Our main man NEAL LESLIE FREDERICKS
I met Neal Fredericks while we were both students at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland. We had a bunch of classes together but never talked until he approached me one day after our Intro to Broadcasting class and asked me some stuff about a little video of mine that had been shown that day. He asked me where I had edited it and how much time it had taken to produce and finally gave me some encouraging words on how much he liked it. He just wanted to say that, he said. He just wanted to see what was up with me and see if we could work together on something in the future. I didnâ€™t know what to say. You donâ€™t really get many compliments like that from fellow students, especially that early in college. So I somehow blurted out my thanks to him and said something about working on a project together soon and left it at that. It was 1987 and as it turned out, from that day forward I rarely did anything in my production life that didnâ€™t involve Neal Fredericks.
Besides all the dumb school assignments we worked on together, Neal was a guiding force through both of my first features, VIDEOALL
in 1989 and GABRIELâ€™S DREAM
1991- Neal on the set of GABRIEL'S DREAM, doing what he loved most, shooting
He officially operated the camera on both of those projects but he really did a lot of everything else, too. He was just so enthusiastic to make videos and films and just go out and shoot stuff. And he was also a good guy, on and off the set. Funny as hell and just plain cool, always ready to do whatever it took to make the shot work or move the project forward.
1994 or so - One of my favorite pictures - Neal (left with camera) was shooting a sunset shot for GABRIEL'S DREAM and all these kids starting coming around to see what he was doing
In 1991 he traveled down to Orlando and moved in with me while I attended UCF
. Thatâ€™s where Neal met Dan and Mike and was soon shooting for just about everybody at film school. We shared a room for a year and I remember him waking up at like 4 or 5 am to drive for an hour to be an assistant camera for a low-budget feature that was paying no one and treating the crew pretty bad, as I recall. I would wake up momentarily to his alarm clock and look over and see him getting up, getting ready for another long day of working under the hot Orlando sun for free. That was dedication. That was Neal.
He shot my short film RESURRECTION
in 1994 and then moved back with me to Maryland to finish editing GABRIELâ€™S DREAM
, which was dragging in post production due to low funds and to tell you the truth, low belief on my part. I wouldnâ€™t have finished that film without Neal. He was the guiding light on that thing, using his own money a lot of times to keep things moving. Later, once we all went through the painful realization that the film was not going to sell, Neal headed out to LA to begin working his way up the ladder and to become a great Director of Photography. Honestly, I didnâ€™t know how far he was going to go as a DP. He had mostly concentrated on the camera when he worked with me and I just didnâ€™t know if he was enough of an artist to be a great DP.
But in 1997, Dan and I didnâ€™t have anyone else in mind to be the DP of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
except Neal. He came to Maryland and shared that adventure in the woods with us, always professional, always there with whatever needed to be done.
1997 - Neal, Gregg and Tony Cora suit up during BLAIR WITCH
blew-up, he weathered all the crap about the making of the film, the questions about how he DPâ€™d the film if the actors were out there shooting the film the whole time, the same questions Dan and I were asked about our directing and writing contributions.
1999 - Dan and Neal in the van at SUNDANCE
But Neal came through like a champ. His basic answer was that he did what needed to be done on the film just like he did on all his other films. BLAIR WITCH
didnâ€™t need to be lit, so he didnâ€™t light it. It didnâ€™t need a camera operator, so he didnâ€™t operate. What he did do was make sure those actors knew everything they could and had everything they needed to keep shooting, to keep getting those images into the camera. And really, thatâ€™s what the DP job is all about.
1999 - Stef, Neal, Carolyn DeCassan and Rick Moreno during the BLAIR WITCH reshoots
Neal was frustrated that BLAIR WITCH
didnâ€™t open up as many doors as he deserved. But he didnâ€™t dwell on it, he did what he had been doing all along, he kept working. Working on everything he could. Just look at his IMDB profile to see how much this guy worked. And he was doing some amazing stuff. I know, because the last time I saw him in LA a few months ago he showed me his new reel and it completely blew me away. Particularly, his work on a film written and directed by Ann Lu called EROSION was jaw-dropping gorgeous. Neal told me that this was going to be his break-out film as a DP. I finally believed in him. He had become a hell of an artist.
Neal died on Saturday in a plane crash in the Dry Tortugas 70 miles off the shore of Key West. He was shooting film. He died doing what he loved doing. He loved it more than anyone else Iâ€™ve ever known.
Neal was going to DP my next film, PROBED
. We were looking to shoot early next year in Orlando, Florida, the same place where he logged in long hours of hard work for no pay so many years before. But this time he was going to be the director of photography and he was going to be shooting in a real soundstage at Universal Studios with real actors and a real crew. Him and I, the old Montgomery College team back together again, shooting a real movie.
1999 or so - Matt Compton, Me, Mike and Neal in LA
And thatâ€™s hopefully the way itâ€™ll still be, because even though someone else will be DPing PROBED
now, Neal Fredericks will somehow still be on that set. Something will happen that will make me miss him every day and I know that. Someone will say something funny after a shot and itâ€™ll be Neal. In the long hours of shooting, maybe when my energy may not be where it needs to be, something will urge me to keep going, something will tell me to get off my ass and make the shot work somehow, and thatâ€™ll be Neal. I will miss him here in this world but he will always be with me every time I step onto a set I direct. Every time I yell cut and ask the camera person how the shot was and he or she tells me, â€œlooked good,â€ thatâ€™ll be Neal also looking through that lens. Doing what he loved to do. Doing it until the very last moments of his life.
Neal is my friend. He will be my filmmaking companion for life.