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    This is a story about the Worlds most Expensive Home Movie.

    To understand how crazy this is you have to have a little background on the greatest cinematographer to have worked in American film, Vilmos Zsigmond.

    Vilmos escaped from Hungary during their revolution against Russia. He carried out his footage of the street war between the Hungarians with rocks and Molotov cocktails and the Russians with their tanks. He was a classically trained Cinematographer from the famous Hungarian film school.

    Eventually he made his way to Hollywood and first worked on low budget horror films like The Crawling Eye, The Crazy Mixed Up Teenage Zombies, and others all under an assumed name. Later he moved into commercials and then the big show, feature films. His work is so prolific that when we were working on a film back in the 80’s Panavision came to the set and presented him with a gold plated lens finder with 75 of his movies engraved on it. He won his first American Academy Award for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Almost every film we did together was nominated for some kind of Cinematography award, if not here then in Europe. The point here is that with each success his agent could ask for more money and soon he was the most expensive cameraman in the world. And, holding on to his coattails I became the most expensive gaffer to hire.

    At one point the two of us became exhausted going from one film to the next without a break. One day Vilmos ask me if I would want to go back to doing commercials for a few years so we could rest. I was very much in favor of that; half the work, twice the money and I could demand that all my equipment be used. So, away we went. While others were doing toilet paper and cereal boxes we got all the big worldwide contracts. American Express, Merrill Lynch, Airlines, Cruise ships, GE, Siemens, Japanese commercials, Italian commercials. It was great. Instead of the grueling six-month slog that is making movies we would get a call say in Prague, CZ. Fly there, rest one day, spend a day getting to know the Director and maybe a production meeting, a day spent looking at a location or several days looking at several locations, a day or two interviewing and putting together a crew, then shoot the commercial. Best part, say the commercial was going around the world shooting at several locations. It would be, fly, scout, hire crew, gather equipment, shoot. So there could be times where for everyday of shooting there maybe 3-4 days of flying, scouting, having the company take you to world class restaurants, for every one day of real work. I would have been happy to never go back to making movies.

    So, how does this become the world’s most expensive home movie? We were shooting a Siemens commercial in Munich and on Weds. and Friday evenings giving lectures at the University. In exchange the University gave us a choice of any BMW we wanted but that is another story. One evening Vilmos started rushing me while I was lighting and told me we had to finish early. I asked him why; it would just mean going back to the hotel and be bored until the next morning. He told me that his agent had scheduled us to meet with a client that wanted to hire us when we got back to the states.

    So that evening we go to a hotel and a suite bigger than my house. We met a Russian real estate mogul gazillionaire, his wife, and three kids. Turns out that they had recently finished a trip around the world. Their trip itself sounded like a movie in that they sailed, drove, used trains, and hiked. They oldest boy of 16 had filmed the entire trip with a 16mm camera and they wanted to have it edited into a film they could show their friends.

    In order to “spice” up the film and take it from a family travelogue to an adventure film they wanted to hire us to shoot some additional footage. At this point I am looking at Vilmos trying to get his read on this while thinking to myself, “Are these people nuts?” Why don’t they just go hire some college students to do the work and save themselves a lot of money?

    Well, Vilmos said yes so, I said yes. On the way back to the hotel I asked Vilmos, “We aren’t giving away our time and services are we? They are talking about several weeks work and I don’t want to waste my time with them when I could be renting my equipment to a paying job.” Vilmos said that his agent pitched them a rate 50% above our normal pay and they went for it because they wanted to say they had Academy Award winning people on their movie.

    When we arrived back in LA a construction crew was hired and first up was an island community with the family on their sailboat being attacked by pirates. Yes, I said pirates. Boats, cannons, swords, extras, and costumes the whole works. That took two weeks of filming.

    Next up. The jungle. In the jungle we had them fighting off tigers and meeting up with various characters.

    Then, off to Tuscan AZ where we used the old western town in Mescal so they could have various adventures with saloons, cowboys, Indians.

    From there we went to Alaska, then Tunisia, then Malta, and finally finished up in Monaco. I have no idea how much the final film cost nor did I ever see it. But, I am sure that that there will never be a more expensive Home Movie.

  • #2

    "In 2003, a survey conducted by the International Cinematographers Guild placed Zsigmond among the ten most influential cinematographers in history."

    Wiki LINK


    Practicing Curmudgeon & Audio Snob
    ....just an "ON" switch, Please!



    • #3
      Last year we went to China to work on a very large Chinese produced WWII movie. Vilmos was still sharp and full of energy although he had some trouble with walking due to knee problems. In Nov. I had Thanksgiving dinner with him and his wife, Susan in their home in Big Sur. Two months later Susan called me up to tell me he had passed away. He was more of a father to me than my real father. We traveled the world together, drank together, laughed together. I still get a lump in my throat looking at his picture. He had more life in him than 10 normal people and he gave of himself to the film community helping any young cinematographer that approached him. In America people don't know who cinematographers are. In many countries in Europe they are admired like movie stars. I have been in many restaurants with Vilmos where when he hands them his credit cards suddenly everything is free, chefs come out from the kitchen and diners ask for autographs. My life will never have the joy in it that it did while he was alive.


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