Fraker, William A.

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FRAKER, William A.

Cinematographer and Director. Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, 29 September 1923. Education: Attended the University of Southern California Cinema School, Los Angeles, B.A. Military Service: Coast Guard during World War II. Family: Married Denise (Fraker), children, including the photographer Bill Fraker Jr. Career: TV work from mid-1950s—commercials, inserts, loader on Lone Ranger series, then assistant and cameraman for The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet series, seven years; 1961—first film as cinematographer, Forbid Them Not; 1970—first film as director, Monte Walsh; director of TV series Wiseguy, 1987–1990, and B.L. Stryker: The Dancer's Touch, 1989; past president, American Society of Cinematographers. Address: The Gersh Agency, Inc., 232 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.

Films as Cameraman:


Father Goose (Nelson); The Wild Seed (Fargo) (Hutton)


Morituri (The Saboteur Code Name "Morituri") (Wicki)


The Professionals (R. Brooks)

Films as Cinematographer:


The Young Guns (Band) (asst)


Forbid Them Not (Kimble) (+ co-pr)


Games (Harrington); The Fox (Rydell); Fade-In (Taylor); The President's Analyst (Flicker)


RosemaryÕs Baby (Polanski); Bullitt (Yates)


Paint Your Wagon (Logan)


Dusty and Sweets McGee (Mutrux) (+ ro)


The Day of the Dolphin (Nichols)


Rancho Deluxe (Perry)


Aloha Bobby and Rose (Mutrux); Coonskin (Bakshi) (co); One Flew over the CuckooÕs Nest (Forman) (co); The Killer inside Me (Kennedy)


Lipstick (L. Johnson) (co); Gator (B. Reynolds)


Exorcist II: The Heretic (Boorman); Looking for Mr. Goodbar (R. Brooks); Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg) (co); American Hot Wax (Mutrux)


Heaven Can Wait (Beatty and Henry)


Old Boyfriends (Tewkesbury); 1941 (Spielberg)


Divine Madness (Ritchie); Hollywood Knights (Mutrux)


Sharkey's Machine (B. Reynolds); The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Higgins)


WarGames (Badham)


Protocol (Ross); Irreconcilible Differences (Shyer)


Murphy's Romance (Ritt); Fever Pitch (R. Brooks)


SpaceCamp (Winer)


Baby Boom (Shyer); Burglar (Ogorodnikov)


Chances Are (Ardolino); An Innocent Man (Yates)


The Freshman (Andrew Bergman)


Memoirs of an Invisible Man (Carpenter); Honeymoon in Vegas (Andrew Bergman)


Tombstone (Cosmatos); There Goes My Baby (Mutrux)


Street Fighter (De Souza)


Death in Small Doses (Locke—for TV); Father of the Bride Part II (Shyer)


The Island of Dr. Moreau (Frankenheimer)


Vegas Vacation (Kessler)


Town and Country (Chelsom); Rules of Engagement (Friedkin)

Films as Director:


Monte Walsh


A Reflection of Fear


The Legend of the Lone Ranger


The Flash (series for TV)


By FRAKER: articles—

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), June 1977.

On Exorcist II: The Heretic in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August 1977.

On 1941 in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1979.

Filmmakers Monthly (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), December 1979.

Filmmakers Monthly (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), October 1980.

On The Legend of the Lone Ranger in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), July 1981.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1982.

In Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers, by Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato, Berkeley, California, 1984.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), April 1984.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1985.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1987.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), April 1989.

On FRAKER: articles—

Focus on Film (London), Winter 1970.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1978.

McGilligan, Patrick, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1979.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1979.

Williams, A. L., in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), July 1980.

McCarthy, T., in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1984.

Turner, George, on WarGames in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), April 1984.

Block, Bruce A., in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1984.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), April 1986.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1986.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1991.

Skrien (Amsterdam), June/July 1993.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1996.

* * *

By 1970 most of the older Hollywood cinematographers, those who established their careers during the height of the studio system, had retired, and a new, younger group seemed to fill the ranks almost immediately. Some of these new craftsmen had gone to film school, while many had gained experience and honed their craft as camera operators and directors of photography for television series. Among this new cadre were cinematographers now considered to be the best in Hollywood—Vilmos Zsigmond, Laszlo Kovacs, Nestor Almendros, and William A. Fraker. According to Todd McCarthy, Fraker was in many ways "the Dean" of these so-called New Breed cinematographers.

Fraker came from a family of photographers. His grandfather worked in photography and his father had been a noted Hollywood studio photographer during the 1920s. After World War II, Fraker's grandmother encouraged him to pursue a profession in the photographic arts, so Fraker entered the University of Southern California's School of Cinema on the G.I. Bill. After paying his dues as a camera operator, camera assistant, and director of photography on various television series, Fraker worked as a cinematographer on his first feature film in 1967. Games, an offbeat drama filmed in less than a month, received some attention at the time for Fraker's interesting photography.

Since then he has worked on many major American films for a number of prominent directors, including Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, Peter Yates's Bullitt, Milos Forman's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Richard Brooks's Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 1941. Though he has never won an Academy Award, Fraker has been nominated several times, including twice for 1941—for both cinematography and special effects, the only time in the history of the Academy that this has occurred.

Though Fraker's film career has consisted mostly of big-budget, mainstream Hollywood features (no experimental films, documentaries, or exploitation films, and very few low-budget, "small" features), he has worked in a number of genres. His filmography is fairly diverse in that respect, including everything from the musical Western Paint Your Wagon to the horror film Exorcist II: The Heretic to the romantic feminist comedy Baby Boom. Discerning a personal style or specialty is difficult in Fraker's work because he believes that the cinematographer should make every film look different. The look of the film should be dictated by various aspects of the film itself, according to Fraker, who stated, "I don't agree with a cinematographer putting his stamp on a picture." There are many variables to creating that "look," including the location, the sets, the actors, and, most importantly, the director's interpretation of the material. Fraker's approach to cinematography is to understand exactly what a director wants in terms of the visual interpretation of a scene and to use all of his experience and knowledge of lighting, cameras, lenses, cranes, and dollies to make real that vision.

Interestingly, Fraker has directed three films himself. The opportunity to direct arose from his relationship with Lee Marvin on the set of Paint Your Wagon. Marvin requested that Fraker direct his next film, Monte Walsh, a melancholy and gritty Western that emphasized the drudgery and hardships of Western life. Fraker also directed A Reflection of Fear, a moody but stylized murder mystery, and the financial and critical disaster The Legend of the Lone Ranger. According to Fraker, he finds directing an interesting challenge but only "an occasional exhilarating experience," preferring to remain one of Hollywood's prominent cinematographers.

In 1993 Fraker appeared before the camera for a 90-minute American Film Institute documentary, Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography. Along with some of the other great cinematographers of today, Fraker outlines his overall approach to his craft, and illuminates some of his specific technical choices, most notably on Rosemary's Baby.

—Susan Doll, updated by Denise Delorey