The most successful artist in Emmys history is camera operator Hector Ramirez. Over a career spanning four decades, he has filmed Richard Nixon in tears, a prepubescent Justin Timberlake and MTV’s very first Video Music Awards. Along the way, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has rewarded Ramirez with 64 nominations and 17 wins. (HBO’s Sheila Nevins has won more Emmys, 22, but nobody has more nominations.)
His first nomination came in 1978 for "CBS: On the Air"; last year he added four more to his total with nods for the Grammys, the Academy Awards, the Kennedy Center Honors and "Dancing With the Stars." With another round no doubt on the horizon, TheWrap talked with the 67-year-old about the Grammys, Watergate and the Pope.
You’ve got some track record — but have you ever felt snubbed?
I lost years ago when I was doing David Copperfield’s shows. I went to China for one, and it was a beautiful show; it had everything. The work was special. I lost to a stand-up comedy show in a room in Vegas somewhere. It was Jimmie Walker, the kid from "Good Times." I was wondering if everyone was asleep.
You got your foot in the door at CBS in the 1970s. Was there one show that launched you?
In 1972-73 I was one of the camera guys for "All in the Family" and made an impression on Norman Lear. I did "Good Times," "Maude" — all his shows in the 1980s that were so popular. Because of that I went into doing things like Sonny and Cher, Carol Burnett, Baryshnikov on Broadway and Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park.
Why are you so drawn to those big productions?
I love music. If I hadn’t been a cameraman I would have been a musician. I enjoyed doing "All in the Family" and those other shows, but you just do the same thing over and over.
You’ve worked almost every major American awards show. Which did you enjoy the most?
The Grammys. I’ve been doing them now for 38 years. The Oscars are fun and everything, but they’re more formal and more dry. People come in and out quickly. There’s not too much to do. With the Grammys you’re there for five days and you see all the music, all the acts. It’s just a fun show to do.
How much have the awards shows changed over the years?
Every show has changed dramatically in the way we shoot it. I worked on the first [Video Music Awards] when MTV was a little cable station and didn’t know playing videos would be this huge thing. MTV changed how we did things. Everything became faster. With the kids today, they always say if you sit on a shot for more than two seconds they get bored.
Have you ever worked the Creative Arts Emmys when you won?
A couple of years ago I won and I was working. It was very funny because I do Steadicam, so I walked up with my Steadicam to the microphone and accepted with a couple of other guys.
Professionally, is there anyone you still want to shoot?
I can’t think of anyone. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, and I still get the same feeling every time. I met Paul McCartney at the Grammys last year. I’d been around the world with Bob Hope five or six times. I worked in Monte Carlo with Prince Albert. I’ve met every president from Ronald Reagan to today. I don’t get tired of it.
Which president was the most memorable?
Richard Nixon. I was with him at his house in San Clemente when he had to resign. I was the pool cameraman for CBS, and they sent me there. It puts you places. I met the Pope when I went to Rome to do a show for NBC.
When you meet the Pope, do you shake his hand?
You don’t touch the Pope.
What defines your work?
The ability to re-create physically what the directors see in their heads. That ability to bring to the director his vision, my vision. I think of it like being a painter.