Karl Freund Poster


Jump to: Overview (3)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (2)  | Trivia (9)

Overview (3)

Born in Königinhof, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Dvur Kralove, Czech Republic]
Died in Santa Monica, California, USA
Height 5' 8" (1.73 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Karl Freund, an innovative director of photography responsible for development of the three-camera system used to shoot television situation comedies, was born on January 16, 1890, in the Bohemian city of Koeniginhof, then part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire (now known as Dvur Kralove in the Czech Republic). Freund went to work at the age of 15 as a movie projectionist, and by the age of 17, he was a camera operator shooting shot subjects and newsreels. Subsequently, he was employed at Germany's famous UFA Studios during the 1920s, when the German cinema was the most innovative in the world.

At UFA, Freund worked as a cameraman for such illustrious directors as F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang. For Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924) (aka The Last Laugh), screenwriter Carl Mayer worked closely with Freund to develop a scenario that would employ the moving camera that became a hallmark of Weimar German cinema. One of the most beautiful and critically acclaimed silent films, The Last Laugh (1924) is considered the perfect silent by some critics as the images do most of the storytelling, allowing for a minimal amount of inter-titles. The collaborative genius of Murnau, Mayer, and Freund meant that the images communicated the integral part of the narrative, visualizing and elucidating the protagonist's psyche. Freund filmed a drunk scene with the camera secured on his chest, with a battery pack on his back for balance, enabling him to stumble about and produce vertiginous shots suggesting intoxication.

Director Ewald André Dupont gave credit for the innovative camera work on his masterpiece Variety (1925) (aka Variety) to Freund, praising his ingenuity in an article published in The New York Times. Freund was one of the cameramen and the co-writer (with Carl Mayer and director Walter Ruttmann) on Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City), an artistic documentary that used a hidden camera to capture the people of the city going about their daily lives. Always technically innovative, Freund developed a high-speed film stock to aid his shooting in low-light situations. This film also is hailed as a classic. Other classic German films that Freund shot were The Golem (1920) (aka The Golem) and Lang's Metropolis (1927).

Now possessing an international reputation, Freund emigrated to the U.S. in 1929, where he was employed by the Technicolor Co. to help perfect its color process. Subsequently, he was hired as a cinematographer and director by Universal Studios, where he cut his teeth, uncredited, as a cinematographer on the great anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Universal's first Oscar winner as Best Picture.

Universal's bread and butter in the early 1930s were its horror films, and Freund was involved in the production of several classics. Among his Universal assignments, Freund shot Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), and directed The Mummy (1932). The Mummy (1932) was Freund's first directorial effort, and co-star Zita Johann, who disliked Freund, claimed he was incompetent, which is unfair, seeing as how the film is now considered a classic of its genre. The film uses the undead sorcerer Imhotep's pool with which he can impose his will over the living by spreading some tana leaves on the water, as a visual metaphor for the subconscious. The film is arresting visually due to Freund's cinematic eye that created a sense of "otherness." The film is infused with a dream-like state that seems rooted in the subconscious mind. Freund's other directorial efforts at Universal proved less satisfying.

Moving to MGM, Freund directed just one more motion picture, Mad Love (1935) (aka The Hands of Orlac) a horror classic that utilized the expressionism of his UFA apprenticeship. With the great lighting cameraman Gregg Toland as his director of photography, the collaboration of Freund and Toland created a European sensibility unique for a Hollywood horror film. The compositions of the shots featured arch shapes and utilized the expressive shadows of the best of the European avant-garde films of the 1920s.

But MGM wanted Freund for his genius at camera work. He shot the rooftop numbers for The Great Ziegfeld (1936), another Best Picture Oscar winner, and worked with William H. Daniels, Garbo's favorite cameraman, on "Camille" (1936). He shot Greta Garbo's Conquest (1937) solo, though he never worked with Garbo again. That same year, he was the director of photography on The Good Earth (1937), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Other major MGM pictures he shot were Pride and Prejudice (1940), for which he received an Academy Award nomination, Tortilla Flat (1942), and A Guy Named Joe (1943). He also worked for other studios, shooting Golden Boy (1939) for Columbia. In 1942, he pulled off a rare double: he was nominated for Best Cinematography in both the black and white and color categories, for The Chocolate Soldier (1941) and Blossoms in the Dust (1941), respectively.

