Five Facts about Cinematographer Gregg Toland


Five Facts about Cinematographer Gregg Toland

Hello, dear readers. I thank you for joining me on this most joyous of days. No, I am not just talking about this lovely lazy Sunday. I am talking about June 29th: National Camera Day! Today we celebrate any and all things camera-related, including pictures, films, and the people who make them. And to contribute to that celebration we here at CMH want to focus on one of classic Hollywood’s, nay, one of Hollywood’s most influential cameramen in general: Greg Toland. So without further ado, here are 5 fun facts about Cinematographer Gregg Toland.


Record Breaker

Gregg Tolland

Pictured: Gregg Toland. Not pictured: Gregg Toland at 27. The internet has let me down for the first time.

In 1931, Toland was given his first assignment as lead cinematographer. At the age of 27, he became the youngest first Cameraman in Hollywood history. So yes, you can pretty much call him a boy genius…or at least one hard-working young man.



The camera blimp

Yes, the camera blimp was just about as big as real blimp.

In the days of silent cinema, motion-picture cameras were incredibly loud, making whirly, clicking noises. This did not matter, of course, when movies were silent but posed a big problem once sound was introduced. Toland then invented a soundproof housing blimp that enclosed the camera; this silenced the whirling and clicking noises thus allowing more movement and artistic freedom to the directors.



Deep Focus

Notice how the foregrounded Fredric March and Harold Russell are just as crisp and in-focus as the backgrounded Dana Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives. (1946, William Wyler director)

Toland championed the use of deep focus cinematography, which means that all the planes of the image, from the foreground to the background, are all in sharp, crisp focus. He achieved this by helping to develop his own lenses, film stock and lighting techniques.


william-wyler and gregg toland

Gregg Toland at his favorite place: on set with William Wyler.

According to many of those he worked with, Toland was happiest when on set and was prone to depression when not working on a project.


The Other Boy Genius.

Tolland and Welles

Gregg Toland with Director Orson Welles on the set of Citizen Kane.

Toland is as responsible for Citizen Kane as Orson Welles…kinda. Because Kane was Welles’ first film, he knew he needed a strong cinematographer to help him create his vision. With free reign to experiment as he pleased, Toland used deep focus-photography, ceilinged sets, low-angle lighting, and extreme POV shots that the film is now famous for. All of these techniques then allowed for Welles to stage entire scenes in one shot, thanks to the freedom of movement that the deep-focus lens allowed. Welles was so impressed and thankful for Toland’s contribution to the film that he did something rare in the World of Hollywood: he gave Toland equal screen credit to himself, placing both the cinematographer and the director on the same title card.


Minoo Allen for Classic Move Hub

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