The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry

Stephen Burum Will Receive ASC Lifetime Achievement Award

September 20, 2007

LOS ANGELES, September 19, 2007—Stephen H. Burum, ASC will receive the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award, which is presented annually to an individual who has made exceptional contributions to advancing the art form. The award will be presented at the 22nd Annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards celebration on January 26, 2008, here at the Hollywood and Highland Grand Ballroom.

“Stephen Burum was in the front ranks of a new generation of talented cinematographers who entered the industry during the 1970s,” says ASC President Daryn Okada. “His innovative cinematography has made a deep impression on a constantly evolving art form. This recognition is an expression of our appreciation for what he has achieved, and what is yet to come. We expect Steve to continue exploring new frontiers and lighting the way into the next generation.”

Burum earned ASC Outstanding Achievement Award nominations for The Untouchables in 1988 and The War of the Roses in 1990. He took top honors in the annual ASC competition along with an Oscar nomination for Hoffa in 1993. His body of work includes an eclectic range of other memorable films, including The Outsiders, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Rumble Fish, St. Elmo’s Fire, Casualties of War, Carlito’s Way, The Shadow, Mission: Impossible, Snake Eyes and Mission to Mars.

Burum joins a formidable cast of previous recipients of the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award, including George Folsey, ASC, Joseph Biroc, ASC, Stanley Cortez, ASC, Charles Lang, Jr., ASC, Phil Lathrop, ASC, Haskell Wexler, ASC, Conrad Hall, ASC, Gordon Willis, ASC, Sven Nykvist, ASC, Owen Roizman, ASC, Victor J. Kemper, ASC, Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, William Fraker, ASC, BSC, Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC, Laszlo Kovacs, ASC, Bill Butler, ASC, Michael Chapman, ASC, Fred Koenekamp, ASC, Richard Kline, ASC and Allen Daviau, ASC.

“Steve Burum has earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues for his ability to tell stories with images that touch the soul,” says Russ Alsobrook, ASC, who chairs the organization’s Awards Committee. “His work is often daring, and it is invariably innovative. His films have made an enduring impression.”

Burum is a third generation Californian who was born and raised in the rural community of Dinuba near Fresno. One of his grandfathers was the postmaster of Dinuba and the other one owned and edited the local newspaper. Burum took the first step on his career path during his early teens when he purchased a Kodak Brownie 8 mm camera with the money he earned by watering lawns and doing other summer chores.

After seeing a picture in Life Magazine of a soundstage at the UCLA School of Theater Arts (now the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television), and reading the accompanying article about the school, Burum enrolled. His mentors included such legendary filmmakers as Arthur Ripley, Dorothy Arzner, Henry Koster, and Charles Clarke, ASC.

“I remember when Stanley Kramer taught a producing class at UCLA,” Burum recalls. “He told us that every picture has to begin with a dream. He also warned us that you have to love this work, because it is all-consuming. I took his advice to heart.”

Burum earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at UCLA, where he also shot an estimated 70 films for other students who wanted to be directors. After graduation, Burum spent about six months shooting 16 mm animal films for Disney’s series The Wonderful World of Color.

He was drafted by the Army in 1965. After completing basic training, Burum was assigned to the Army Pictorial Center in New York. He was a cinematographer on numerous training films, including the chief of staff film report to Congress. After completing his military obligation, Burum returned to California, determined to break into the film industry as a cinematographer.

There was no defined path for outsiders to become members of the Hollywood camera union. For a while, he assisted other cinematographers who were shooting commercials and non-union, low-budget “biker” films.
Ron Dexter, ASC, whom Burum met at UCLA, hooked him up with a producer who needed a cinematographer to travel to Sweden to shoot an Ann-Margret television special. That led to opportunities to shoot film for other TV specials. By the early 1970s, Burum was also shooting non-union slasher and horror films, such as Scream Bloody Murder. Those 35 mm films were produced in a few weeks with minimal budgets. The producers usually made two or three prints and bicycled them from one drive-in theater to another, mainly in the southern states.

Another chance encounter led to opportunities for Burum to work as a lighting director for live and videotaped late-night television programs. That got him into the union in the special category of director of photography “E.”
He lit Johnny Mann’s musical variety show Stand Up and Cheer, Dinah Shore and Andy Williams specials, Sid and Marty Krofft kid shows like The Lost Saucer, and an ABC series of classic dramas called The Midnight Special. By then, Burum was shooting commercials and special effects for television, including Little House on the Prairie and Mork & Mindy series. He earned a share of a technical craft Emmy for Cosmos, a PBS TV special that explored outer space with Carl Sagan.

In 1976, his former UCLA classmate Francis Ford Coppola brought Burum to the Philippines as second unit director and cameraman on the Oscar-winning film Apocalypse Now. Burum did more second unit work on The Black Stallion with director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, ASC. When Deschanel directed The Escape Artist the following year, he gave Burum his first opportunity to earn a cinematography credit on a mainstream film.

In 1982, Burum shot Something Wicked This Way Comes, a Disney film based on a classic novel written by Ray Bradbury. He followed that film with The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, directed by Coppola, and Body Double, the first of his eight projects with Brian De Palma at the helm.

“Steve has an awesome knowledge of and reverence for the history of cinema,” Alsobrook observes. “You can see how that influences him as a filmmaker. He has generously shared his knowledge and perspectives with fellow filmmakers and the next generation of cinematographers through his many voluntary endeavors at the ASC.”

Burum re-visited his roots when he was the Kodak Cinematographer in Residence at UCLA for a semester earlier this year. Reflecting on that experience, he said, “When I was a student, I was mentored by talented and generous filmmakers. One lesson I learned is that we all have an obligation to reach out to the next generation. When students asked for advice, I told them to study art, architecture and literature, and to pay attention to what is going on in the world around them, because art imitates life.”

The ASC traces its roots to the dawn of the motion picture industry in 1913, when the Cinema Club in New York and the Static Club in Los Angeles were organized by the first generation of cinematographers, who were inventing a new language. Fifteen members of those two clubs organized the ASC in January 1919. They wrote a charter that dedicated the organization to advancing the evolving art and craft of telling stories with moving images. There are some 290 ASC members from many nations today, and 150 associate members from allied sectors of the industry.