DON PETERMAN

Born: 3 January 1932, Los Angeles, Calif., USA, as Donald William Peterman.

Died: 5 February 2011, Palos Verdes Estates, Los Angeles County, Calif., USA.

Education: Redondo Union High School, Redondo Beach, Calif., USA.

Career: Started at age 22 as film loader at Hal Roach Studios; became animation cameraman and optical printer operator at Cascade Studios. In 1966 he became c.op working with doph Charles F. Wheeler.

In July 1997 he was seriously injured on the outdoor set of 'Mighty Joe Young' when a camera crane snapped, sending the platform holding the camera and c.op Ray De la Motte falling on him. He reportedly suffered a broken leg and minor head injuries while De la Motte received minor chest and back injuries. Production was halted for two days [see below].

Ph commercials.

Was a member of the ASC since 1984. His son Keith is a c.op/doph; his sons Brad and Jay are c.assts.

Awards: 'Oscar' AA nom [1984] for 'Flashdance'; 'Oscar' AA nom [1987] & ASC Award nom [1987] for 'Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home'.


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'Renowned Hollywood cinematographer Donald Peterman, whose credits include the feature films 'Men in Black', 'Splash' and 'Cocoon', won a $5 million cash settlement under the representation of lead counsel Eric F. Yuhl in a product liability claim against both a camera crane manufacturer and a supplier.

During the filming of the movie 'Mighty Joe Young', on July 2, 1997, on a film set located in the San Fernando Valley, one particular frame of the movie called for an elevated shot, requiring a camera crane. Peterson and an assistant crane operator, Ray De la Motte, were sitting at the end of a camera platform, which had room for two people. Peterson and De la Motte were 25 feet in the air, filming the action, when the crane suddenly collapsed. Both men rode the collapsing platform to the ground before being ejected. Peterman sustained a head injury, fractured ribs and hip, and various other injuries. He required an internal fixation of the left hip and leg fracture and a lengthy recuperation period. Peterman sued both the manufacturer, Panther Corp., and the exclusive U.S. distributor of the failed crane, Shotmaker Co.

Counsel for Peterman contended that a defective pin in the crane caused the collapse. Peterman's counsel argued that the offending pin made of solid steel ¾ of an inch in diameter, was heat-treated during the manufacturing process, which ultimately caused the failure. Heat-treating fatigues metal parts, in this case, resulting in a break in the unit from the inside out, they said. According to Peterman's counsel, a representative of Panther Corp. admitted during his deposition that heat-treating a pin would make the pin defective, but he denied that the broken pin was manufactured by his company because they do not use heat treatments and also because the pin did not bear the company's markings. Panther's representative maintained that the pin did not belong to them, although the company allegedly admitted that no other manufacturer in the world produces those types of pins, and Panther does not always mark or stamp every pin.

'Logic would exclude anyone else from making the pin, but [Panther] pointed the finger at Shotmaker, saying that they brought the wrong leveling rod and that they may have fabricated the pin themselves,' says Yuhl. But Shotmaker pointed the finger right back at Panther, claiming that all materials supplied to the production company were manufactured by Panther.

Shotmaker, as the supplier, had delivered the crane to the set in pieces. Some leveling bars and pieces of the crane required assembly by the movie-set crew, referred to as 'grips', on site. Witnesses stated that the leveling rods, long pieces of metal that fit in a cradle and level the crane boom and platform, did not seat perfectly in place. Instead, they fit only approximately 95 percent, so the grips wrapped a bungee cord around the rod to reinforce it and to prevent it from moving during use.

The defendants contended that the improper use of the leveling rod, when the grips specifically knew that the rod didn't fit, created additional stress at the pin, causing it to fail. Michael Rhames, who focused on the liability issues of the case, states that the microscopic tests did not reveal that the pin broke due to unusual forces. Rather; the molecular structure of the pin, due to the heat-treatment, was the sole reason for its uncharacteristic break from the inside.

Another concern for plaintiff's counsel was that the defendants might argue at trial that Peterman, as the director of photography, had a supervisory role and thus had the obligation to oversee the grips' assembly of the crane. If Peterman himself was found contributorily negligent, this, too, would significantly reduce his pain and suffering award, the bulk of the damages in this case. 'We had to let the case mature to see what his ability to work was before we could file suit,' states Yuhl.

