Vilmos Zsigmond

Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC 1930-2016

We miss Vilmos. A brave man, cinematic genius, a great artist and a generous, humble spirit.

Vilmos Meters As film students in Hungary, Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond took to the war-torn streets of Budapest to shoot footage of the Russian invasion. They subsequently volunteered to smuggle it out of the country. Barely escaping with their lives, the two friends fled to America and settled in Hollywood.















After working in the underbelly of Hollywood for ten years on a string of low-budget horror and   biker movies, both men soon rose to prominence in the late 60’s and 70’s, shooting the films    that defined what came to be known as the American New Wave: with Laszlo lensing breakout classics like Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Shampoo and Paper Moon and Vilmos framing The Hired Hand, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Deer Hunter among many more. Working with directors including Robert Altman, Bob Rafelson, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, they helped create a new American film aesthetic, and pioneered innovative, fearless ways to tell stories.

No Subtitles Necessary_Vilmos Zsigmond_James Chressanthis

Told through interviews with Laszlo (who died during the making of the film) and Vilmos, as well as directors including Rafelson, Bogdanovich, John Boorman, Graeme Clifford, Richard Donner, William Richert, Mark Rydell, composer John Williams and actors such as Jon Voight, Peter Fonda, Sandra Bullock, Karen Black, Sharon Stone and Dennis Hopper in one of his last feature film appearances.

“When it comes to Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond, it’s clear that the American New Wave of the late 1960’s and early ’70s wouldn’t have flowered as it did without them.”  – Leonard  Maltin

No Subtitles Necessary is an intimate portrait of two giants of modern image making and their deep bond of brotherhood that transcended every imaginable boundary. Two Heroes. One Road.


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Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC 1930-2016

Reprise from 2010: Vladivostok: A Soviet Time Machine

Vladivostok Train Station

Vladivostok Train Station – the end of the Trans Siberian Railway its cornerstone was laid by Czar Nicholas and actor Yule Brynner’s grandfather. I walked Vladivostok looking everywhere. I can’t read any signs so I focus completely on the people, what they are doing, details of dress, what they carry, their energy. It’s busy here, jammed with traffic but as packed as the streets are the sidewalks flow with people, most walk with purpose, the ones that wait sit with intention.The light is amazing, a silky veil of marine clouds softens the edges, it often glows. I’m shooting a black and white photographic portrait so in keeping with this city’s face: harbor, ships, train station, shopping districts, pedestrian underpasses filled with little shops, new construction everywhere beside decaying buildings and crumbling roads, passageways, begging bubuschas and striking, gorgeous fashionistas (are all the Russian women so beautiful?) strutting on amazing heels, North Korean laborers digging with picks and shovels, choking traffic jams of Japanese cars, army trucks and smoky diesel buses, the whole city a fifties Soviet time machine pasted with gaudy billboards, bustling with the brightly dressed carrying Blackberries and iPhones.

I conduct a filmmaking seminar workshop at Far Eastern State Technical University. The students are bright, friendly and optimistic. They smile so much I kid them that they defy the stereotype of dour Russian pessimism. They laugh at that, they want to be free of their Soviet baggage and the opening of my film reminds them of their grandparents world only half known through the propaganda of official history versus first hand accounts. You get the feeling they want to throw that deadweight overboard but can’t. I point out parallels in the American experience that they have to “own” their history to ultimately be free of it (or free of repeating it). Through their lives Laszlo and Vilmos show us that out of great tragedy can come great art and beauty and ultimately forgiveness and renewal. When talk turns to the corporate and political oligarchs or Putin, an unspoken tension arises, looks and shrugs acknowledging that this is the big problem and challenge of their time.

Cinema is the universal language, its inherently natural to communicate with images, ever more so with each succeeding generation. The seminar becomes a workshop, I gather everyone in a tight group. Our camera has a live feed to a large flat screen monitor and we review the grammar of shot making, that we all grasp, even if we have not analyzed how we see movies and television. I tell them first of all that they already have a deep grasp of the language of images and cinema and we know how to read them as well as we do our native language. The camera is a pointing device; you point it at what is important. It is free to move and point at anything your own mind decides: “This girl’s hand writing a note panning up to her face watching the class, panning over to this man’s face watching her, panning to the rest of the group.” We quickly review all the kinds of shots and angles we can make without restriction: wide angle, telephoto detail, high or low, close and intimate or distant and objective, camera movement with almost invisible subtlety or swiftly with sharp dramatic intent. We stage little scenes and try different camera grammar. I ask them what is the next shot that we need to see? They realize they know intuitively how to shoot. We talk about the editing of those shots and point of view. To make a film you the filmmaker has to have a point of view.

