Bill Butler Obituary, Bill Butler, Cinematographer Best Known For ‘Jaws,’ Dies At 101

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Bill Butler Obituary, Bill Butler, Cinematographer Best Known For ‘Jaws,’ Dies At 101

He came up with a mechanism that allowed Steven Spielberg to film underwater. His work on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” earned him an Oscar nomination.

Bill Butler, an Oscar-nominated cinematographer who played a prominent role in the American New Wave movement of the 1970s and whose credits included “Jaws,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and three of the “Rocky” sequels, died on Wednesday. He was 101.

His death was announced by the American Society of Cinematographers, which did not say where he died.

Mr. Butler worked with a number of directors credited with reimagining American filmmaking in the ’70s, including Steven Spielberg, for whom he was the director of photography on “Jaws,” the 1975 blockbuster about a man-eating great white shark that established Mr. Spielberg’s reputation and changed the way Americans looked at both film and the beach.

Open-water shooting posed many challenges on what was a notoriously troubled set.

The crew faced problems not only with their malfunctioning mechanical shark but also ‌with seasickness, uncooperative tides‌, random boats sailing into the frame and even sets that sank.

Mr. Butler designed a submersible camera box and a platform that allowed for shooting both below the water and on its surface, to convey the viewpoint of a swimmer. The American Society of Cinematographers, which presented Mr. Butler with a lifetime achievement award in 2003, also credited him in 2012 in its magazine, American Cinematographer, with “heroically” saving footage from a camera that went down in the Atlantic Ocean. His calculation: that seawater would be similar to saline-based developing solutions.

“We got on an airplane with the film in a bucket of water, took it to New York and developed it,” Mr. Butler recalled in his commentary for a 2012 release of “Jaws” on Blu-ray. “We didn’t lose a foot.”

In a statement, Mr. Spielberg praised Mr. Butler’s work on “Jaws.” “Bill’s outlook on life was pragmatic, philosophical and so very patient,” he said, “and I owe him so much for his steadfast and creative contributions to the entire look of ‘Jaws.’”

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