Russell Carpenter, ASC

Russell Carpenter, ASC
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I’m a native of Southern California, born in the San Fernando Valley in 1950. I was part of a family of two boys and two girls. When my parents divorced in 1960, my mother moved the children to the Orange County coastline. My new found friends and I made goofy and pointless 8mm films, a habit I’ve never quite shook despite changes in film technology.

I enrolled at San Diego State University to learn television directing, but instead changed my major to English and read novels for four years. To pay for school I worked at fledgling public broadcasting station, KPBS, where I learned the ropes of documentary film making. I moved back to Orange County in 1974 and shot educational films and documentaries, collaborating with a director who desperately wanted to stop edifying people and just scare the hell out of them. He convinced a local furniture outlet czar to bankroll a horror film while promising the role of a very very prominent and important zombie to the banker’s wife. We were both stunned when the movie actually got released in theaters, enjoying a theatrical run slightly shorter than the life of a housefly.

Blessed with false hope, I moved up to Los Angeles and proceeded to both starve and succumb to the terrors of LA. The competition was daunting and I was terrified of calling people on the phone. A number of temporary jobs outside the film business included pasting labels on bottles of plant vitamins by hand, handing out samples of cigarettes in supermarkets, and installing newspaper racks at night in downtown LA while stepping over homeless people sleeping in cardboard boxes. These experiences taught me to buck up and redouble my efforts.

Through a serendipitous series of connections, I was suggested to the director Jim Cameron ("Terminator," "Abyss," "Aliens"), who was looking for a good nonunion cinematographer to shoot a low budget picture he wanted to direct. Our meetings went well, but that picture collapsed due to conflicts over authorship rights. A year later, I was working in New Orleans with John Woo and received a call from Jim’s producer, who told me Jim had me in mind for an upcoming project. The only picture that was publicized at that time was a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger film called "True Lies." Though I had a tough time reconciling in my mind that Jim would choose a relatively unknown cameraman to shoot this picture, it became so. A few years later, I worked again with Jim on "Titanic" and received an Oscar for the Cinematography on that film.

I now enjoy mixing up my work schedule with a blend of small independent films and commercials when I’m not shooting larger mainstream pictures. In the last few years, I’ve been enjoying shooting romantic comedies with Robert Luketic. My last feature, "A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN," starring Kate Hudson, was shot in New Orleans and directed by Nicky Kassell.

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