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Dan Kneece, the veteran camera operator and Steadicam expert who worked on films including David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot, has died. He was 64.
Kneece had heart trouble and died Saturday in his Venice home, where he was found by his longtime friend and first assistant cameraman Steven Mann during a “wellness check,” Mann told The Hollywood Reporter.
“Wes said the opening of Scream with Drew Barrymore on the phone popping popcorn was the best first day’s dailies he’d had on any film, and it was played by the major TV outlets for 10 years whenever they talked about horror movies,” Kneece noted in a 2018 interview.
His credits — he has more than 180 as a camera operator on IMDb — also included Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Coneheads (1993), Crimson Tide (1995), Bulworth (1998), One Hour Photo (2002), Old School (2003), Baadasssss! (2003), Hulk (2003), Bruce Almighty (2003) and The Artist (2011).
The South Carolina native first worked as an operator for Lynch on Blue Velvet (1986), followed by Wild at Heart (1990), the 1990-91 ABC series Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001).
He co-founded the Steadicam Guild in 2002 and served a stint as president of the Society of Camera Operators beginning in 2007.
Asked last year for advice on how to “work well” with a director, Kneece replied: “Always remember you are not making your film. You are making the director’s film. That is the reason you are there. You both have to be making the same movie. Otherwise you are doomed for failure.”
Born on Sept. 13, 1956, Kneece graduated from the University of South Carolina and manned a camera for a TV station in the area. He came to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, got his certificate in cinema from USC and landed a job at Cinema Products, learning to operate the Steadicam by its inventor, Garrett Brown.
That “placed me in the first generation of Steadicam operators,” he noted.
Kneece also worked on plenty of TV series, including The Wonder Years, Melrose Place, Felicity, Nurse Betty, Entourage and Nip/Tuck, and he was the cinematographer on such features as Southern Belles (1997), Black Eyed Dog (2014) and Courting Chaos (2014).
More recently, he and another close friend, cinematographer Robert Primes, worked on the 2019 short film Piel Canela in Cuba.
“He was self-effacing, unflappable and comedic, and his warmth would melt anyone,” Primes said of Kneece. “He was a perfect example of solid human values as opposed to what so many of us strive for. He was a brilliant operator and technician. But I believe his lasting impact on the industry will be his quiet but radiant humanity.”
Survivors include his brother, Robert.
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