September 9, 2003 by

Brianne Murphy


Categories: Hollywood

Brianne Murphy, the first female director of photography invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers, died on Aug. 20 of metastatic brain cancer. She was 70.
Murphy attended Pembroke College in Providence, R.I., but left in the early 1950s to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. In 1954, she and a friend dressed up as clowns and crashed the opening night of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. They performed in the center ring for four hours, and the stunt resulted in publicity in Look Magazine and The New York Times. The circus then hired her to assist the staff photographer.
While on tour with the circus, Murphy met and married low-budget horror film producer Jerry Warren. Their relationship brought her to Hollywood, where she took a $50-a-week job handling props, makeup and wardrobe on the 1956 film “Man Beast.” The director of photography allowed her to shoot one scene in the film, and her technical career was born.
Admitted to the cinematographers guild in 1973, Murphy was the first female director of photography in the Hollywood local. Seven years later, she became the first female director of photography to work on a major studio feature, a film called “Fatso,” which was written and directed by Anne Bancroft. In 1980, Murphy was invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers. For over a decade, she was its only female member.
As a D.P., Murphy worked on many television shows, including “Little House on the Prairie,” ‘”Trapper John, M.D.” and “In the Heat of the Night.” She won a Daytime Emmy Award in 1978 for best cinematography for the NBC film, “Five Finger Discount,” and shared an Academy Award of Merit in 1982 with Donald Schisler for designing and manufacturing the MISI camera insert car and process trailer, which provides a way to protect filmmakers while shooting action sequences.
Murphy was also a founder of Women in Film and a founding member of Behind the Lens, an organization of female film technicians. She won the Women in Film Lucy Award for Innovation in Television in 1995.
IMDb Filmography

15 Responses to Brianne Murphy

  1. danielle villegas

    In 1989 I began my brief career as a camera assistant. I had worked as a PA and AC’d on a student film. Then immediately went to working on “Movie of the Week”‘s. Strangely, (luckily) all the projects I had worked on had women on the camera teams. I felt lucky to have such role models. After working as a PA for a few pick-up days on a really low budget film, I was introduced to Margie who was actually making a living AC’ing. we formed a fast friendship and was called on for her next project .
    The job was an intern job with minimal pay. After the first few days of using 2 cameras for most of the scenes I was aware I was actually doing a 2nd AC’s job. The shoot was going so fast and the logistics required more hands on than they expected , (or planned to pay for). So I told Margie that I was gonna ask for more money. She discouraged me from “rocking the boat” since that was the deal I signed up for and “working with Brianne Murphy is not a job a beginner usually gets, it is a privilege to work with her so early in my career. Now, although I did appreciate her points I also knew that these projects were not underfunded. In my last “intern” job I was encouraged to ask for more money after only the second day of shooting by a much wiser woman, 1st AC. (thanks, Madeline) I had gotten bumped from $50 to $125 a day, so I knew it was possible.
    I called Brianne into the truck before the 3rd day of shooting and told her my plan. She smiled and said “Talk to Ted”. I did. By the end of the day I had been raised up to $150 per day.
    The next morning she smiled and nodded at me while she stood drinking coffee and chatting with “Ted”, the UPM at the food truck. He waved me over and Ted commended me on my success and asked who I was,,,
    Brianne said “Oh, you’ll find out, I think we’ll be seeing this one around a while”.
    I was around a bit more than I would have ever imagined. I was privilaged to eat lunch and go out for drinks with Brianne and a few other principles on the film several times. It was during those times I realized my passion for storytelling as we all shared our adventures.
    Later on into the shoot, I flashed a roll, sent a blank tail to the lab and mislabeled cans twice. I felt bad and apologized,,, Brianne smiled and said “Don’t worry, nothing was ruined, just keep practicing”. Ac’ing was a detail oriented position. I decided soon after that project I would go to grad school to become a DP and skip the AC grind. Brianne agreed but added in “you have some very funny and interesting stories, Writing or Directing might be a better use of your talent”,
    She never stopped caring.
    I have known special people in this life. I consider her one.
    It is amazing how much we can affect others with a few words a nod and a smile. This I practice.

  2. Ryuko Tsuji

    I would like to dedicate these words to Bri who touched my life for but a brief moment but for whom I am thankful to have known as a friend and mentor, also to Gillian her sister who gave me a little street puppy which died after months of trying to nurse the poor little thing to health. Both caring women who made such a wonderful impact in the world. Brianne who took a family in Mexico into her heart and made them her family. She was an inspiration to all women in the industry. Famous for her work and struggle to be recognized for her talents and yet humble and down to earth, a woman of true heart.
    With love and fondest of memories and deep sorrow,
    Ryuko Tsuji
    Make-up artist, hair and special effects makeup.

  3. Willetta M. Grady

    Brianne was a very special lady. I will always remember how she encouraged me to take large leaps into unknown territory. She truly was a frontierwoman.
    Because of Bri and Jill I have taken many large steps and am now finishing my Bachelors Degree in Education, a field that appealed to me for a very long time.
    My daughter and I are very happy because of Brianne and her sister Jill.

