Jeffrey Allen Cree passed away on January 13, 2021 at home in Santa Clarita, California.
He was born December 10, 1951 in Modesto, California, the youngest of three children. Jeff’s sister Kathy Wyman recalls, “Life in Modesto was like the George Lucas film American Grafitti. Of course, George Lucas lived in Modesto as well. But we didn’t drag race. We weren’t allowed.”
So, Jeff put together a ham radio station in a room attached to the garage. As a student, he also helped set up KDHS radio station at Downey High School in 1967.
Jeff attended Junior College in Modesto, and then a technical school in Arizona. He got an FCC radio license. Returning to California, he began his first job at KGO, an ABC owned and operated TV station in San Francisco.
Jeff’s good friend and colleague George Lang remembers, “A lot of people owe their careers to Jeff. I first met Jeff in 1971; I was a freelance NABET stage manager on news shows and was a vacation relief director. Working really hard and waiting for the show to start one afternoon, I sat down in a makeup chair and fell asleep. All of a sudden from behind, I heard, ‘Hey princess, it’s time to do the news.’ That was Jeff and he saved my job. That’s how we became friends. Jeff advanced to work as a main engineer at KGO. He was always brilliant.”
Next, Jeff traveled the world as an ABC new cameraman. His exploits became legendary and as George Lang says, “Almost all of them are true. Even the ones about his being on one of the original dives on the Titanic and running across a runway with a 100 pound underwater housing and carrying a huge moose in the snow.”
Jeff was no stranger to accidents. Kathy Wyman remembers, “At age 17, Jeff worked after school cleaning a doctor’s office. Riding his motorcycle to work, he was hit by a car and broke his neck.”
Covering a trip by Barbara Bush to El Salvador, Jeff accidentally fell down a flight of stairs and had to return home for neck and back surgery. The details are vague, something about his camera inadvertently becoming entangled with the Secret Service detail.
On August 21, 1983, Jeff was on China Airlines 811 arriving in Manila, Philippines with ABC News correspondent Ken Kashiwahara when Benigno Aquino Jr was assassinated.
Years later, while working on a PBS documentary (not Red Tails as we originally reported), Jeff was in a vintage bomber plane whose engine failed and they had to make a hard emergency landing. See Mark Forman’s update in the Comments section below.
But we’re getting ahead of the story. Jeff joined Sony in San Jose, California and then moved with the Sony team to New Jersey. George Lang continued, “Jeff was a God to all these early digital cinema productions. Whenever someone was doing something cutting edge or brand new, they went to Jeff. He was teaching Al Giddings, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and James Cameron, and was on a first name basis with them.”
Jeff’s next excellent adventure began at Band Pro Film & Digital in 2002. Being on the road so often was certainly a strain on family life and Jeff’s three previous marriages. But, as Band Pro’s Chief Technology Officer, he was supposed to settle down in one place–that is, except for numerous trade shows and continued travel. George Lang said, “Sony was happy about Jeff’s joining Band Pro. He worked with them on developing new cameras and traveled frequently to meet with Sony engineers at headquarters in Japan. Everything about Band Pro and Jeff were revolutionary at the time: cutting edge and creative. They were among the first to embrace digital cinema and developed Digi Primes and Digi Zooms with ZEISS. Jeff was not shy about his accomplishments. You could pick up phone anytime and he would be there to help.”
Amnon Band said, “I would have not been where I am today, Band Pro would have not been here either without Jeff. He changed us forever. Jeff had the organizational skills and tools for any situation. He was a legend and a good friend.”
In 2008, Jeff met Janet Quibuyen. They married in 2012 and lived happily together in a large, new house in the Los Angeles suburbs. Janet said, “Jeff lived nine lives, each one to the fullest.” Jeff’s last words were in her arms while they were talking.
Jeff was an SOC member – Society of Camera Operators. He was a friend and mentor and always there with technical help on anything you wanted to know. He was also the invaluable person at every trade show we attended together and was always there to lend a ladder or give advice. Jeff wrote interesting articles for FDTimes. And I will never forget Jeff and Amnon Band carrying bottles of Veuve Cliquot to the 10th anniversary of FDTimes in Tokyo.
Cindy Boyatt, Jeff’s niece (Kathy’s daughter) said, “Jeff was a great uncle. When he came home to visit us from his frequent trips, he would regale us with stories about his adventures. He would bring us souvenirs and take us to Disney Land and he had press passes. He rode with us on roller coasters. He had an adventurous spirit; he was a kid at heart and loved to play with the cousins, nieces and nephews. He was such a good person when you could get some time because he traveled so much. I couldn’t have imagined living a life with such adventures and that’s all anyone could want or hope for.”
Kathy Wyman concluded, “We are so proud of him and to hear from many of the people he talked about. We always wondered whether he was embellishing all these names and stories and whether these things really happened. It has been gratifying to find out they did and to learn what all his friends and colleagues wrote and said.”