FRESH FOCUS City Hearts Photography Benefit Auction and Party – October 19

Saturday, October 19 3:00-5:30 with VIP After Party 6:00pm  –  Old Canyon Ranch, Topanga tickets & map

Please give your generous support to City Hearts Kids Say “Yes” To The Arts. This critical program that has reached thousands of young people is in its 28th year providing after-school arts programs in Music, Dance, Theater, Art and Photography in the Los Angeles public schools.

The auction includes vintage and contemporary images of Ray Charles, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Seymour,  Federico Fellini, Cesar Chavez, Kristen Chenoweth,  Chevy Metal, Emma Thompson, Judy Davis and Max Adler. 40 photographers exhibiting and donating their work include Vilmos ZsigmondJeff BridgesRobin Becker,  Anthony FriedkinWalton GogginsKim Gottlieb-WalkerJane KerrJessica LangeGraham NashJane Seymour, Peter SorelBarbra Streisand, Raul VegaFelice Willat, and Henry Winkler. All this is complimented by great folks, food and music. We hope to see you there but if you cannot attend in person please consider the Online Auction by contacting City Hearts or making a direct donation

Below: GET HAPPY: Judy Davis as Judy Garland, 2000 by James Chressanthis, ASC archival print from 35mm black & white negative

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Last Thanksgiving

Last week, Toronto’s NOW columnists Susan G. Cole and Norman Wilner named Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” (1978) the best concert movie of all time. Photographed by Michael Chapman, who brought together a powerhouse cinematographic team that included Vilmos Zsigmond and László Kovács, the film documents the last concert by the 70s folk-rock group The Band, with a plethora of special guest performances by the likes of Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, and more. This is a fitting time of year to remember the film, as the concert took place on Thanksgiving Day 1976. Re-released in 2002, “The Last Waltz” is readily available on DVD.

And you can learn more about the remarkable careers of László and Vilmos in the documentary “No Subtitles Necessary,” which is available on DVD from Cinema Libre.

Zsigmond shoots “Kickstart Theft”

Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC recently shot “Kickstart Theft,” directed by Fred Goodich, ASC, a modern update of the Vittorio De Sica’s Neo-Realist classic “The Bicycle Thief” (1948) using the Sony F654K cinema camera.

Producer Band Pro Film & Digital also has a “Making Of” video online

Learn more about the remarkable movie careers of Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs at

Vilmos Zsigmond and Woody Allen

After nearly 50 years in the business, Woody Allen remains one of America’s most beloved and prolific filmmakers. Recently, Allen has called on Vilmos Zsigmond to direct photography on three pictures: Melinda and Melinda (2004), Cassandra’s Dream (2007), and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010). For someone like Allen, who has seen his fair share of productions, the choice of Zsigmond is a testament to the cinematographers refined skill and excellent reputation. Not only that, but it is increasingly the case that directors who have worked with Zsigmond once tend to return to working with him on future projects: Zsigmond has also shot multiple films for such acclaimed directors as Steven Spielberg (2 films), Robert Altman (3 films), Brian De Palma (4 films), and Mark Rydell (4 films), among others.

Will Ferrell, Radha Mitchell, and Steve Carell in Melinda and Melinda

Ashley Madekwe in Cassandra’s Dream

Lucy Punch in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

“The Mindy Project” Picked up by FOX

“Handsomely shot with a single camera by the great Vilmos Zsigmond,” says Greg Evans of Bloomberg Businessweek of the new FOX sitcom The Mindy Project, the first foray into television for the Academy-Award-winning cinematographer. The Mindy Project, which was picked up by FOX last week, takes a break this week, but will return next Tuesday, October 23 at 9:30 pm.


