dempsey, And Your Name is Jonah and Women at West Point; the music documentary The Concert for Bangladesh; and the feature films Amazing Grace (1974), Proof of the Man and Parades. He also contributed additional cinematography to many feature films, including Superman (1978), Coming to America, King Kong (1976), Jaws 2 and Robocop.

Negrin was born in New York City in 1929. His father worked in the garment industry, which the younger Negrin says he “detested.” He instead had plans to become a naval architect. He designed and built model boats at home, and had a goal of attending the U.S. Naval Academy or Webb Institute, the top two schools with naval-engineering programs. But it eventually became clear that his math skills were holding him back.

“I had an adviser who asked whether I had an avocation,” Negrin recalls. “I told him I liked photography, and he suggested I pursue that. It was good advice. I passed the exam for the High School of Industrial Arts [now the High School of Art and Design], showed some of my artwork and got in. It was the only school at that time that taught both still photography and filmmaking, and I gravitated to the film work. I shot short films for the school, which had a lot of Army surplus equipment, including 16mm Cine Special cameras.”

Negrin literally pounded on doors in New York looking for work to sustain him through high school. He held a darkroom job for two months, but he didn’t like it. He found his way to Hartley Productions, a company that produced industrials and commercials for clients such as Pan Am and the U.S. government. He started off by sweeping the floor for $5 a week, watching for any opportunity to learn. He was gradually given more responsibility, and after 18 months he became a camera assistant. When he graduated from high school and began working full time at Hartley, he got a ground-floor, hands-on education about everything related to 16mm and 35mm filmmaking. “I worked on commercials, documentaries, industrial films and, eventually, feature films and television,” he says.

In 1948, Negrin joined ADTFC/NABET, a union whose membership worked in documentaries and television. By 1952, he was able to join the International Photographers Union-Local 644, which represented commercial and feature-film camera crews. He furthered his training at City College Film Institute and took courses at the RCA Institute through the International Photographers Guild.

Negrin worked as a camera assistant from 1948 to 1960 alongside noted ASC cinematographers such as Torben Johnke, Joe Brun, Jack Priestley, Lee Garmes, Joe Biroc, Leo Tover, Harry Stradling Sr., Hans Koenekamp, Charles Lang, Charles “Buddy” Lawton, Mario Tosi and Boris Kaufman. “The best part about being an assistant is that you get to observe,” he says. “From Lee Garmes, I learned simplicity. He had an eye for composition and good taste. He knew his diffusion. He was a master in every respect. I worked with Hans Koenekamp on some visual-effects shots for Damn Yankees. He really knew his effects and was a master lighting cameraman as well. With Charles Lang, we were doing a shoot where Joan Crawford spoke to stockholders of Pepsi-Cola, which she had taken over from her late husband. Charlie photographed her as if it were a feature, using all the diffusion nets and glass as needed. That was an education in itself. Boris Kaufman was from a different generation; he was a master of hard light. Like Harry Stradling, he knew how to use one large source and make it do the work of many lamps.”

Negrin had a special relationship with Johnke, who had emigrated from Denmark. “I worked with Torben as an assistant when he first arrived in this country, and later I worked for him as a director of photography when he became a producer and director,” says Negrin. “He was one of my mentors. He had his own techniques, and he taught me a lot. We’re still friends. I worked with him on one of the last Technicolor monopack films, which we shot at the old Fox Studios on 53rd Street. We had the Bell Telephone Orchestra with about 70 musicians. The film was actually Kodachrome reversal stock. When it was processed, they made three matrix strips out of it. It was the forerunner to Eastmancolor monopack film. The exposure index was 10 or 12. There were so many Arc lamps that they had to bring in projectionists to operate them because there weren’t enough electricians who knew Arcs. We needed 1,200 footcandles just to get a T2.8 exposure! We were photographing the violinist Zino Franciscotti. It was a dolly shot into a close-up of the bow and strings of his violin, and because of the heat of the lights, we thought the violin might be damaged. It was a very difficult shot. We had to wait for the dailies because the film had to be sent to California to be processed. We were biting our fingernails, hoping it was in focus. We had been promised a new BNC camera, but the delivery was late, so we’d had to use an older Mitchell Standard, which had to be put in a blimp that made it very cumbersome. But we did the picture with it, and I was proud that it went smoothly, with no problems. It was quite an experience.”

For a few years, Negrin was on staff at MPO, which he remembers as “the MGM of commercials.” The work was steady and paid well, but it involved some exasperation and a great deal of travel. “We called it ‘More Paying Overtime,’” Negrin laughs. “They had fully-equipped studios in Queens and Manhattan, and it was the definitive operation. Their staff cinematographers included Zoli Vidor, ASC; Akos Farkas; and Gerry Hirschfeld, ASC. A lot of great cinematographers were trained there early in their careers, including [future ASC members] Owen Roizman and Gordon Willis. Gordon was my assistant on one project. There was a lot to learn. Later, I worked at Filmex, another commercial house, as a director of photography with ASC members like Adam Holender, Drummond Drury and Jack Priestley.”

When Negrin was a camera operator, he worked on TV series and feature films such as Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster, Where’s Poppa?, Across 110th Street and I, the Jury. He operated the camera on 21 episodes of The Patty Duke Show, which gained him valuable experience. He also operated the camera on Naked City, a landmark TV drama that helped establish the New York school of cinematography, founded on a gritty, location-based look. Other TV operating credits Negrin earned in this period include The Defenders, East Side-West Side and Car 54, Where Are You? Anyone who has seen Negrin take the wheels in hand, whether on a set or at a seminar, knows he is a master with a deep well of experience.

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