In the frame

The 21st annual ASC Awards is expected to draw some of Hollywood's biggest names.

Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese and Charlize Theron are just a few of the celebrities who will come together Sunday to fete the unsung heroes of feature filmmaking: the cinematographer. This year, the American Society of Cinematographers gathers for its 21st annual celebration of the behind-the-camera artists who light, frame, pan and zoom, bringing the director's vision to life.

According to ASC president Daryn Okada, Sunday's ASC Awards will be the biggest ever: 1,900 people will gather at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Century City. "We've been sold out for three weeks," Okada says. "I don't think we can go bigger than this. Any bigger, and we'd need to be in a stadium."

A ticket to the ASC Awards has skyrocketed in desirability as each ceremony has topped the previous year's event, with a lineup of star presenters, award-winning cinematographers, historic film clips and, as always, a few well-timed surprises.

This year, the ASC is honoring Allen Daviau, ASC, with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Daviau's credits include such diverse films as 1982's "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," 1985's "The Color Purple," 1987's "Empire of the Sun," 1990's "Avalon" and 1991's "Bugsy," as well as numerous shorts and documentaries.

"I've watched his work since he started shooting," Okada says. "He has shown a very consistent high level of cinematography, no matter which kind of film he's done. He's always pushing every avenue, artistically and technically. And I'm happy to see he's getting this award when he still has a lot of incredible work ahead of him."

Ron Howard will receive the ASC's Board of Governors Award, an honor previously bestowed on Warren Beatty, Jodie Foster, Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, among others. "Ron's a real visionary in each one of his films," Okada says. "If you look at all of his films, each one has a different look working for the story. Ron thinks in a visual sense and is very sensitive to cinematography. He's worked with so many great cinematographers, and he crafts the look and puts together the cinematography team that really works for that story."

The International Achievement Award goes to Michael Ballhaus, ASC, who began his career in his native Germany before re-establishing himself in the U.S. "He did incredible work in Germany and rose to great prominence in Europe," Okada says. "Then he was able to come here and be at the top of his game immediately." Ballhaus, whose long list of credits includes many films for director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, most recently lensed Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Departed."

Committee chairs behind this year's decisions are cinematographers Russ Alsobrook, ASC, and Michael Goi, ASC. As in past years, Bob Fisher wrote the evening's script, Milt Shefter is the announcer or, as Okada puts it, "the voice of the ASC," and ASC's Patty Armacost is the behind-the-scenes maestro. "I think this year is all very strong," Okada says. "Every film stands on its own, and we have an incredible list of nominees and honorees."

Cinematography: Foreign-born DPs dominate Oscar race
Editing: Knowing when to cut -- and when not to
Sound: Creating rich aural environments

Guild honors:
ASC: Big names turn out
ACE: Spotlight a misunderstood craft