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Cinematographer Owen Roizman, a 2017 honorary Oscar winner, looks back on his career

Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- Over the course of his career, cinematographer Owen Roizman's work on such classic films as "The French Connection," "The Exorcist," "Network" and "Tootsie" earned him five Academy Award nominations. But Roizman never actually got to take home one of those gold statuettes -- until now.

On Saturday, Roizman, 81, will be one of four film artists honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with an honorary Oscar at this year's Governors Awards.

On a recent afternoon, the Brooklyn-born Roizman, who has been retired from the movie business since the 1990s, spoke with The Times by phone from his home in Los Angeles about his 25-year career in movies, how the craft of cinematography has changed and why he turned down "Jaws."

Q: What went through your head when you learned you'd be receiving a Governors Award?

A: It was a complete surprise. I figured my days had gone and that was it -- I wasn't going to be honored by anybody anymore. I know how tough it is to get that award because I'd been a governor 1/8on the film academy's board3/8 for nine years and I was involved with many of the sessions where we selected people and voted on them. So it was especially rewarding.

Q: Early in your career, you were really shot out of a cannon, earning the first of your five Oscar nominations in 1972 for only your second film, "The French Connection." How did that change things for you?

A: Immediately after "The French Connection," I got labeled as a gritty New York street photographer, which I thought was very funny because I had never shot anything like the "The French Connection" before that. I got a kick out of that.

My primary goal was always just to serve the story and to tell the story visually the best way I knew how. The thing I'm probably the most proud of in my career is the fact that my five nominations were all for different genres.

But I gravitated toward really liking the look of realism and naturalism. I had that in my mind foremost in every film I ever did, that I wanted it to look real somehow. Even on "The Exorcist," when 1/8director3/8 Billy 1/8Friedkin3/8 and I talked about it, we thought that the more real it looked, the better the story would come across.

Q: Throughout the '70s, you worked on so many great films -- not only "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist" but "Play It Again, Sam," "The Heartbreak Kid," "Three Days of the Condor," "Network." We look back on that period as a golden age in movies. Did it feel that way to you at the time?

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