It is so great to find out that my pal Phil Caruso just received the well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Camera Operators, as a still photographer.
I met Phil years back when we worked on a small, independent film in South Carolina, Staying Together, directed by the actress Lee Grant. He was a hoot, friendly, fearless and very talented, and for inexplicable reasons we performed an original rap song at the movie's wrap party. (Clearly, the joke was that a wrap party needed a rap song, but the inexplicable part was "why us?") This was made all the more bizarre when realizing that one of the actors in the movie performed, as well -- Levon Helm, the drummer and lead singer of The Band. Happily, we survived and stayed good friends since, me in Los Angeles, him in the far other end of the country up in Albany, New York, with his wife Kathy and kids Sarah and Vincent.
I'm not at all surprised that Phil got the Lifetime Achievement Award. That said, honestly though I thought that the first honor he would receive would be "Most Likely to be Beaten with a Stick by a Movie Crew" (Phil has a wicked, outspoken and hilarious sense of humor), but I guess when you've worked on such films as Forrest Gump, Casino, Parenthood, Backdraft, Analyze This, That Thing You Do, Twelve Monkeys, Wag the Dog, Meet the Parents, and Weekend at Bernie's, among so many more, it gets noticed sooner or later. And given that the iMDB records show him with 108 credits, I suppose that filmmakers find him endearing. And wildly talented.
One of the ways you can tell the level of quality of Phil's work, without even looking at his stills, is seeing how many filmmakers keep hiring him for repeat projects. Check out at his credits and you'll see repeat films with people like Ron Howard, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal and others. They want him back. I don't quite understand it -- Phil after all is an acquired taste -- but I guess that when you're making a film and have so much on the line and so little time that you can't afford to mess up, you want the best, as well as people you can rely on, and those you enjoy working with. So, I guess I do understand it after all...
One thing I especially like about Phil (or Dr. Caputo, as I prefer to call him -- for reasons that are lost to history) is that because where he lives in Albany is reasonably close to Cooperstown, he tries every year to go to the annual Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies. So, you know at the very least that his heart is in the right place, and his head is screwed on properly -- even when he tries to convince you otherwise. I always look forward to his phone call from the festivities, as well as the photos he sends. But then, I always look forward to any photo from Phil, whether he sends it or otherwise. His visits to Los Angeles are far too few, so you take what you can get.
And there's another reason this Lifetime Achievement honor is so wonderful. Phil's father-in-law is the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy (who among many other things, wrote Ironweed, in his Albany series of novels). And Phil always speaks of him with great pride and immense affection, regularly telling tales proudly over the years of the many honors his father-in-law has received. It's just wonderful to have a conversation with Phil about awards and get the opportunity to make it about him.
There aren't a lot of photographs of Phil. Needless to say, he's usually at the other end of the lens. Every once in a while when you do see a picture of him, it's usually with his arm in the foreground, as he holds his camera far away from his body. (Though he was ever the iconoclast and one of the first still photographers in Hollywood to start using digital cameras against tradition, he began taking occasional photos of himself before those devices came along and made the selfie process easier.) This here is a rarity. But then so is Phil Still.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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