Professional photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker has been involved with numerous iconic films and captured hundreds of magical moments throughout her decades-spanning career. This week, she gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at films like Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, Halloween II and Christine, with the release of a new book, On Set with John Carpenter: The Photographs of Kim Gottlieb-Walker.
Although she’s found an immense amount of success throughout her career as a photographer, that wasn’t the direction Gottlieb-Walker envisioned her career taking while she was still a film student at UCLA. “I majored in film production and hoped to be a camera operator. When I graduated, I had no contacts in the movie industry, so I went back to shooting stills for the underground press as I had done while at school with my film school teacher. In fact, it was during one of his interviews that I shot portraits of Jimi Hendrix when I was only 20 years old.”
“I had amassed quite an eclectic portfolio of musicians, authors, political and cultural figures when I was offered a job shooting for a little low budget film starring Wolfman Jack and Deborah Raffin. It was so awful, it was never even released, as far as I know, but the script supervisor on it was Debra Hill, who went on to co-write and produce Halloween for John Carpenter. She remembered working with me, Dean Cundey the DP and Ray Stella, the operator, and asked us all to shoot Halloween. That’s how my movie career began.”
For Gottlieb, her collaboration with Carpenter for Halloween would lead to long-lasting partnership between the two. She discussed her initial meeting with the eventual Master of Horror and the atmosphere on set while they were filming the micro-budgeted indie project in 1978.
“John and I met before the film began. I went into the office to do a photo shoot with the girls who were doing wardrobe and hair tests,” said Gottlieb-Walker. “On the set of Halloween, John was upbeat, knew exactly what he needed shot by shot, was very good at communicating to the crew and was a real pleasure to work with. John spoiled me for other directors because of his good humor, his efficiency and his appreciation of my job.”
“After Halloween, I saw myself as the documenter of each of John’s productions. Not just the stills from each scene, but also the activity behind the camera, like John working with the actors, the special effects being created, the laughter and fun. I was literally working every second of every day on each shoot because there was always something worth preserving,” Gottlieb-Walker added.
The influential photographer also shared a few fun memories from her time on the sets of Escape from New York and Christine. “Jim Cameron was an assistant effects guy on Escape from New York. He painted the New York Skyline on glass so it could be lined up between the camera and the horizon to turn the Sepulveda Dam in Los Angeles into Central Park in New York. But what hadn't occurred to anyone was that when the helicopters drop the care packages to the inmates in the park, the packages fell behind the skyline.”
“So whenever something went wrong, there was a pose that John or Larry Franco (the AD) or Jeff Chernov (a PA) would assume - the ‘cover your nose and grab your balls because we're going down!’ There are several photos in the book demonstrating ‘the pose’ too. John was also a great practical joker, and there’s a story in the book how he led Christine producer Richard Kobritz to believe his precious Porsche had been crushed by a bulldozer.”
These are just two of the numerous entertaining tales that Gottlieb-Walker shares via her frequent collaborators throughout the book. It gave the photographer the perfect opportunity to showcase the influential talents she worked with, plus show off her own immense gifts as a lenswoman as well.
“It was a blast getting together with friends I hadn't seen in 30 years to record their memories for the book,” said Gottlieb-Walker. “Jeff Chernov had just finished producing the last Star Trek movie and his production assistants got to see photos of him when HE was a production assistant. The reaction from the fans has been very gratifying.”
“This book is also very much my love letter to John and Debra and everyone who worked on these films. Debra Hill was responsible for so many people getting their start. Dean and Ray went on to huge careers as cinematographers, Barry Bernardi, Jeff Chernov, Larry Franco and Rick Wallace all went on to major producing careers, and both Tommy Wallace and Keith Gordon became directors. So the book is dedicated to Debra because she shattered the glass ceiling for women producers and gave so many people their careers.”
On Set with John Carpenter: The Photographs of Kim Gottlieb-Walker will be officially on sale beginning October 21st. Fans can pre-order their copies of this rare collection of stills and stories via Amazon or other online retailers now, or pick up a copy from their local bookstores once the book is released.
Photo Credit: Kim Gottlieb-Walker, www.