No Subtitles Necessary: László and Vilmos received a great review on the most recent edition of’s Culture Gabfest podcast. Panelist Dana Stevens says that the documentary is “fantastic,” that “[she] learned a lot,” and that “between the two of them, [László and Vilmos] shot…basically all the good movies of the 70s.” You can hear the full podcast here.

Louis (2010)

A few years back, first-time director Dan Pritzker made a very special film that deserves to be lauded again: Louis, a modern take on the silent film and a re-imaging of the boyhood of jazz musician Louis Armstrong. After the interest and acclaim garnered by Michel Hazanavicius‘ The Artist, it seems relevant to take another look at Pritzker’s Louis. Shot by the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond and featuring a virtuosic performance by Oscar-nominated Jackie Earle Haley, reminiscent of the great silent screen stars, Louis follows a young Armstrong (Anthony Coleman) through a turn of the century New Orleans beset with passions and pitfalls. It’s a beautiful film with a wonderful score and it well deserves another look.

Vilmos Zsigmond nominated for a 2012 Maverick Movie Award

Congratulations to Vilmos Zsigmond on being nominated for the 2012 Maverick Movie Award for Best Cinematography. The honored film, “Summer Children,” actually dates back to 1965, but was recently restored and remastered for DVD release. Zsigmond was instrumental in this process and contributed a special feature interview for the DVD, titled “Silhouettes in Shadow and Light.” Directed by James Bruner, “Summer Children” was made in the vein of the European Neo-Realism and New Wave, a style with which Zsigmond and László Kovács would later be credited for helping flourish in an American style. The film is remarkably beautiful and easily ranks among the masterpieces by Roberto Rossellini, Eric Rohmer, Chris Marker, and Alain Resnais in cinematographic terms.

“The Mindy Project” airs tonight on FOX

One of Vilmos Zsigmond‘s most recent endeavors, the new FOX series The Mindy Project, airs tonight at 9:30/8:30c. The series, from Emmy Award-nominated writer/producer and New York Times best-selling author Mindy Kaling, proves to be uproariously funny. In the able hands of Zsigmond, the series is unlike most sitcoms in the genre in that it is shot with a single camera. This will undoubtedly give “The Mindy Project” a fresh and unique look that will hopefully stand out among many network offerings this fall season.

Revisiting “Heaven’s Gate” (1980)

The legendarily troubled production Heaven’s Gate (1980), which Vilmos Zsigmond shot for director Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter), has recently garnered a sort of prominence it never achieved in its time, but one that critics agree is well deserved. Undergoing digital restoration and a re-edit for release by the Criterion CollectionHeaven’s Gate played at this year’s Venice Film Festival to great acclaim. In an interview with New York Times reporter Dennis Lim, Cimino expressed that among his favorite things about the picture are “the light and color of the images” that Zsigmond captured.

Heaven’s Gate, 1980

Heaven’s Gate, coming soon from the Criterion Collection:
Dennis Lim for the New York Times
Skylar Browning for the Missoula Independent

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!! (1964)

Although it may have alluded some of their biographies and CVs, László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond worked together on The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, a campy zombie musical shot on location in Long Beach’s Pike Amusement Park. The two cinematographers may not have been proud of this film, which was has been dubbed the “worst movie ever made,” but the whole genre of camp horror has since garnered a cult following and a recent resurgence in film and television. This renaissance does not come without due credit being given to these two pioneers, who started their Hollywood careers by filming such exploitation movies after emigrating to the U.S. in the late 1950s.

“The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies,” 1964

Thanks to Tim Grobaty of the Long Beach Press-Telegram for digging up this gem:

Vilmos Szigmond in “Side by Side”

Producer Keanu Reeves’ Side by Side (2012), an industry documentary about the digital revolution in film, which opened August 31, has been gaining momentum recently, winning an opening spot at Poland’s Plus Camerimage festival of international cinematography and garnishing positive reviews. This outtake from the film, featuring Vilmos Szigmond speaking about the importance of proper lighting, was recently featured on the Tribeca Film blog:

Zsigmond shoots The Mindy Project

Vilmos Zsigmond is in the news this week as the DP of the new Fox series The Mindy Project, created by and staring the hilarious Mindy Kaling from The Office. Peter Martin’s story on Twitch reviews Zsigmond’s first foray into this format and the trend of indie filmmakers on TV.


The Mindy Project, FOX, 2012