One of the most innovative and pioneering cinematographer
s in the early cinema
. Freund's career spanned all moving-picture media, he photographed nearly every type of film: comedies, documentaries, mysteries, horror, color, silent, on and on. He also filmed for Desilu
Productions, creating the framework for modern television show photography.
Karl Freund was born in Bohemia in 1890. He began his career in Germany at 15 as a projectionist, moving up to camera operator in a short two years. Creating shorts and newsreels, he experimented with several different technical processes and styles. He experimented with recording sound as early as 1908, and made several cameras of his own design. His first break was The Last Laugh directed by F. W. Murnau, where he used several innovative filming techniques that used the camera to show the character's mindset and view. In 1927, he worked with Fritz Lang, photographing the silent science fiction classic Metropolis. In the same year he worked with Walter Ruttmann on the documentary Berlin--Symphony of a Great City. Freund wanted to capture the city naturally without making Berliners aware they were being filmed, so he created a high speed film stock specifically for the film.
Freund's style was exemplar of German expressionism. Metropolis is the very best example of his work. He lit scenes progressively, so the foreground was starkly bright while the background was dark and subdued. He also used lit scenes more evenly, unlike other expressionists of the time who key lit subjects heavily while the rest of the scene was dimly filled. However, shadow and fog played heavily into all his work, there was no shortage of darkness in his work.
After moving to America in 1929 to work with Technicolor on creating a new two-color process, Freund was picked up by Universal as a cinematographer. He lensed Dracula in 1931, then Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1932. He was given directoral control of the 1933 classic The Mummy, and created the most poetic and visually complex horror films of the 1930's. In 1935, he directed another classic, Mad Love at MGM, which expounded on the style of The Mummy and was richer and more developed due to a larger budget. However, it was the last film he directed, he went back to cinematography for the rest of his career.
He moved to Warner Brothers in 1936, the largest and deepest-pocketed studio at the time and was put on the classic romantic tragedy, Camille which starred Greta Garbo. Then in 1937 he filmed The Good Earth for which he won an Academy Award for Best Photography. In 1944 he began Photo Research Corporation, which became the outlet for his photographic innovations, including a patented spot light meter he designed.
Through the 1940's he continued his work in film, but it his next big splash was in 1951 when defected to television to join Desilu Productions, the production company helmed by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Lucille and Desi were creating a CBS sitcom I Love Lucy, which starred them as husband and wife. At the time, television shows were live and broadcast from the east coast across the nation. Reruns were done via a film of a studio monitor (called a kinescope). CBS wanted the couple to move to New York to broadcast from their studios, but Lucille refused to leave Hollywood.
Karl Freund developed a system that became the standard for television shows. The 26 minute show was filmed in an hour in front of a live studio audience. The fast production required that three cameras be used, one with a 40mm lens for the wide shot and two with 3 or 4 inch lenses for the medium and close shots. And so that the audience could see the scene, so that the lights could be easily reconfigured, and so that the scene would be brightly lit with no shadows (contrasting Freund's previous work), lights were moved overhead. Two fixed sets were used, with one swing set, and all the cameras were on dollies.
The lighting of the show was the most difficult issue. Because three dollied cameras were used, the lighting had to be designed to eliminate all shadows without losing all contrast. Also, the cameras used were fairly low ASA, so more than 200 foot-candles were needed to light the scene. And Freund was not one to compromise his ideals on lighting the scene. He still wanted to use contrast, but the film to television pickups used to were very sensitive to contrast, and keylights had to be carefully managed so they didn't white out the scene. Freund had the sets, costumes, and props toned a neutral gray so that they key would be more effective.
Recording on film was obviously the future of television, as it allowed for repeatable rebroadcasts of the shows. This setup was the Desilu standard and became the television standard until the take over of CCD television cameras in the 1970's. However since then many sitcoms have returned to film, using nearly the same setup that Freund devised more than fifty years ago.