Peterman was unable to make any films for two full years, generating a substantial loss-of-future-earnings claim. Peterman was 66 at the time of the accident, and in most industries his future earnings would be limited. However, due to the unique nature of the film industry, he would be able to work at a fairly high salary, making two or three movies per year, for perhaps another 10 years. Coincidentally, at the time of the settlement, the Academy Awards had just been shown on television and Conrad Hall, 81, won the award for director of photography, boosting Peterman's damages claim.

The soon to be released feature, 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas', is Peterman's most recent credit since the accident and served as a benchmark for helping determine what his future work life would be like. Though Peterman was able to complete the shoot; it proved difficult. Peterman's rehabilitation expert testified that while Peterman could still work, he would probably, at best, be able to perform only 25 percent of what he had done in the past because, as the director of photography, he was required to climb, hike and scout locations in order to find the right shot. He would no longer be able to do that three to five times a year, as he had done before the accident.

The case took nearly two-and-a-half years to settle, partly due to the severity of Peterman's injuries, requiring an extensive recuperation period. It was questionable if he would ever be able to return to work.' [From article by Kelly E. Lee on the 'Yuhl Stoner Carr Lawyers' website.]

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'Don traced his interest in cinematography to the influence of a family friend, a special effects cameraman named Roy Seawright [1905-91], who gave him an enlarger and opened the door to his first job in the film industry. In the early 1950s, Don served in the US Army, traveling the country to film an Army documentary for television broadcast. In 1957 he married Sally Hutcheson and a few years later they settled with their young family in Palos Verdes Estates, far from the Hollywood social scene, with its good schools and open space. Don always said that falling in love with Sally and marrying her was the best thing that ever happened to him. More than anything, Don devoted himself to family. He didn't like being away from his wife and children when on location around the world, and he brought them with him whenever practical. All three of his sons followed in his professional footsteps, and they often worked together. Don's interests outside work were many. He enjoyed restoring old houses and once owned two lakefront vacation homes he had renovated on Lake Arrowhead. Fascinated by the history of World War II, he traveled to Normandy and imagined making a movie about the war. Enthralled by the romance of sailing, he loved sailboats, boat shows, and fixing up vessels. He also liked old cars and once owned a Model A Ford. Throughout their marriage Don and his wife shared a passion for the Dodgers. In 1958, after the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, the two attended the first home game of the season in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Don was equally dedicated to the USC Trojans football. In 1997, his life took a turn when he was seriously injured after a camera crane collapsed on a movie set during filming. He convalesced for two years before going back to work and filming his last movie, 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas'. Don was accepted as a member of the American Society of Cinematographers in 1984. He was also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He remained close to his mother, Mimi Harvey, all his life. She died 15 months before him at age 99. In his retirement years Don revived old friendships from his youth in Hermosa Beach, entertaining friends with a wit and lightness that seemed to come to him after his working days were behind him. Don also enjoyed precious time spent with his 10 grandchildren. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Sally Peterman of Palos Verdes Estates, daughter and son-in-law, Diane and Robert Tschupp of Lafayette, Colorado, sons and daughters-in-law, Keith and Carol Peterman of Palos Verdes Estates, Jay and Gloria Peterman of Fountain Valley, and Brad and Misa Peterman of Manhattan Beach, and his grandchildren.' [From the obituary on the dailybreeze.com website.]

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Don Peterman was 79 years old when he died on February 5th at his home in the Palos Verdes Estates neighborhood in Los Angeles. He left his wife of 54 years, Sally, his children Diane, Keith, Jay and Brad, 10 grandchildren and indelible memories with countless people whose lives he touched. I interviewed Don many times over the years. The following is based on memories he shared during those many interviews.

Peterman first met [visual effects cameraman] Roy Seawright when he was a kid, growing up in Los Angeles. He was a pal of Seawright's son, Ron, and because Don's mother had a day job, he spent time after school at Ron's house. Don had vivid memories of the day that Seawright took him and Ron to visit the special effects department at Hal Roach Studio, noting that the visit first sparked his interest in still photography. When Don was 14-years old, the elder Seawright gave him a photo enlarger as a birthday gift, and he was hooked. He took black and white pictures and made his own prints. He got his first job in the film industry during a summer break while still in high school, loading film in camera magazines and driving a camera equipment truck for Cascade Pictures, a television commercial production house.