  4. Gareth Pepin

    In the eighties I was working in London England selling motorcycles. Brianne and her sister contacted me to arrange for a pair of bikes for a ‘tour of europe’, and to film a festival somewhere in France, I think. Anyway, I will allways remember these two ladies loading the bikes on to the train at Victoria Station to begin their adventure, I think I felt more concerned about this crazy endeavor than they did!
    Very cool.

  5. Sandra Lewis Kniep daughter of Victor Lewis

    I was surprised and sad to learn the news of Bri’s demise. I knew the Murphy sister’s when I was a young girl as they were dear friends of my father’s. He was deeply saddened to learn the learn the news and was frustrated when we were unable to contact Jil. I have been searching for her but have had no luck. Does anyone know how I might reach her?
    I have fond memories of Jil and Bri. When I first moved to LA I lived near the sisters and they were generous with their time and contacts and offered help in getting settled.

  6. Monica Ochoa

    I was sitting here going through some of Bri’s photos and decided to go on the web and see what had been written up about her and I came across this site. I met Bri on the set of “Acapulco Heat” in Puerto Vallarta Mexico in 1986. I was the Script Supervisor at the time. I became good friends with her and Jill. Bri always tried to bring out the best in everyone. I remember the day she was running a little late on the schedule and said “You direct this scene. I have to go set up the other shot.” I had never directed before but she saw something in me that I never did. That was who she was. Unselfish, caring and always with the little smile on her face that said, “I’m having a great day, how about you?”
    When I heard of her illness I flew out to Puerto Villarta to be with her for a week. I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew I had to be there. She passed away 2 months later. I have a breifcase of several of her photos. If someone would like to contact me regarding them please email me at

  7. Charles w. Burdick

    I am the son of Jill Murphy and nephew of
    Bri. My parents were divorced when I was too young to remember, but I ended up with my mother until I was a teenager. As you can imagine it was a very interesting childhood with movie sets and well known people. My mother moved to Nashville where she dated Merle Kilgore. Through him I met Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr. and many other country music notables.
    She moved back to Los Angeles and became friends with jazz musician Buddy Collete who was an A-list studio musician. he took me on a few occasions to sessions where I met Charles Lloyd, Ray Brown, Maxx Roach, Bobby Darren and The Monkees.
    I was unaware of the accomplishments of my mother and aunt at the time but later I realized how much Bri in particular had been a pioneer in the film industry. I’m very gratified to know so may people remember her and my mother so fondly as do I.

    • Kim E

      Hi Charles I am your cousin and would like to get in touch with you. My mother was your Mom’s oldest sister. please respond to this blog as I will monitor for responses.

  8. Sandra Dresdner

    I am Bri’s youngest sister. Our family split apart when I was eight years old and I lost touch with Bri and Jill until I was 16. At that time I met Chuck, Jill’s 4 year old son, for the only time. THey moved to LA not long after. I have been looking for him since his mother died. Chuck, if you see this, please write to me. If this site’s editor can give me Charles Burdick’s address, I would be so appreciative. I’m the only relative he has left on his mother’s side.

  9. Renee Chesnic (Smith)

    I was thinking of Bri and Jil and googled them to find to my suprise and sadness that Bri had passed away. I worked with Jil in Pittsburgh back in 1987. Jil and I became fast friends. We watched the Emmys together then because Bri had been nominated we stayed in touch for a few years. I was fortunate enough to meet Bri in Florida in 1990 or 91 when she was called in to finish a film called “The Sacrement”. Anyway, when Bri heard that I was at her hotel visiting friends, she took time out to meet me and spend a few hours visiting.

  10. Ann Schultz

    I am stunned and saddened to read of Brianne’s death, 6 YEARS afterwards. I had no idea. Today’s date is 12 MAY 09. I bought my home in Kagel Canyon, CA from Bri and sister Jill in APR 98, as they were preparing to move to Mexico. They left no forwarding address and I still receive mail for Bri and Jill to this day, even occasional things from the Academy. She was a delightful individual, so kind to me, told me she felt I was the one who “should” be in this house, and proceeded to drop the price so I could afford it. What a lady. I have thought about her and Jill many, many times over the years and wondered how they were getting along. I am deeply sorry to read of her death. I shall never forget her and have no plans to leave this great little house of hers and Jill’s anytime soon.

  11. J. R. Butcher (Jack Risin)

    I wrote about her in my book “Funny Water and Bob”, we were going to do the book as a movie.
    OH how she will be missed, forever.
    I am writing a book about her, please send comments and stories, “jrbutcher5 @ yahoo . com”

  12. J. R. Butcher

    I’m doing a story on Bri (and Gil).
    Send any help you can.
    I, too was lucky to be a friend of Bri’s, so lucky………..
    – jrbutcher5 @ yahoo . com –

  13. Marilyn Giardino

    I am saddened by her leaving us here, to walk the old familiar streets (and studios) of Hollywood without her. I was introduced to Bri by her sister Jillian, a fellow Script Supervisor. I was wearing a big floppy hat. I mentioned my “boyfriend” at the time was a cinematographer, to which she quipped, “He dresses ya funny”. LOL. It still makes me laugh.In this biz you gotta have a sense of humor!
    The Murphy sisters are both real life movie heroes (heroines)!

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