ASC Close-Up: King Baggot

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
I was mesmerized by the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, starring Kirk Douglas.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
To be honest, I admire all men and women who are cinematographers. I know the level of difficulty of the profession.

What sparked your interest in photography?
I come from a family that worked in the entertainment industry. My grandfather was an actor and a director. My father was a camera operator. My passion for photography created an easy transition into the industry.

Where did you train and/or study?
I was trained on the job. I was lucky to work at ABC TV as an apprentice in the news department.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Ric Waite, ASC was my mentor. I was his camera operator. His inspiration influenced my work tremendously.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Only one: Rembrandt.

How did you get your first break in the business?
During the Los Angeles Watts Riots in 1965, I was the assistant cameraman with ABC News. A Molotov cocktail was thrown in our car and wounded our soundman and startled the cameraman. The cameraman did not feel comfortable returning to work. I was promoted and covered the Watts Riots as the head cameraman.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
I am most proud of working with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster on the iconic movie Tough Guys. Admiring the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a young boy, and being able to work with Kirk Douglas many years later, was truly a magical moment for me.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Many… It is how I learned to become a cinematographer. I tried not to repeat the same mistakes.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
My father always said, ‘Treat people as you would like to be treated.’ It has served me well.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
The movies of today with advanced technology are astonishing to watch.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
Luckily, I have been a cinematographer long enough that I was able to shoot all genres.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
My passion and focus was always photography. I could not have imagined choosing another profession.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
John Bailey, Frank Phillips and Leonard South. Ric Waite and William Fraker were strong advocates for me as well.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
ASC membership has been a blessing in my life. The cinematographers that carry the ASC initials after their names are the key to the Society. I have received the greatest satisfaction in meeting them at social events and sharing our life experiences. Priceless. 

•••

The following excerpt is from American Cinematographer, August, 1991, announcing Baggot’s entry into the ASC:

[The cinematographer's] grandfather was the pioneer actor and director King Baggot, who helped put Universal on the map in its formative years with such productions as Ivanhoe and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His father was a well-known operative cameraman who died in 1964 while working with Frank Phillips, ASC. The present King Baggot, who was born in Washington, D. C. in 1943, is Phillips' godson.

"I started in 1964 as a newsreel cameraman," Baggot told AC. "I worked for ABC from 1964 through 1977 and won five Emmys for news camera coverage, shooting such events as the Watts riots and the Robert Kennedy 1968 acceptance speech in which he was assassinated.

"I shot over 200 documentaries on all subjects and won the Peabody Award for one of the first documentaries on breast cancer. I left ABC to work as a camera operator in 1977 and worked with such notables as Lennie South, Rick Waite, John Bailey and Bill Fraker. My first job as director of photography came in 1979 when I worked on Oliver Stone's first film, The Hand."

Baggot has since worked for Disney-Touchstone, Universal, Columbia, Vestron, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., and all the major TV networks.

Among Baggot's feature credits are Dream A Little Dream, Vice Versa, Tough Guys, Gotcha, Revenge of the Nerds, Oh God You Devil, The Last Starfighter, Dr. Detroit, Second Thoughts, Some Kind of Hero, Beatlemania, Fast-Walking and Cheech and Chong's Next Movie.

You’ll find more about his work here.

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