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Blair Witch Cameraman Killed in Plane Crash

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'Blair Witch' Cameraman Killed in Plane Crash

By Sheigh Crabtree

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Cinematographer Neal L. Fredericks, best known for his work on "The Blair Witch Project," was killed Saturday while shooting the independent film "Cross Bones" in the Florida Keys. He was 35.

Fredericks was filming aerial shots for the movie from a single-engine Cessna 206 when the plane's engine sputtered twice at about 500 feet before going down in 50 feet of water, according to "Cross Bones" writer-director Daniel Zirilli.

Zirilli, the pilot, a co-producer and a first camera assistant escaped the wreckage through an open door, but Fredericks, who was strapped into a safety harness beneath camera equipment, was unable to free himself from his seat before the plane was submerged.

"It was sunny, no wind; the hurricane had passed 36 hours before," Zirilli said. "It was a glorious day. The pilot called us to go out. As far as we know, it was engine failure."

Fredericks has a long list of independent film credits, including the upcoming "Black Dahlia" and "Abominable," but he may be best remembered for his contributions to "Blair Witch."

"People really didn't understand how integral Neal was to the visual design of that film," said Stephen Pizzello, executive editor of American Cinematographer. "It was a huge movie based on the look, the lighting, the camera moves and the flashlights -- all of which he designed."

Fredericks was born in Huntington Beach, Calif. He traced his interest in movies back to a visit to a local cinema as a child to see "Blade Runner" with his father. He described himself as "a horror film geek" when he was in high school in the 1980s and said he rented every horror film available at the time on VHS.

He went on to study filmmaking at the University of Baltimore, where he began shooting Super 8 and 16 mm films, and where he met the people with whom he worked on "Blair Witch."

But despite the notoriety of the seminal indie horror film, Fredericks struggled to find paying work in the business.

He went on to shoot nearly 30 low-budget films and was excited about returning to Los Angeles this week to finish color-timing director Ryan Schifrin's "Abominable," according to colleagues.

"Neal was known as someone who added to the creative needs of a director and was not limited to a certain style," said Ann Luu, Fredericks' ex-wife. "He was known as a rebel who was open to unusual styles and approaches to cinema. He was a young DP out there to break the rules."

Noted Charles Lenhoff, Fredericks' agent: "'Blair Witch' put him on the map, but he was on the threshold of breaking through. I thought of him as a young Bob Richardson (of the 'Kill Bill' films). It takes a long time to build a career and a reputation, and a fragile event can tear it apart."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

(source)

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