Magazine article American Cinematographer

IN MEMORIAM: Michael Ballhaus, ASC, 1935-2017

Magazine article American Cinematographer

IN MEMORIAM: Michael Ballhaus, ASC, 1935-2017

Article excerpt

Michael Ballhaus, ASC died at his home in Berlin on April 12 at the age of 81.

Ballhaus was born in Berlin on Aug. 5, 1935, to stage actors Oskar Ballhaus and Lena Hutter, who encouraged his creativity. "Right after the war, they founded a cultural agency and began inviting orchestras and conductors to come to Coburg to play works by the great German composers," he told AC (Feb. '07). "Two years later, they founded the Fränkische Theater, which was headquartered in an old castle near Coburg. I was going to school, but in my free time I did everything I could to help out at the theater."

Ballhaus' love of cinema took root in his teen years. After developing an interest in still photography, he had an opportunity to visit a family friend, renowned direðor Max Ophüls, on the set of Lola Montes. Later, after studying photography for two years and becoming "an officially certified 35mm photographer," Ballhaus moved with his wife, Helga, to Baden-Baden, where she had landed a job at a nearby theater. Ballhaus hoped to find work on feature films but initially had no luck. "Then this TV station opened up in Baden-Baden, and they needed operators for these big eleðronic cameras," he recounted. "I got a job, and I worked in TV for almost nine years in Baden-Baden and Munich."

He shot his first feature, Der Klassenaufsatz, when he was just 25. "I learned that making a movie involves teamwork," Ballhaus reflected. "I was a good operator, thanks to my work with those big TV cameras, but I needed help with the lighting. I knew what I wanted, but I didn't know exadly how to achieve it. The assistant and gaffer helped me, but if they did something I didn't like, I told them so. I couldn't tell them exadly how to use a 5K or 10K, but I learned while doing it."

After mastering the basid of his craft, Ballhaus began honing his skills. While producing, directing and shooting a documentary in Ireland, he received a phone call from a friend, Ulli Lömmel, who was in Almería, Spain, preparing to produce and ad in a Western titled Whity, written and directed by prolific Wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder. "Ulli asked me, 'Do you like Fassbinder?'" Ballhaus recalled. "I said, 'Yes, why?' And he replied, 'Do you want to shoot a movie with him?' I answered, 'Sure, when does it start?' He said, 'You should be here in two days! …

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