Oscar-award winning Polish-born cinematographer and film director, (b. 1959). Two Academy Awards.
What's he directed?
Kaminski has directed one feature film, Lost Souls, which featured Winona Ryder and Ben Chaplin.
What were the Oscars for?
For saving Steven Spielberg's legacy.
No, really, why did Kaminski win two Academy Awards?
For turning Steven Spielberg from a populist entertainer into a "serious" filmmaker.
Steven Spielberg's Go-To Guy.
Steven Spielberg has the clout to choose his scripts and pick his actors. He's enough of a visual storyteller that he can storyboard his movies himself-- or skip that process altogether and wait until the scene is blocked to choose camera angles. On the set, he knows where he wants the camera. Sometimes he even runs the thing. But if you're going to trust that you can get a scene shot without storyboarding, you need a director of photography who can make sure that from whatever angle you shoot, you've got the lighting to tell the story. And since 1993, the look of Spielberg's movies: the clarity or the grain of the images, the colors, the shadows, the contrast, the lighting, anything you see that's not a special effect that creates the visual signature of the movie-- that's the work of Janusz Kaminski, director of photography.
Kaminski came to the United States from Poland in 1981. He attended Columbia College in Chicago, learning film, and then went to the American Film Institute in Los Angeles to learn the trade of cinematographer. Spielberg first hired him based on seeing Kaminski's work on Diane Keaton's Wildflower. At the time, Spielberg was preparing to make the movie that said, "Hey, I'm a serious filmmmaker." So he gave Kaminski a test run: a TV movie, Class of '61. Kaminski nailed it, and got the D.P. job for Schindler's List. Anyone can put black and white film in the camera. But Spielberg needed Kaminski to re-create the look of post-war Italian neo-realism, and to bring to life the essence of pre-war documentary photographer Roman Vishniac's images of Poland. Kaminski won his first Academy Award for Schindler's List.
"My job really is to kind of you know, tell the story through the camera, that's what I've done my whole career. Janusz's job is to come in and find ways of lighting it so that the lighting tells the story as well."
--Steven Spielberg, in a total understatement. (Chavez)
Here's a better quote, from Spielberg, again:
"As a cinematographer, Janusz is not 'one size fits all' he's much more of a chameleon. He takes the stories he does very seriously, and he marks up the scripts. He tells a cinematography story on top of the writer's or director's story, and he designs the photography according to the beats and measures of the narrative. Because of that, he's going to shoot differently on Jerry Maguire than he would on The Lost World. Over the course of his career, Janusz has put together a collection of amazing and completely different looks from picture to picture." (Argy and Pizzello)
While Spielberg can imagine a look for his films, Kaminski is the man that makes it happen. When Speilberg wanted the look of World War 2 era combat documentary filmmaking for the Normandy Invasion sequence of Saving Private Ryan, it was Kaminski who figured out how to doctor modern camera lenses to make them capture images the way a 1940's camera would. Kaminski shot tests with camera shutters tweaked, film exposures and stocks mismatched, and image shakers on the camera to vibrate when explosions went off. His work here won him his second Academy Award in cinematography. For movies like this one, Amistad, and Minority Report, Kaminski also works his magic in the film processing, using silver retention processing techniques such as Technicolor's ENR, which can saturate certain colors and desaturate others (so that the future of the Minority Report is blue and gray), bring out texture, and increase the graininess and grittiness of the film.
Other Spielberg-Kaminski collaborations:
Does he only work with Spielberg?
No. Kaminski was also D.P. on Jerry Maguire, Funny People, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly among others. Film fans are divided on which is the worst film that Kaminski has shot: 1990's The Terror Within II, written, directed by, and starring Andrew Stevens? Or 1991's Cool as Ice, starring Vanilla Ice?
From 1995 to 2001, Kaminski was married to actress Holly Hunter.
Argy, Stephanie and Chirs Pizzello, Stephen Pizzello, et. al. "True Luminaries: Janusz Kaminski." American Cinematographer. June 1998.
<http://www.theasc.com/magazine/jun98/lumin/pg4.htm> (30 September 2002)
Chavez, Kellvin. "Minority Report." LatinoReview. <http://www.latinoreview.com/moviereviews/2002/mreport/mreportpressconference.html> (30 September 2002)
Curtis, Gary. "Interview with Jim Kwiatkowski." Chapman-Leonard Studio Equipment, Inc. Quarterly Newsletter, Volume 6, Issue 4. 1998. <http://www.chapman-leonard.com/newsletters/6-4/interview.html> (7 October 2002)
Feeney, Catherine. "ILM VFX Supervisor Scott Farrar Details 'Minority Report'
" CreativePlanet Communities. 19 September 2002. <http://www.uemedia.com/CPC/article_1706.shtml> (1 October 2002)
Geffner, David. "The Demon Seed." International Cinematographers Guild. <http://www.cameraguild.com/index.html?magazine/stoo1000.htm~top.main_hp> (30 September 2002)
Lyman, Rick. "Watching Movies with Janusz Kaminski." New York Times. 6 October 2000. <http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/06/arts/06WATC.html> (30 September 2002)
Probst, Christopher. "The Last Great War." American Cinematographer. June 1998.
<http://www.theasc.com/magazine/aug98/saving/> (30 September 2002)
"Janusz Kaminski, ASC." International Cinematographers Guild. <http://www.cameraguild.com/awards/kaminski.html> (30 September 2002)
"Janusz Kaminski." Internet Movie DataBase. <http://us.imdb.com/Name?Kaminski,+Janusz> (30 September 2002)
"Resurrecting the Past." Hollywood Online. <http://www.scruffles.net/spielberg/movies/amistad/amistad_article_5.html> (30 September 2002)
"Silver Retention." American Cinematographer. November 1998.
<http://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov98/soupdujour/pg2.htm> (30 September 2002)
"Whizz-Kids Behind the Camera." The Economist. March 5, 1999. <http://www.csc.ca/news/default.asp?aID=799> (30 September 2002)