A Tribute to Allen Daviau

Allen Daviau beside motion picture camera on set.
Allen Daviau, on set with 35mm motion picture camera.

Although I originally wrote this tribute for my friend Allen nearly four years ago, after his passing, it was strictly for friends who knew him. But now I realize that the story itself might be of interest for my readers as well.

It was early in my film production career when I was working at a commercial film studio, called FilmFair, which was just down the road from Studio City, a part of Los Angeles.

I had also been taking a night class in photography at UCLA extension. Because of it, I used to spend a lot of time at a nearby camera store, ironically called Studio City Camera Exchange, where I always had my film developed.

One day, the owner, who also ran the store, introduced me to his new salesman. He was a nice, friendly guy by the name of “Allen”, who had a keen interest in cameras and photography and — once he discovered that I worked in the film business — an even more keen interest in everything I could tell him about that.

So, usually when I came in, we would spend most of the time talking about the film business. He’d usually ask me what I was working on, or if I knew what others he knew of in “the biz” where doing, or both. It was obvious that Allen wanted very much to become a part of it. He was always fun to talk with, and we quickly became good friends.

Allen was an eager learner, digesting as much as he could from what I had to say. But then I learned that he’d already spent a summer working in a film lab, as well as learning about film editing in his free time. And currently he was spending most of his weekends helping friends by shooting stills and some occasional 16mm footage, to help them promote their business.

But while he was trying to learn as much as he could about filmmaking, his ultimate goal was to become a director of photography: a DP.

Then one day, when I stopped by the camera store to drop off some film, Allen told me he was giving the job up. He had finally found some serious camera work, and had saved up enough money to buy the brand new 16mm Beaulieu movie camera that he’d been eyeing on the store’s shelf since he started there, knowing that, as a store employee, he could get a better deal on that particular camera than anywhere else.

Now he was going off to help his friends, who where getting into making music videos. Meanwhile, I had left FilmFair to join Dove Films, Cal Bernstein and Haskell Wexler’s new commercial production company.

But I didn’t hear from Allen for a year or so, until one day, when I got a phone call from him. He said he’d been very busy shooting music videos and other films. But he was calling to ask for my help. What he needed now was to find work, where he could get some experience shooting 35mm films.

I told him that I couldn’t help, but maybe Rozz Bernstein, my boss, Cal’s wife, could. As it turned out, she was friendly with a Jesuit priest, who had a weekly TV show call the “Hour of St. Frances”, and they just happened to need a good cameraman.

That definitely helped Allen get other DP work, and made him more salable in the world of TV commercials, and TV shows.

Then, a number of months later, I got another call from Allen. After his stint with the “Hour of St. Frances”, he had been shooting a lot of 35mm work, but this most recent job had him very excited, and he wanted to show it to me. It was a short film that he had just finished shooting. But since we didn’t have any way of projecting 35mm at Dove, I called my friends at FilmFair, who had a 35m screening room. And I told Allen to meet me there.

What he showed me was lovely thirty-minute road film about a young guy and his guitar.

“What’s the name of the film?” I asked. “Amblin’,” Allen said.

Allen Daviau in his older years.

“And who directed it,” I asked. He said it was a young guy, about 20 years old, who he had worked with before. “His name was Steven” he said, ” . . . Steven Spielberg.” (!)

Allen’s first feature film with Steven was “E.T. the Extra- Terrestrial”.

Then Allen shot two more feature films with Spielberg: “The Color Purple”, and “Empire of the Sun”.

Los Angeles Times, Apr 16, 2020 — excerpt from American Cinematographer:
. . . Esteemed ASC member, Allen Daviau, died of Covid-19 on April 15, 2020 at the age of 77. He was a resident of the Hollywood “Motion Picture Home” at the time.

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