William A Fraker
An elder statesman of cinematography traditionally trained in the old style of the Hollywood cameraman, William A Fraker successfully bridged the gap to the newer freedoms and technological innovations of modern cinema, all the while actively campaigning to enhance the status of the director of photography within the industry power structure. His maternal grandmother, father and uncle had all worked as still photographers within the studio system, and he resolved at an early age to be a cameraman. After attending the University of Southern California's film school on the GI Bill and finding himself frozen out of The Camera Guild, Fraker scraped by as an editor at various television production companies and took non-union camera jobs shooting inserts and stock footage. He finally began as a loader in 1954 on the ABC series "The Lone Ranger" and subsequently spent over seven years on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" (ABC), rising from second assistant to operator during that time. He has often expressed his appreciation for director-star Ozzie Nelson: "If there's any success I've achieved or will achieve, I attribute the major portion of it to Ozzie."
Once he became an operator, Fraker began his association with fellow USC alum Conrad Hall on such TV shows as the Western "Stoney Burke" (ABC, 1962-63) and "The Outer Limits" (1963-65). When Hall graduated to features, he tapped Fraker as his operator for three of his first four pictures as director of photography, two of which ("Morituri" 1965, "The Professionals" 1966) earned him Oscar nominations. Fraker then made his own debut as cinematographer on "The Games" (1967) and followed quickly that year with "The Fox" and "The President's Analyst", wherein he began to push boundaries via use of faster and wider lenses, restricted lighting sources and techniques like "flashing" and deliberate overexposure. He would truly prove his mettle in 1968 with two very diverse, commercial properties. Shooting almost entirely inside, he helped director Roman Polanski capture the dreamlike, claustrophobic quality of the restrained horror classic "Rosemary's Baby". In contrast, Peter Yates' "Bullitt" exploded off the screen, and its vicious duel between a Mustang Fastback and a Dodge Charger along San Francisco's rolling hills established the benchmark for automobile chase sequences. He also landed Joshua Logan's big-budget epic musical "Paint Your Wagon" (1969) because art director-production designer John Truscott had seen "The Fox" and knew they were striving for a similar look.
"Paint Your Wagon" was the first Western feature Fraker photographed, but the homegrown Southern Californian has often steered his career back to that genre in a continuing effort to bring his vision of the West to the screen. "I love Westerns, because that period is one of the most romantic times in history," he told American Cinematographer (February 2000). He made his feature directorial debut with "Monte Walsh" (1970), based on the novel by Jack Schaefer (the author of "Shane"). The film starred Lee Marvin as an aging cowboy who realizes that the West he knew and loved was vanishing, taking his place with it as well. In addition to revisiting the West (and his professional past) for his third directing assignment, "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" (1981), which he shot in Monument Valley as an homage to director John Ford, he has also addressed his Western vision as a director of photography on the films "Rancho Deluxe" (1975), "Murphy's Romance" (1985) and "Tombstone" (1993).
Despite periodic work as a director, Fraker's first love remains cinematography, and he has frequently been invaluable as a director of photography to first-time directors like Floyd Mutrux ("Dusty and Sweets McGee" 1971), inaugurating a five-picture collaboration, and Charles Shyer ("Irreconcilable Differences" 1984), with whom he worked on two additional features. He met actor Burt Reynolds on the set of "Fade-In" (1968) and later served as cinematographer on his directing debut, "Gator" (1976), as well as for "Sharkey's Machine" (1981), not to mention directing him in the ABC movie "The Dancer's Touch" (1989). "Heaven Can Wait" (1978) successfully paired Fraker with first-time co-directors Warren Beatty and Buck Henry and allowed him to re-create the old studio lighting of the "Golden Age" pictures that had inspired him in the first place. That film earned him his second Oscar nomination (the first, "Looking for Mr. Goodbar", had come the year before), and he would garner four more nods (two for "1941" 1979, "WarGames" 1983 and "Murphy's Romance").
Fraker followed his illustrious peers Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler to shoot the last 10 days or so of Milos Forman's Academy Award-winning Best Picture "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975) and true to his mantra of "consistency" kept to the style established by his predecessors. Two decades later, he and John Frankenheimer signed on to "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1996) a week into production after the original cinematographer and director had quit over creative differences with the studio. Although he hasn't helmed a feature since "The Legend of the Lone Ranger", his directing work for TV has included six episodes of the acclaimed CBS series "Wise Guy" at the end of the 80s and a 1993 episode of "Walker, Texas Ranger" (CBS). After he worked with yet another first-timer, Stephen Kessler, on "Vegas Vacation" (1997), Fraker's inability to find meaningful material kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the 90s, but following his receipt of the 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers, he roared back with two highly-anticipated features, William Friedkin's "Rules of Engagement" (2000) and Peter Chelsom's "Town & Country" (2001), the latter reuniting him with Warren Beatty.