The woman behind the still photos on the set of ‘Halloween’
“More happens in front of your lens in filmmaking than ever would in journalism. In films, sets explode and actors perform, all for your camera.”
Kim Gottlieb-Walker has had an amazing life. She started her legendary still photography career in the 1960s during her freshman year at UC Berkley, covering the Free Speech Movement. The following year she transferred to UCLA and graduated with honors in Motion Picture Production. Her early photography years found her covering concerts for local underground papers, traveling the world and finally returning to Los Angeles to work for a number of magazines including the Music World Magazine where she was the photo editor, and met her husband, Jeff Walker.
In 1976, Walker was hired to be the still photographer on a small indie movie that never got released, but then script supervisor Debra Hill, who went on to be the co-writer and producer of John Carpenter’s Halloween, brought her on board to be a part of the team that changed horror history. Continuing the collaboration — she also shot stills on The Fog, Escape from New York, Christine as well as Halloween II.
Kim has been the photographer on many iconic TV shows in addition to her movie credits. She was the production photographer for Cheers, Family Ties, Star Trek – The Next Generation, StarTrek – Deep Space Nine, American Dreamer, and the last spin-off of the Bob Newhart Show, Bob. Shooting stills for Steven Spielberg’s TV series “Amazing Stories” Kim got the chance to work with a different director each week, like Clint Eastwood and Spielberg himself.
I got the honor of meeting Kim at ScareLA where I found out about her new book of photographs she took on-set during the filming of many John Carpenter classics. I also got to attend the Halloween Exhibition gallery showing at the Sugar Mynt Gallery in Pasadena, where some of her iconic photographs are available to purchase. (Yes, I got one!) After taking a photo of Kim in front of the actual Myers house from the movie ‘Halloween’, which is right next door to the gallery, I was able to do an interview with the phenomenal woman behind the photos, Kim Gottlieb-Walker.
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH LEGENDARY PHOTOGRAPHER Kim Gottlieb-Walker
Los Angeles Zombie Girl: Kim, you have had an amazing and adventurous life. Can you tell me just a little bit about that and how you got started as a still photographer in movies?
Kim Gottlieb-Walker: “I majored in film production at UCLA, hoping to be a camera operator. While I was there, I sometimes shot photos to go with the articles my film school teacher, Bill Kerby, wrote for the underground press, which is how I managed to shoot portraits of Jimi Hendrix when I was 20. When I graduated (and was a teaching assistant in the film school for a while), I knew no-one in the movie business, so I continued to shoot stills for the underground press and for record companies.”
“I put together a portfolio, which was seen by a low budget movie producer/director who hired me to shoot the stills for his feature. It was never even released – but the script supervisor was Debra Hill, who went on to co-write and produce Halloween with John Carpenter – and she called me and asked me to join their crew. That began my association with John for 5 films!”
LAZG: What was it like being a photographer in what was mostly a men’s world when you started?
KGW: “Sometimes men would come up to me and point to my camera and say ‘You know how to use that thing?’ But for the most part, it was never a problem. I’m good at making friends and getting along with fellow crew members and it is a collaborative effort to make a movie…and we worked together very well. John and Debra always had wonderful, talented, good-natured crews. It took a court arbitration to get me into the Cinematographers Guild, but Debra went to bat for me and got me in, along with the rest of John’s terrific camera crew.”
LAZG: When you work on a movie you are quoted as seeing yourself as part of the camera crew. Can you elaborate on that?
KGW: “We are responsible for the visual images, whether moving or still. The Cinematographers Guild includes Directors of Photography, Camera Operators, Assistants, Loaders, Still folk and Publicists. I work with the same lighting set-ups as the DP and shoot the same subjects as the operator…I’m just a department of one!”
LAZG: What are some of your favorite memories on the set of John Carpenter Films?
KGW: “Working with John was such a joy…every day was fun. On Halloween I didn’t have blimps to silence my camera yet, so if I couldn’t shoot a quiet dialogue scene because the soundtrack would pick up my clicks, John would have them do the scene again just for me after they got what they needed. This is VERY rare in a director…but he understood how important the stills would be to promote the film. There was always a great deal of laughter on his sets.”
LAZG: Since my focus is about horror, how do you personally compare horror films from the time of Halloween to today?
KGW: “John’s inspiration was Alfred Hitchcock…it’s about suspense and anticipation, not about gore. I like any well-crafted film, though I am not really a fan of horror movies in general, but I appreciate good film-making. My cousin, Evan Dumouchel, made a terrific low-budget psychological horror film called They Look Like People which is now available on Netflix, and he plans on making one every year. I think some of the films inspired by Halloween missed the point and simply became gore-fests. But crafting a good horror film is a terrific way into the business and also a great deal of fun to do.”
KGW: “Now that I’m retired, it seemed like the time to create some books…the first was about Bob Marley and the two-year period when I periodically photographed him in the mid-seventies (“Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae”). The second was “On Set with John Carpenter” because there were so many photos that had never been seen properly and so much behind the scenes history I had documented. Getting together with the crew members I hadn’t seen in 35 years and recording their memories was so much fun! Sugar Mynt does shows with me because they get so many pilgrims coming to see the Myers House right around the corner, it seemed to be a natural!”
LAZG: Do you still volunteer with new photographers? What does that involve?
KGW: “I still correspond with young photographers who are just starting their careers, giving guidance about how to get into the union, etc. On my website www.Lenswoman.com, there is a section called UNION with a description of the Still Photographers job on a set (Setiquette) with best practices. Young photographers find it useful. Sometimes I meet with them to give advice about what to present in their portfolios and to share stories.”
LAZG: Any favorite stories about anything from being a still photographer?
KGW: “Being a still photographer led me to meeting my husband over the formation of Music World Magazine, where he became the editor and I was the chief photographer and photo editor. We met when he arranged for us to attend and shoot a Cat Stevens Concert Sept 30, 1972 and afterward we talked all night. Three days later he told a friend at RCA that he was going to marry me. Our partnership, both as a writer/photographer team and as husband and wife has been tremendously fulfilling. I love being a historian – and that the moments I choose to preserve will be remembered after I am gone.”
LAZG: Upcoming projects?
KGW: “Several in the works…My publisher wants me to do a behind the scenes book about Cheers (which I worked on as their unit photographer for 9 years). My husband is starting work on his autobiography (he was named by Entertainment Weekly as the “46th Smartest Man in Hollywood” – which would make a great title) which I would lavishly illustrate with photos. The project I’m enjoying the most is my romance novel, Lenswoman, 15 years in the writing process, about a young women photographer in the ‘60s and ‘70s (write what you know!). It will be ready to publish in a few months…and then I need to find the right publisher for it!”
If you are in the LA area in October, The Sugar Mynt Gallery will have another special evening for the Halloween Exhibit, including special guests and fun outdoor movie screenings. The Exhibit also include memorabilia and artwork from ‘Hocus Pocus’. This special event is on October 1st, 2016 at the Sugar Mynt Gallery in Pasadena. The Halloween Exhibition itself will run through October 31st.