Veteran DP Adam Greenberg on His Journey to Hollywood, Work on ‘Terminator’ Movies

James C. Udel

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Cinematographer Adam Greenberg, who earned an Oscar nomination for his work on James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” began to learn the craft of filmmaking working in the Israeli Army’s photo section.

Landing a technician job in a one-room production lab in Tel Aviv, he used his downtime wisely. “Reading old copies of Cinematographer magazine was my training,” says Greenberg (born Grinberg), who wound up in the Middle East at age 3, after fleeing from the Nazi war machine in his native Krakow in 1942 with his two sisters. “The articles taught me how to shoot newsreels.” Using “short ends” — partial rolls of unexposed film stock left in a camera — he applied techniques he learned from the magazine and processed the film himself.

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Eventually earning an assistant’s job, Greenberg interned on David Perlov’s seminal 1963 short documentary “In Jerusalem.” That led to work on Israel Becker’s far-out Hebrew-language musical comedy “The Flying Matchmaker.” He reunited with Perlov in 1967, lensing the documentary “Theatre in Israel,” and crewed on the director’s celebrated 1969 doc “42:6 — Ben Gurion.” To film aerial coverage, Greenberg parachuted from an airplane and shot while plummeting earthward. 

After landing cinematographer status with hit Israeli television series “Lool” (1970), he made his first connection with Hollywood on Jerry Hopper’s “His Name Was Madron,” starring Richard Boone. The low-budget Western filmed in Israel’s Negev desert, and Greenberg was among the locals hired on the shoot.

He continued working on Israeli action productions like Menahem Golan’s “Diamonds” and “Operation Thunderbolt” in the mid-’70s, and stretched into romantic comedy for Boaz Davidson’s “Lemon Popsicle” in 1978, produced by Golan. Greenberg’s Tinseltown breakthrough came two years later. Roger Corman’s brother Gene, a producer on “The Big Red One,” whom Greenberg had met while working on 1976 drama “The Passover Plot,” connected the DP to the film’s director, Sam Fuller. Though barely able to speak or read English, Greenberg impressed Fuller in dailies with hand-held action footage, assigning five cameras to the mix. 

Greenberg most remembers the film for its star. “I was in heaven working with Lee Marvin,” he says. “He got it.” The cinematographer recalls Marvin as a “father figure,” running a mini-boot camp for the other actors.

Emigrating to the United States soon after, the DP made a name for himself in 1984 with James Cameron’s “The Terminator.” When Cameron asked him why he wanted the job, Greenberg responded: “I need exposure. I need people to see what I can do, and I think this will be a very big movie.” He proved himself right. Shooting Arnold Schwarzenegger from the thighs up to look larger — and lit in full blues and half-greens — he strove to give the film a signature cold and static look that audiences would remember. 

For Greenberg, the project also established a bond with Schwarzenegger, with whom he worked on “Terminator 2,” “Eraser,” “Junior” and “Collateral Damage.” Other films that bear Greenberg’s stamp include “Rush Hour,” “Ghost,” “Dave,” “Sister Act,” “First Knight,” “Snakes on a Plane” and “Sphere.”

Currently retired, Greenberg lives with his wife, Varda, in Brentwood. But, he admits, he’s “still looking for a great script.” 

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