In Memoriam: Gerald Perry Finnerman, ASC, 1931-2011

By Witmer, Jon D. | American Cinematographer, July 2011 | Go to article overview

In Memoriam: Gerald Perry Finnerman, ASC, 1931-2011


Witmer, Jon D., American Cinematographer


Emmy-winning cinematographer Gerald Perry Finnerman, ASC died on April 6 at the age of 79.

Finnerman was born on December 17, 1931, in Los Angeles, Calif. His father, Perry Finnerman, also an ASC member, was a contract cinematographer at Warner Bros, who worked on such series as Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, Bronco, Colt .45, Lawman and Maverick.

After honing his skills as a combat cameraman, the junior Finnerman joined his father's crew as a camera assistant.

When his father died, in 1960, Finnerman began working with Harry Stradling Sr., ASC. Stradling promoted Finnerman from focus puller to operator, and when Stradling left Warner Bros., in 1964, Finnerman went with him. At Paramount, they worked on the feature How to Murder Your Wife; at Universal, Moment to Moment; and at Columbia, Walk Don't Run.

Finnerman's allegiance paid off two years later, when Stradling recommended him to Desilu Productions for a new series called Star Trek. Finnerman got the job, thereby becoming one of the youngest cinematographers working in Hollywood. (He was 32.)

He drew heavily from lessons he had learned while working with his father and Stradling. "Harry once told me, 'When you take the lights around so far that it scares people or it scares you, that's when it looks good/ and that's what I used to do [on Sfar M]1" Finnerman told AC[OcI '94). "I used to take that light way around until I got scared, and then it had dimension. That's what Star Trek had: dimension."

Charting the galaxy-spanning adventures of the crew of the starship Enterprise, the show was also marked by dynamic dolly moves and a great deal of ingenuity with incamera effects, including forced perspective. "I think much of the look also came from the placement of lights and the use of colored gels," Finnerman said. "We changed walls from gray to blue to green, depending on the mood and what we wanted to say about that planet. One day we created a purple sky. Another day, the same set looked like a hot desert in March. A third day, it was deep blue. We did it with filters and lights.

"On a show like Star Trek, you have to push the envelope," he added. "The result of playing it safe is a diet of pabulum."

Finnerman stayed on the series for its three-year run, and he also notched credits on Mission: Impossible for Desilu. In 1968, he shot the telefilm The Sunshine Patriot for director Joseph Sargent, and based on the strength of that work, he was offered the film The Lost Man, starring Sidney Poitier, with whom Finnerman would also work on They Call Me Mister Tibbs! and Brother John.

In 1969, Finnerman and some collaborators were scouting from the air for a production that was to shoot in Colorado, and the plane crashed. …

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