One of the last films he shot for MGM was Two Smart People (1946), starring Lucille Ball. In 1947, he moved on to Warner Bros, where he shot the classic Key Largo (1948) for John Huston. His last film as a director of photography was Michael Curtiz' Montana (1950), which starred Gary Cooper.

Always the technical innovator, Freund founded the Photo Research Corp. in 1944, a laboratory for the development of new cinematographic techniques and equipment. His technical work culminated in his receipt of a Class II Technical Award in 1955 from the Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences for the design of a direct-reading light meter. That same year, he had the honor of representing his adopted country at the International Conference on Illumination in Zurich, Switzerland.

It was perhaps inevitable that the technical and innovation-minded Freund would get to work for a brand new visual medium, television. Lucille Ball, whom he had photographed when she was a contract player at MGM, became his boss when he was hired as the director of photography at Desilu Productions, owned by Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz. Desilu hired the great Freund as its owners were determined to shoot the show I Love Lucy (1951) on film rather than produce the show live, as was standard in the early 1950s. Most shows were shot live, while a film of the program was simultaneously shot from a monitor, a process that created a "kinescope." The kinescope would be shown in other time zones on the network's affiliates. Desilu's owners disliked the quality of kinescopes, and needed Freund to come up with a solution to their problem of how to maintain the intimacy of a live show on film.

Freund agreed that the show should be shot on film rather than live, as film enabled thorough planning and allowed for cutting, which was impossible with live TV. Freud knew that film would allow Desilu to eliminate the fluffs which were a staple of early television, and would allow the producers to re-shoot scenes to improve the show, if needed.

I Love Lucy (1951) had to be filmed before an audience to retain the immediacy of a live TV show, which meant that the traditional, time-consuming methods of studio production with one camera would not work. Freund decided to shoot I Love Lucy (1951) with three 35mm Mitchell BNC cameras, one of each to simultaneously shoot long shots, medium shots and close-ups. Thus, the editor would have adequate coverage to create the 22 minutes of footage needed for a half-hour commercial network show.

The then-innovative, now-standard technique of simultaneously shooting a situation comedy with three 35mm cameras cut the production time needed to produce a 22-minute program to one-hour. The cameras were mounted on dollies, with the center camera outfitted with a 40mm wide-angle lens, and the side cameras outfitted with 3- and 4-inch lenses. The resulting shots were edited on a Movieola. A script girl in a booth overlooking the stage cued the camera operators. Due to extensive rehearsal time before the show was shot live, the camera operators had floor marks to guide them, but Freund's system was enabled by the script girl overseeing their actions via a 2-way intercom. The system made the shooting, breaking-down, and setting-up process for the next scenes on the three sets of the I Love Lucy (1951) stage very economical in terms of time, averaging one and one-half minutes between shots.

Freund worked out the lighting during the rehearsal period. Almost all of the lighting was overhead, except for portable fill lights mounted above the matte box on each camera. In Freund's system, there were no lighting changes during shooting, other than the use of a dimming board. Since the lighting was mounted overhead on catwalks, power cables were kept off the floor, which facilitated the dollying that was essential for making the system work fluidly.

Freund's solution to the problem of shooting a show on film economically was to make lighting as uniform as possible, taking advantage of adding highlights whenever possible, since a comedy show required high-key illumination. Due to the high contrast of the tubes in the image pickup systems at the television stations, contrast was a potential problem, as any contrast in the film would be exaggerated upon transmission of the film. To keep the film contrast to what Freund called a "fine medium," the sets were painted in various shades of gray. Props and costumes also were gray to promote a uniformity of color and tone that would not defeat Freund's carefully devised illumination scheme.

