Fred J. Koenekamp

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Fred J. Koenekamp, A.S.C.
Born Frederick James Koenekamp
November 11, 1922
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Died May 31, 2017(2017-05-31) (aged 94)
Bonita Springs, Florida U.S.
Occupation Cinematographer
Years active 1965–1994
Awards Best Cinematography
1974 The Towering Inferno

Frederick James Koenekamp, A.S.C. (November 11, 1922 – May 31, 2017[1]) was an American cinematographer. He was the son of cinematographer Hans F. Koenekamp.

Koenekamp worked in television and feature films from the 1960s. He was nominated for an Oscar for Patton (1970) and Islands in the Stream (1977) and won the Oscar for The Towering Inferno (1974), along with Joseph Biroc. Other films shot by Koenekamp include Papillon (1973), Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), The Swarm (1978) and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984).

Early life and education[edit]

Fred J. Koenekamp was the son of American cinematographer H. F. Koenekamp, ASC. Hans was the cameraman of Mack Sennett and his career worked with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and the Keystone Cops.[2] Hans would later receive the ASC Presidents Award in 1991. On occasion, as a young boy, Fred would go with his father on the weekends to visit the studios which he worked in. He took particular interest in the Camera and Special Effects Department at Warner Bros. [3]

Despite this background in film, Koenekamp developed a much greater interest in aviation and enrolled in the commercial aviation program at the University of Southern California. When World War II broke out, Koenekamp enlisted in the Navy and served in the South Pacific for three and a half years. Koenekamp would resume his education after the end of the war.[3]


At the age of 23, Fred received a phone call from Herb Aller, head of the cameraman's union, and was offered a job as a film loader at RKO Pictures. It was during this time in which Fred developed a fascination with the picture business.[3]

During this time, Bill Ellington, head of the camera department at RKO, and Ted Winchester, an associate at RKO, began to mentor Fred and during their spare time in the loading rooms, would teach Fred how to operate and take care of cameras.[3]

The first five years of Koenekemp's career were fairly tumultuous and Fred found himself unemployed and employed again on several occasions. In 1953, Koenekamp received an offer from Bill Ellington to return to RKO to work on several 3D film setups and tests. As business began to pick up at RKO once again, Koenekamp received his first job as an assistant cameraman on Underwater!(1955) starring Jane Russell and directed by John Sturges. Koenekamp found himself in Hawaii for seven weeks and developed a skill for underwater photography.[3]

As a result of his experience with underwater photography, Koenekamp found himself at MGM working as an assistant cameraman on a project with Esther Williams. This would initiate Koenekamp's 14-year stint at MGM.[3]

After 5 years working as an assistant cameraman at MGM, Koenekamp became an operator. His first film as an operator was The Brothers Karamazov (1958), a film adapted and directed by Richard Brooks. Moving from assistant cameraman to operator, Koenekamp described the increase in responsibilities as a daunting task. It was during this time in which Koenekamp learned how to light scenes, compose shots, and work with a director. At MGM, Fred developed close working relations with Robert Surtees, ASC and Milton Krasner, ASC. Koenekamp worked with Surtees as a technician on Raintree County (1975), the first film shot with Panavision 70.[3]

Koenekamp became an operator for Gunsmoke as business began to slow down at MGM. When the series wrapped, Fred found himself a 4-year stint working on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and earned himself two Emmy nominations for his work on the 1964-65 and 1965-66 seasons. Koenekamp would receive his first credit as a cinematographer for 1966's The Spy with My Face, a big screen adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Within the next three years, Koenekamp worked on five more features with MGM—Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding! (1967), with Sandra Dee and George Hamilton; Stay Away, Joe (1968) and Live a Little, Love a Little (1968), with Elvis Presley; (1968), with David McCallum; and Western Heaven With a Gun (1969), with Glenn Ford. Koenekamp would then move on to work with Warner Bros. on The Great Bank Robbery (1969).[3]

In the midst of working on The Great Bank Robbery, Koenekamp received a call from his agent regarding interviewing with director Frank Schaeffer for Patton (1970). A week later, Frank received a call informing him that he was selected to be the cinematographer for the film. Patton shot in several locations including England, Greece, North Africa and Spain, and while shooting, Koenekamp developed a very close working relation with Schaeffer. It was for Patton which Koenekamp received his first Academy Award for Best Cinematography nomination.[3][4]

Koenekamp worked with Fox and director John Guillermin for 1974 action-drama disaster film The Towering Inferno. Fred worked with cinematographer Joseph Biroc on the film and the two would win their first Academy Award for Best Cinematography.[4] Koenekamp and Biroc would go on to work on four more features together.[3]

Koenekamp reunited with Frank Schaeffer to work on Islands in the Stream (1977) and received his third Academy award nomination.[4]


Koenekamp retired at the age of 67 as a result of his displeasure with the quality of the films he was working on. His last film was Flight of the Intruder (1991).

Throughout his career as a cinematographer, Koenekamp preferred to work with the same crew. He had three assistants—Mike Benson, Ed Morey and Chuck Arnold, all of which he eventually made operators. All three would eventually become cinematographers as well.

Koenkamp was honored with an ASC Award for Outstanding Achievement on February 20, 2004.[5]

Koenekamp passed away, at the age of 94, on May 31, 2017.

Filmography [6][edit]

1964 The Spy with My Face
1965 One Spy Too
1965 One of Our Spies Is Missing
1966 The Spy in the Green Hat
1966 Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding/This Way Out, Please/Three for a Wedding
1967 The Karate Killers
1967 The Helicopter Spies
1967 Sol Madrid/The Heroin Gang
1967 Stay Away, Joe
1968 Live a Little, Love a Little
1968 Heaven with a Gun
1968 The Great Bank Robbery
1969 Patton
1970 Beyond the Valley of the Dolls/Hollywood Vixens
1970 Flap/The Last Warrior
1970 Billy Jack
1971 Skin Game
1971 Stand Up and Be Counted
1971 Happy Birthday, Wanda June
1971 Rage
1972 The Magnificent Seven Ride!
1972 Kansas City Bomber
1972 Harry In Your Pocket
1973 Papillon [Franklin Schaffner] p/c; spec pfx: Albert Whitlock
1973 Uptown Saturday Night [Sidney Poitier] c
1974 The Towering Inferno
1974 Posse
1974 The Wild McCullochs/McCullochs
1975 White Line Fever
1975 Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze
1975 Islands in the Stream
1975 Embryo/Created to Kill
1976 The Domino Principle/The Domino Killings
1976 Fun with Dick and Jane
1976 The Other Side of Midnight
1977 The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training
1977 The Swarm
1977 Love and Bullets
1978 The Champ
1978 The Amityville Horror
1979 When Time Ran Out.../The Day the World Ended/Earth's Final Fury
1979 The Hunter
1980 First Family
1980 Carbon Copy
1980 First Monday in October
1981 Wrong Is Right/The Man with the Deadly Lens
1981 Yes, Giorgio
1982 It Came from Hollywood
1983 Two of a Kind
1983 The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
1983 Stick
1985 Stewardess School
1988 Listen to Me
1988 Welcome Home
1989 Flight of the Intruder

Academy Awards and nominations [4][edit]

Nominee: Patton (1970)

Winner: The Towering Inferno (1974)

Nominee: Islands in the Stream (1977)