Karl Freund

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Karl Freund

Karl_Freund’s Biography

Born in the current Dvur Králové nad Labem in the Czech Republic, at the age of 15 he began his career by getting a job as a projectionist assistant, then after 17 years working in Berlin as a cameraman for news and short films for the company Pathé Films. In 1912 he was head of the company’s Projektions-AG Union (PAGU). When the First World War broke out, he was recruited, but due to his large body he was discharged after three months. Back to civilian life he worked as a freelance for several German production companies, mainly for Messter Film. He also started directing films in 1921.

In 1924 he started working at Universum Film AG (UFA), in the most innovative era of German cinema. There he worked as a cameraman for F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, and Ernst Lubitsch, with the first in his film The Last (1924).

In collaboration with screenwriter Carl Mayer, he began to develop the use of the camera as a narrative medium, which became the hallmark of German cinema in the Weimar Republic, along with the so-called German expressionism. Another of his innovations was to employ the use of the high-speed camera (slow motion) in poor lighting scenes. From this decade his work is remembered in the film Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang. In 1927 he decided to return to work as a freelancer traveling to London in 1928 to experiment with films in color at Movie Color Ltd. His international prestige allowed him to emigrate to the United States in 1929, integrating himself into the cinematic environment of Hollywood studios.

In 1930 he signed a contract with Universal Studios as a cameraman in the films Dracula (1931) and The Double Murder in Morgue Street (1932), and as a director in La mumia (1932). Then he joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1935, where he directed, among others, Las manos de Orlac (1935), which was his last job as a director. He won the Oscar for Best Cinematography for La buena tierra (1937). He remained at MGM throughout the period of the Second World War, founding, in 1944, the company Photo Research Corporation in Burbank, California, which manufactured exposure meters and television cameras. In 1947 he moved to Warner Bros. where he worked among others with John Huston in Key Largo (1948) and with Michael Curtiz in The King of Tobacco (1950). He ended his career as a cameraman with the film Montana (1950), by Ray Enright.

The 1950s began with the rise of television, especially with sitcoms. In 1951 the company Desilu Productions, the comedian Lucille Ball and her husband, the musician Desi Arnaz, began to produce their program I love Lucy. Being the television programs performed live, the basic system called Kinescopio was used for the distribution of the same, which consisted of filming the program with a film camera focused on a television screen. The biggest problem with this system was, apart from the sharpness, the flicker of the image, which was produced when it was filmed with a movie camera. A synchronism problem.

Karl Freund, who knew the couple from the previous decade, when they worked for MGM, was hired as the program’s director of photography, and interested in the new problems and situations presented by television, began to develop a better system quality, by using 3 film cameras, replacing the only television camera that was used until then, which at a stroke resolved the problem of sharpness, flicker, distribution and costs. The three cameras simultaneously filmed the program and then the material went to assembly. The system required meticulous planning, but technically, it was fully controllable. This pioneering system gave Desilu an extraordinary advantage and great popularity.

In 1955, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Hollywood awarded him a special technical award (Academy Award for Technical Achievement) for his work in the development of the exposure meter.

At the age of 70, Freund decided to retire, working only at his company Photo Research Corporation.

Died at age 79, at home, in Santa Monica, California.

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