Temple alumnus reflects on his role in Oscar-winning film

Wolfgang Held was the cinematographer for ‘The Neighbor’s Window,’ which was awarded the Best Live-Action Short in 2020.

Wolfgang Held, a 1992 narrative and documentary filmmaking MFA alumnus, on set of a HBO film, O.G., as its cinematographer. | COURTESY / WOLFGANG HELD

Wolfgang Held’s passion for fiction films and documentaries brought him to the United States from Bad Godesberg, Germany in 1988 to pursue an education at Temple University. 

“I’ve always loved documentaries, it was my first love,” Held said.

Although his coursework was in documentaries, he and his friend, David Jacobson, pushed for screenwriting and fiction programs during their time at Temple. 

Held, a 1992 narrative and documentary filmmaking MFA alumnus, was the director of photography for “The Neighbor’s Window,” a short film that won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short on Feb. 9. The fictional film is about a married couple that occasionally spies on the neighbors through their window for fun. 

The film has previously won other awards, including best of the fest at St. Louis International Film Festival and Palm Springs Shorts Fest’s audience award for best live-action short. Held has also previously won awards for his work in cinematography, like an Emmy for “Carrier,” a TV show and an Oscar nomination for “Children Underground,” a documentary. 

Wolfgang Held, a 1992 narrative and documentary filmmaking MFA alumnus, on set of a HBO film, O.G., as its cinematographer. | COURTESY / WOLFGANG HELD

Held said winning an Oscar was different.

“The Oscars still has a different allure in people’s minds and it was a special you know, you really feel like you’re on top of the world,” Held said. 

Held’s work in “The Neighbor’s Window” was unlike his background in documentaries but had its positives and challenges, he said. Unlike his documentary production, he had a pre-production process, where he drew storyboards to plan the shots, camera angles, perspective and transitions and he loved it, he said. 

The filming crew shot the movie in the daytime and waited for the natural light to look like what they wanted in the scenes.

“The hardest thing I think for us was getting the lighting levels right across the window,” Held said. “You can try to anticipate where the sun is but it was overcast I believe, so that was the most stressful part I think to get that right.” 

He made some fictional films with Jacobson, a 1992 narrative and documentary filmmaking MFA alumnus, while they were students.

“It’s pretty unusual because I started out after in Temple was more doc program,” Held said. “I think when David and I were the first year to push to get them hire a screenwriter and allow us to do fiction.” 

They produced a master’s thesis fiction movie called “Criminal,” about a man who decided to abandon his routine by committing a crime, which Jacobson wrote. The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 1994. 

“I wrote it, but it was very developed by Wolfgang,” Jacobson said. “And he would encourage me to keep going because for me writing it has always been hard, but I love it. It was the best way to start a script.”

Marshall Curry, director of “The Neighbor’s Window,” said that he was a huge fan of Held’s cinematography. 

“I just couldn’t have had a better partner,” Curry said. “He’s got such a good eye, you know, he knows how to make it beautiful and interesting, but also he’s a great collaborator on the set.”

Held is currently focusing more on documentary series and right now he is working on two documentaries about UFOs and voter suppression. 

But, returning to fiction for The Neighbor’s Window was a nice change because of the room to improvise in fiction, he said. 

“It was nice to go back to that freedom,” Held said. 

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