Don had planned to enroll at USC with the intention of becoming a dentist. That goal was put on hold when the draft board summoned him to serve in the army in 1952. A recommendation from Seawright resulted in being assigned to a Signal Corps film production facility in Astoria, New York, which served as Peterman's de facto film school. He spent the next two years traveling to army bases in the United States and Greenland as part of a crew that shot for 'The Big Picture', a documentary that was aired by television stations around the country.

After Don completed his two-year tour of duty, Seawright introduced him to Herb Aller, the executive director of the International Photographers Guild [as it was then called]. Aller helped him join the Guild and get a job as a film loader at Hal Roach Studio. Don worked at the studio for about 18 months, mainly on half-hour situation comedies that were produced on black and white film.

His next job was at Cascade Pictures. He initially worked as an animation camera operator on title shots, before moving up to being an optical printer operator.

"I got occasional opportunities to work as a second assistant on film crews for a day or two," Don recalled. "My big break came when Charles Wheeler, ASC, took me on his crew as a camera operator on a 3-D science fiction film called 'The Bubble' [1966]." He worked on Wheeler's crew on various other projects, including an episode of the 'Gunsmoke' television series in 1967. Don was also a second operator on the 'Lassie' television series for a year and a half.

Don stepped up to cinematographer when Cascade hired him to shoot commercials. He described that experience as his "graduate school," adding that it was an opportunity to create 30-second stories using different equipment and techniques. After spending three years under contract at Cascade, Don became a freelance cinematographer. "For a long time, I wasn't certain I wanted to shoot features. I was happy shooting commercials and local television series. It allowed me to be home with my family."

Nevertheless, Peterman earned his first feature credit in 1978 for 'When a Stranger Calls'. He described it as "a down-and-dirty production," shot in 25 days with a $1.7 million budget. The film grossed more than $40 million at a time when tickets cost $3.

"We shot night scenes in six foot candles of soft light long before there were fast lenses and film," he recounted. "I like improvising, but you can't make something out of nothing, so you need everyone on your side. The director, cast and crew becomes your second family… it's like going to war together."

'Rich and Famous' [1980] was Don's first opportunity to shoot a big budget feature. "I really wanted to work with George Cukor. He was a legendary director; and I also loved the sets and the chance to film the beautiful women in the cast.  Jacqueline Bisset was in a leading role. I used everything I had ever learned about lighting to shoot a test with her. The AD called me early the next morning and said it looked too dark. I was both disappointed and nervous about what George would think. I did my own investigation and discovered that the projector they used to watch dailies had a weak bulb! We screened the test again, and it was fine."

In 1984, Don earned his first Oscar nomination for 'Flashdance'.

"[Director] Adrian [Lyne] showed me fashion photographs of beautiful women, and said that was the look he wanted," Don recalled. "It wasn't a big budget film." Jennifer Beals was cast in the leading role as a welder during the daytime and an exotic dancer at night. Her dream was to become a ballet dancer.

"During pre-production, Adrian and I watched about 20 music videos. That gave us ideas for creating looks for the five big dance numbers that were the heart and soul of the story. The message was anything goes." Peterman shot a makeup test with Beals, who was seated, and looking at her face in a mirror that was circled with small light bulbs.

"Jennifer had a cigarette in her hand and smoke was filtering through the air between her and the mirror," he remembered. "Sunshine coming through a window provided natural cross-light. She looked great in that soft light, so I pushed a 250-speed color film to EI 800 and shot with no artificial light."

Peterman's fond memories of 'Flashdance' included the opportunity to work with his son Keith, who was a 1st AC on his crew. The film's runaway success inspired a phone call from The Walt Disney Company, informing Don that Touchstone Pictures was going to produce its first film. It was going to be directed by a young actor, who wanted to meet Don. The director was Ron Howard and the film was 'Splash'. It was a story about a man [Tom Hanks] who was saved from drowning by a mermaid [Daryl Hannah] when he was a boy. The man meets her again many years later, and she becomes the love of his life.

“You couldn't meet Ron [Howard] and not like him," Don recalled. "We went to Puerto Rico to shoot the opening scene. The rest of the film was produced in New York and at Disney Studios. It was a great experience."