In a typical workweek, the I Love Lucy (1951) company engaged in pre-production planning and rehearsals on Monday through Thursday. I Love Lucy (1951) was filmed before a live audience at 8:00 o'clock PM on Friday evenings, and Freund's camera crew worked only on that Friday and the preceding Thursday. Freund, however, attended the Wednesday afternoon rehearsal of the cast to study the movements of the players around the sets, noting the blocking and their entrances and exits, in order to plan his lighting and camera work. Thursday morning at 8:00 o'clock AM, Freund and the gaffers would begin lighting the sets, which typically would be done by noon, the time the camera crew was required to report on set to be briefed on camera movements. Then, Freund would rehearse the camera action in order to make necessary changes in the lighting and the dollying of the cameras.

It was during the Thursday full-crew rehearsal that the cues for the dimmer operator were set, and the floor was marked to indicate the cameras' positions for various shots. For each shot, the focus was pre-measured and noted for each camera position with chalk marks on the stage floor. Another rehearsal was held at 4:30 PM with the full production crew. Though a full-dress rehearsal was held at 7:30 PM, with the attendance of the full crew, the cameras were not brought onto the set. The director would take the opportunity to discuss the plan of the show and solicit input from the cast and crew on how to tighten the show and improve its pacing.

The next call for the entire company was at 1:00 PM on Friday to discuss any major changes that were discussed the previous night. After this meeting, the cameras would be brought out onto the stage, and at 4:30 PM, there would be a final dress rehearsal during which Freund would check his lighting and make any required changes.

After a dinner break, the cast and production crew would hold a "talk through" of the show to solicit further suggestions and solve any remaining problems. At 8:00 PM, the cast and production crew were ready to start filming the show before a live audience. Before shooting, one of the cast or a member of the company had briefed the audience on the filming procedure, emphasizing the need for the audience's reactions to be spontaneous and natural.

Shooting was over in about an hour due to the rapid set-ups and break-downs of the crew, which shot the show in chronological order. Due to the thorough planning and rehearsals, retakes were seldom necessary. Camera operators in Freund's system had to make each take the right way the first time, every time, to keep the system working smoothly, and they did. An average of 7,500 feet of film was shot for each show at a cost that was significantly less than a comparable major studio production.

Freund also served as the cinematographer on the TV series Our Miss Brooks (1952), which was shot at Desilu Studios, and Desilu's own December Bride (1954). It was no accident that Desilu productions turned to Karl Freund to realize their dream of creating a high-quality show on film. Freund had the broadest experience of any cameraman of his stature, starting in silent pictures, and then excelling in both B&W and color in the sound era. With his penchant for technical innovation, he was the ideal man to develop solutions for filming a television show. Freund met the challenge of creating high quality filmed images in a young medium still handicapped by its primitive technology.

Freund became the dean of cinematographers in a new medium, with Desilu's I Love Lucy (1951) and its other shows recognized as the gold standard for TV production. His work ensured the fortunes of Desilu Productions, and the personal fortunes of Desilu owners Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, as he provided them with quality films of each show that could be easily syndicated into perpetuity, whereas the live shows filmed secondarily off of flickering TV monitors as kinescopes could not.

After retiring as a cinematographer, Freund continued his research at the Photo Research Corp. He died on May 3, 1969.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (2)

Gertrude Hoffmann (1920 - 3 May 1969) ( his death)
Susette Liepmannssohn (1915 - 1918) ( divorced) ( 1 child)

Trivia (9)

Head cinematographer for many years on the I Love Lucy (1951) Show.
Developed the 3-camera system of filming television shows while working on I Love Lucy (1951), which is still used to this day.
Weighed 360 pounds.
Member of A.S.C. (American Society of Cinematographers).
He soon became a demanded cinematographer who often worked together with two of the than greatest movie stars - Asta Nielsen and Henny Porten.
Karl Freund was among other married with the actress Gertrude Hoffmann.
Thank to his great successes of his movies Karl Freund soon was spotted for the American film business as well. From 1930 he shot numerous movies in the USA and some his most popular works belong to the horror genre.
The cinematographer Karl Freund belonged to the most important cinematographers of the German silent film and he took part in many important productions of the 10s and 20s.
He began is professional career as a film projectionist in cinemas in 1906, later he deviated to the cinematography. In this function he became active for the movie "Heisses Blut" (1911) for the first time.

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