LOS ANGELES â€” Donald McAlpine, ASC, ACS will receive the 2009 American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) International Achievement Award. The tribute is presented annually to a cinematographer who has made significant and enduring contributions to the global art of filmmaking. He will be feted during the 23rd Annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards here on February 15, at the Century Plaza Hotel.
McAlpine has compiled an eclectic range of some 50 narrative credits during the past 35 years, including such memorable films as Moulin Rouge!, which earned an Oscar nomination in 2002, Breaker Morant, Predator, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Patriot Games, Peter Pan, The Time Machine, Clear and Present Danger, Mrs. Doubtfire and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is slated for release by 20th Century-Fox in April 2009.
â€œDon McAlpine is an innovative filmmaker who approaches each film with an invigorating vision that is always a refreshing exemplification of the art of visual storytelling,â€? says ASC President Daryn Okada. â€œWhether he is shooting a musical, a film based on popular fairytales, a comedy or a dark drama, his cinematography invariably transports audiences to the times and places where the stories occur, and subtleties in his images help amplify the emotional tone. Don achieves all this while being a wonderful gentleman and collaborator.â€?
McAlpine is the first Australian recipient of the ASC International Achievement Award. The previous honorees were Freddie Young, BSC; Jack Cardiff, BSC; Gabriel Figueroa, AMC; Henri Alekan, Raoul Coutard, Freddie Francis, BSC; Giuseppe Rotunno, ASC, AIC; Oswald Morris, BSC; Billy Williams, BSC, Douglas Slocombe, BSC, Witold Sobocinski, PSC, Miroslav Ondricek, ASC, ACK, Tonino Delli Colli, AIC, Gilbert Taylor, BSC, Michael Ballhaus, ASC and Walter Lassally, BSC.
â€œThis tribute is an expression of our admiration for Don McAlpine both as a human being and as an artful filmmaker,â€? says Michael Goi, ASC, chairman of the organizationâ€™s Awards Committee. â€œHis determination to follow his muse makes him a role model for every aspiring filmmaker who has a seemingly impossible dream.â€?
McAlpine has blazed an extraordinarily unconventional career path. He was born in 1934 in a rural town in the South Wales province of Australia where his father was a banker. After graduating from high school, McAlpine earned the money to take a four-week boat tour to Europe by working as a sharecropper on a wheat farm. He spent a year exploring the continent while supporting himself by working at odd jobs.
After returning home, McAlpine enrolled in college as a physical education and science major. Several of his teachers were coaches for Australian teams competing in the 1956 Olympics. McAlpine launched his cinematography career by shooting slow-motion films that the coaches used to analyze techniques of athletes on their teams.
After graduation, McAlpine taught at a rural school in Parkes, Australia, where he produced 8 mm training films that were used by gym teachers. During a field trip to Sydney, he took a group of students to visit the new national television network. On a whim, McAlpine applied for a job as a television news film stringer. They gave him 400 feet of 16 mm black-and-white film and told him to shoot and send them a story.
There was a big railroad center in Parkes that was converting from steam to diesel engines. McAlpine shot a news story documenting how that transition affected the lives of people who worked for the railroad. That got him a job as a TV news stringer. He subsequently became a full-time news photographer for the Australian Broadcasting Channel. McAlpine took the next steps on his career path when the national government organized Film Australia, which produced 35 mm color film documentaries.
A few of his short drama films caught Bruce Beresfordâ€™s eyes. In 1972, the director recruited McAlpine to collaborate with him on the production of the feature film The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. McAlpine recalls, â€œI felt like I had come home.â€?
His career took another giant step forward in 1982, beginning with a 3 a.m. phone call from Paul Mazursky. Three Australian films, My Brilliant Career, The Getting of Wisdom and Breaker Morant, had opened on cinema screens in Manhattan during a two-week period. Mazursky noticed that McAlpine had shot all three of those films.
During their first conversation, he asked McAlpine to meet him in Greece to scout locations for Tempest. McAlpineâ€™s career shifted into high gear after he collaborated with Mazursky on the making of Tempest. In 1984, he shot Harry & Son, which was directed by and featured Paul Newman in a leading role. The following year, McAlpine got his first opportunity to shoot a film on Hollywood studio sound stages when he collaborated with Mazursky on Down and Out in Beverly Hills for Disney.
Commenting on his counter-culture entry into the motion picture industry, where he has literally become a shooting star, McAlpine says, â€œI think cinematography is similar to composing music. You are born with an instinctive ability and accumulate knowledge and experience with each new film. It sound pretentious, but I can often hear the music while I am shooting a film. There is a tonal quality that you feel. No two cinematographers would shoot any film exactly the same way. Sometimes the differences are radical and other times they are subtle.â€?
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 300 ASC members from around the world today, and 150 associate members from allied sectors of the industry.
For information about the 23rd Annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards call 323-969-4333 or visit
(A photo and in-depth Q&A with McAlpine are available upon request.)