Cinematographer Harris Savides Dies at 55

Harris Savides Headshot - P 2012
Getty Images

Harris Savides Headshot - P 2012

His credits include "Zodiac," "Elephant," "Milk," "American Gangster" and the upcoming Sofia Coppola-directed film "The Bling Ring."

Harris Savides, the dynamic cinematographer behind such films as Zodiac, Elephant and American Gangster, died Thursday, a source confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 55. 

No further details were given.

Savides' wide-ranging film credits include David Fincher's Zodiac (2007) and The Game (1997) as well as the Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) and Milk (2008), for which Sean Penn won the best actor Oscar. Savides worked on six films with Van Sant, most recently Restless (2011) featuring Mia Wasikowska.

“Not only have we lost one of the greatest talents of our generation, but he was one of the nicest people I have ever known in the business,” International Cinematographers Guild president Steven Poster told THR.

Although Savides never received an Academy Award nomination, his work earned the respect of other top auteur directors besides Fincher and Gus Van Sant including Sofia Coppola, who recruited him for the father-daughter mood film Somewhere and her upcoming ripped-from-the-headlines effort The Bling Ring, which will be his final credit.

The native New Yorker also worked heavily with Noah Baumbach as cinematographer for Margot at the Wedding (2007) and Greenberg (2010) starring Ben Stiller. Other credits include James Gray's The Yards (1999) and Ridley Scott's American Gangster (2007), for which he earned a BAFTA nomination.

Savides' expertise also was enlisted by Martin Scorsese and John Hillcoat for commercial projects and by director Mark Romanek for music videos such as Madonna's "Bedtime Stories," Fiona Apple's "Criminal" and Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," according to Indiewire.

Seamus McGarvey, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer behind such films as Atonement, We Need to Talk About Kevin, High Fidelity and The Hours, spoke eloquently about Savides in a statement to THR:

“Harris Savides was the most gifted cinematographer of his generation. His legacy of so many startlingly photographed films will never be forgotten.

"From the experimental verve of his music videos and commercials to the philosophical profundity, yet deft simplicity, of his feature work, Harris was the most sought-after cinematographer, and directors and crews loved and respected him.

"He was a virtuoso in that delicate dance between the lens and the light and was incredibly daring when it came to hovering on the edge of darkness … a precipitous place for any cinematographer!

"He used light in such an expressive way, and he really understood how to look at an actor’s face with his camera in a way that allowed you to get under their skin. His was a rare and singular vision, and he imbued each and every frame with his unique artist’s eye.

"The genuine sadness and tragedy of Harris Savides’ early passing is only tempered by the fact that he has left us a rich and inspirational series of work that will forever urge filmmakers to explore their creative imaginations and push the limits of this fast evolving art form, Cinema.”

Carolyn Giardina contributed to this report.