Don earned another Oscar nomination for 'Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home' in 1987. He was also one of the five finalists in the first annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards competition. Leonard Nimoy directed the film, along with his usual acting role as Spock. The story begins with The Enterprise crew returning to Earth in a captured alien spaceship. Don said that Nimoy wanted a different look than earlier 'Star Trek' films. After talking with Don, Nimoy asked the production designer to paint the interior of the alien spaceship a dull olive brown tone. The set was dimly lit and dirty. Don said that he hid small lights behind the control panel, which was made of quarter-inch thick milk glass. He also used tracing paper to diffuse the light on the control panel display.

In 1998, Don was shooting 'Mighty Joe Young' when an accident on the set almost took his life. It put his career on an indefinite hold.

Don Peterman made a lasting impression on both the art and craft of filmmaking, and on the many people whose lives he touched. He will be sorely missed. [From article by Bob Fisher on the ICG website.]



 FILMS & TELEVISION

1972

Domo arigato/Thank You Very Much [Arch Oboler] Space-Vision-3D/c; semi doc/90m

1974

The Night Stalker/Kolchak: The Night Stalker [pilot 'The Ripper' dir by Allen Baron] 20-part tv-series, 1974-75; other ph: Alric Edens (#2), Eduardo Ricci (#3) & Ronald W. Browne (#4-20)

1976

UFOs: It Has Begun [Ray Rivas] c; doc/97m; cph: Stan Lazan; 2uc: Richard McGarty; updated version of 'UFOs: Past, Present and Future' (1974)

1978

When a Stranger Calls [Fred Walton] c

1980

King of the Mountain [Noel Nosseck] c; 2uc: Robert E. Collins; aph: David B. Nowell

1980

Rich and Famous [George Cukor] c; New York ph: Peter Eco; filmed 1980-81

1981

Young Doctors in Love [Garry Marshall] c

1982

Kiss Me Goodbye [Robert Mulligan] c

1983

Flashdance [Adrian Lyne] 35mm & 70bu/c; addph: Dickson P. Sorensen

1983

Splash [Ron Howard] c; uwph: Jordan Klein

1983

Mass Appeal [Glenn Jordan] c

1983

Best Defense [Willard Huyck] c; filmed 1983-84

1984 

American Flyers [John Badham] p/c; 2uc: Frank Holgate

1984

Cocoon [Ron Howard] c; uwph: Jordan Klein

1986

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home/The Voyage Home: Star Trek IV [Leonard Nimoy] p/c; uwph: Jack Cooperman & Pete Romano

1986 

Gung Ho/Working Class Man [Ron Howard] p/c; 2uc: Nick McLean & Peter Eco

1986

She's Having a Baby [John Hughes] c

1987

Planes, Trains & Automobiles [John Hughes] c

1988

She's Out of Control [Stan Dragoti] c

1990

Point Break [Kathryn Bigelow] s35/c; 2uc: Steve Yaconelli; uwph: Yuri Farrant, Ron Condon, a.o.; aph: Frank Holgate

1991

Mr. Saturday Night [Billy Crystal] c; 2uc: Gabor Kover; filmed 1991-92

1993

Addams Family Values [Barry Sonnenfeld] c; vfx ph: Keith Peterman; efx ph: Jim Aupperle, Barbu Marian, William Conner & Katsuyoshi Arita; optical ph: David S. Williams Jr.; matte ph: Mark Sawicki

1994

Speechless [Ron Underwood] c

1995

Get Shorty [Barry Sonnenfeld] c

1996

Men in Black [Barry Sonnenfeld] c; 2uc: Keith Peterman, Tony Jannelli & David Dunlap

1997

Mighty Joe Young/Mighty Joe [Ron Underwood] c; cph: Oliver Wood (replaced Peterman after his accident); 2uc: Keith Peterman; miniature ph: Scott Beattie; vfx ph: Alex Funke & Gary Palmer

1999

[Dr. Seuss'] How the Grinch Stole Christmas [Ron Howard] c; 2uc: Keith Peterman


 MISCELLANEOUS

1966

The Bubble/Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth/The Zoo [Arch Oboler] c.asst; ph: Charles Wheeler

1967

Gunsmoke [ep #432 'The Lure' dir by Marc Daniels; tv-series] ?; ph: Charles Wheeler

1968

Lassie [various; tv-series] 2nd c.op; ph: Robert F. Sparks