RIP: 17 Film Luminaries We Lost in 2017
These influential figures will be missed by the film industry and beyond.
One comfort we have as creators is that, after all the toil and trouble we go through to put our work out into the world, that work has the potential to outlive us and continue to move people long after we are gone. That can certainly be said of the people on this list. From genre-defining directors to DPs who made us see the world in new ways, here are some of the names that we hold close to our hearts from those who left us in 2017.
Our list begins with a most recent loss: uber-talented production designer, Thérèse DePrez, whose impressive list of accomplishments included creating the iconic look of Black Swan, died Tuesday after a battle with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. Renowned indie producer Ted Hope tweeted: There are not many people who have inspired me in so many ways than Thérèse DePrez. How she lived, how she worked, what she made, what she loved.
After DePrez, the list is in alphabetical order.
1. Thérèse DePrez, Production Designer
Born: 1965. DePrez began her career on era-defining ‘90s films such as Tom Kalin’s Swoon and Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol. She made an indelible mark with the highly stylized production design on Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan in 2010.
2. Michael Ballhaus, Cinematographer
Born: 1935. After shooting several films with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, German cinematographer Ballhaus defined the look of American cinema through iconic work with Scorsese and Coppola, including Goodfellas. He was Oscar-nominated for Best Cinematography on Gangs of New York (2002), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), and Broadcast News (1987).
3. Debra Chasnoff, Documentary Filmmaker
Born: 1957. Known for being a documentarian who fearlessly took on social issues, Debra Chasnoff won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject for Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons, and Our Environment (1991), and made history as the first woman to thank a same-sex partner when accepting an Oscar. She was also a co-founder of Women’s Educational Media and member of New Day Films, a filmmaker-run distribution company for social-issue films.
4. William Peter Blatty, Screenwriter
Born: 1928. Starting out in comedy writing scripts for Blake Edwards and The Pink Panther Films, William Peter Blatty became a genre-defining horror master with his Oscar-winning script for The Exorcist (1973). He also penned the novel on which the film is based.
5. Jonathan Demme, Director
Born: 1944. Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme’s prolific career spanned 50 years of cinema and showed mastery in nearly every genre. While modern horror classic The Silence of the Lambs may be his most recognizable title, he’s also behind everything from influential Talking Heads rock doc Stop Making Sense (1984) to AIDS drama Philadelphia (1993).
6. Tobe Hooper, Director
Born: 1943. Initiator of modern horror conventions like the use of found footage, Tobe Hooper changed the low-budget horror game with his 1974 indie masterpiece The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Known for helming popular films like Salem's Lot and Poltergeist, Hooper’s visceral style defined the slasher as we know it.
7. Walter Lasally, Cinematographer
Born: 1926. DP Walter Lasally was one of the founding members of the UK’s low-budget Free Cinema movement, characterized by its use of non-actors and portrayal of the English working class. With over 100 camera credits to his name, he is best known for shooting Michael Cacoyannis’ Zorba the Greek, which won him the Oscar for best black-and-white cinematography in 1965.
8. Lino Manfrotto, Inventor
Born: 1936. With roots as a photojournalist, Italian inventor Lino Manfrotto designed his first tripod in his garage in 1976 with mechanical engineer Gilberto Battocchio, building a company that today owns a 30% share of the global tripod market and manufactures reliable and affordable products popular with indie filmmakers everywhere.
9. Jeanne Moreau, Actor
Born: 1928. Award-winning French actor Jeanne Moreau had a career that spanned over 50 years. She graced the screen working with some of the world’s most celebrated directors, from Louis Malle to Michelangelo Antonioni to Orson Welles. A career-defining role was as Catherine, the center of a love triangle in François Truffaut’s definitive French New Wave film, Jules et Jim.
10. Robin O’Hara, Producer
Born: 1954. With over 30 producing credits to her name, New York-based producer Robin O’Hara is most closely tied to the rise of indie film in the late ‘90s and early aughts, having worked on films like Peter Sollett’s Raising Victor Vargas and Harmony Korine’s Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy.
11. Bill Paxton, Actor and Director
Born: 1955. Best known for his roles in ‘90s blockbusters like Apollo 13, Twister, and Titanic, Bill Paxton had a strong indie pedigree, too; One of his most memorable roles was in Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan. Perhaps his greatest legacy will be one of his most overlooked projects: his directorial debut, Frailty, a low-budget psychological thriller in which he also starred.
12. Tom Petty, Rock Musician
Born: 1950. Rock superstar Tom Petty is, of course, best known for his musical contributions—his song Free Fallin’ now sits in the Library of Congress—but his innovation in visual storytelling through his music videos are what we will remember him for.
13. George A. Romero, Screenwriter and Director
This was a tough year for horror, as we lost yet another hero in director George A. Romero. His seminal indie classic Night of the Living Dead, which he also co-wrote, was shot DIY for $115,000 after he had trouble breaking into Hollywood more traditionally. His low-budget and collaborative approach to filmmaking was as influential as his zombies.
14. Sam Shepard, Actor and Playwright
Sam Shepard is the type of artist who will be remembered across every discipline of culture. While the plays he wrote (44 in total, three of which won Pulitzer Prizes) are some of the greatest contributions to American theater, the themes that sprouted from his mind have gone on to inspire generations of filmmakers, actors, and writers to delve into the darker side of family life, friendships, and experiences of love. He was also a well-respected actor, garnering an Oscar nomination for his role as Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983).
15. Harry Dean Stanton, Actor
Born: 1926. With 200 credits to his name, Harry Dean Stanton was one of the most sought-after characters in Hollywood. In recent years, he gained renewed fame portraying a self-proclaimed prophet with 14 wives on HBO’s Big Love. He was still acting at age 90, playing a character modeled after his own life in John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky. Listen to our podcast interview with the director about working with Stanton.
16. Seijun Suzuki, Director
Born: 1923. The excessively violent, hyper-stylized films of Japanese auteur Seijun Suzuki paved the way for directors like Park Chan-wook and Quentin Tarantino. Of his 50+ films, we wrote “Suzuki communicated with chaos, and would increasingly jettison narrative coherence as his films fractured and splintered into manic, blood-steeped art pieces; the stories progress with the spasmodic geometry of crime scene spatter patterns.”
17. Eric Zumbrunnen, Editor
Born: 1964. Eric Zumbrunnen is best known for his prolific creative partnership with director Spike Jonze. He edited every single one of Jonze's cutting-edge films and some of his iconic music videos, garnering the Best Edited Feature Film Award from the American Cinema Editors for their collaboration Being John Malkovich.