Please add comments below.
These are some of the many that have already arrived:
Yasuhiko Mikami, Angenieux VP Cinema/TV business development & Asian operations, who worked with Jeff while both were at Sony, writes from Tokyo:
“Very sad day. I think I was very fortunate to meet people like him early in my career. The 30+ year-long camaraderie is never going to end. Starting from Betacam SP camcorders, Digi-Beta, HDW-700, F900, F35, F65, F55, EZ lenses, the list goes on. I will certainly miss him. I am sure he regrets not making his 50th NAB.”
Severine Serrano, Angenieux Sales Director Cinema Optics, writes, “It is with great sadness that we learned that Jeff had passed away. On behalf of the whole Angénieux team, please receive our most sincere and profound sympathy. Jeff was a very talented professional and a nice man. By his great experience and expertise, he strongly contributed to the success of our partnerships. He will remain in our heart forever.”
Larry Thorpe, Canon Senior Fellow, who worked with Jeff when they were both at Sony, writes:
Jeff joined us when Sony was still in Park Ridge, NJ. He and I worked in marketing/product management on studio and field cameras, and a lot with Betacam/Digital Betacam in the News / Production worlds. We worked closely together in the early days of HDTV — doing demos all over the country. We all moved to San Jose in 1996 where Jeff and I became preoccupied in the pioneering days of Digital Cinematography. Jeff introduced me to the famous underwater cinematographer, Al Giddings. Sometime later, Al introduced me to James Cameron who was fascinated by the “24P system” that was emerging. We invited James to NAB (1999 I think) to see the embryonic 24P system — where we introduced James to the top management of Sony. The rest is history — working with Vince Pace, the famous 3D system was developed that James used to shoot the original Avatar.
Mark Forman adds, “The image of the Dauntless Dive Bomber owned by the Lone Star Flight Museum is from Honor Squadrons a documentary for PBS not “Red Tails” Yes Jeff treated the pilot Ralph Royce for a head wound received who made the forced muddy field landing in Texas with Jeff in the rear seat holding the F900 in his lap. I was on that shoot as an aerial DP flying in a B-25J bomber when the incident happened due to a broken fuel line in the Dauntless.
As you stated Jeff suffered a bruised chest but did not let on until after the shoot ended. We always shared our adventure every time we saw each other. Jeff was a wonderful person and we miss him.”
The image of the Dauntless Dive Bomber owned by the Lone Star Flight Museum is from Honor Squadrons, a documentary for PBS not Red Tails. Yes Jeff treated the pilot Ralph Royce for the head wound he received when they made the forced muddy field landing in Texas with Jeff in the rear seat holding the F900 in his lap. I was on that shoot as an aerial DP flying in a B-25J bomber when the incident happened. It was due to a broken fuel line in the Dauntless.
As you stated Jeff suffered a bruised chest but did not let on until after the shoot ended. We always shared our adventure every time we saw each other. Jeff was a wonderful person and we miss him.
Hi Mark, Thanks for the correction and for filling in the blanks. I wonder where the “Red Tails” story came from…
Digital Cinema would still be in its embryotic stage today if Jeff had not come along to champion its value to cinematographers around the world. Jeff was the one who could tweak the analog pots in a digital camera to give Al Giddings and many others the look they were after. Sony was smart to embed the ability to tweak the camera through menus and the Sante Fe workshops were born. A chance to understand the menus from the master himself. I will never forget Jeff calling me one day to come to his hotel room. Not sure where but soon after I was there, large suite high above Los Angeles. He had a refrigerator sized case with a UniHi recorder and a wave form monitor hooked up to 1 inch Chip HD Camera. He had the camera pointed out the window to the LA skyline. The enormous monitor image was stunning. After giving me Jeff’s version of the spec sheet on the product and allowing me to compose several different shots he tweaked to perfection, Jeff turned off the monitor and had me set up a shot. He then walked me through the waveform monitor step by step to tweak the picture based on its electronic signature. He then turned on the monitor which displayed a cinematically crafted image. Jeff said “go ahead Vince and try it yourself”. We did that exercise for hours. Jeff was one of the first to demonstrate a digital paintbrush for every cinematographer interested in learning the new technology. I was one of those fortunate to be schooled by Jeff, but even more fortunate to call him one of my friends. I bunked with him on Russian research vessels, hostels in Costa Rica, and many a boat in international waters that were questionably seaworthy. But Jeff always had this commitment to get the shot and make it special. For that I am eternally grateful and lucky. It gave me the confidence to make it happen. I hope someday there will be an awards category in Cinematography that recognizes the digital pioneers. Jeff Cree’s name deserves to be at the top of the list. I know Magic Hour is that much more interesting now since Jeff is at the controls.
Vince: What a wonderful tribute. Thank you very much for sharing. Best wishes, Jon
Had Jeff as a teacher at the F900 workshops in LA back in the early 2000’s – great teacher.