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DAVID ATTENBOROUGH – ‘ZOO QUEST IN COLOUR’

As part of the David Attenborough’s 90th birthday celebrations, the BBC will be showing the *‘Zoo Quest for a Dragon’ episode – a search for the Komodo Dragon in Indonesia, which marked David Attenborough’s television debut. This episode will be shown on Tuesday 17th May 2016 on BBC4 at 9pm.

Cinematographer Charles Lagus BSC, photographed this 1950s nature series and points out that the publicity has got a couple of things not quite right!

The press have broadcast that David Attenborough stepped in for the regular host, Jack Lester, after he was involved in a car crash as a stand in and that the episode which has been dug out of the archive for viewing on May 11th has had colour added. Unfortunately, according to Charles Lagus, most of this information is incorrect, see below!

… ‘Before departing on these expeditions the Beeb film department naturally expected me to shoot on 16mm B&W stock but from my experience I knew that B&W copy of colour was definitely superior. It was only after much argument (and cost analysis) that I was allowed to use colour. I used Kodachrome 100 foot rolls. The stock was inevitably kept under appalling conditions of temperature and the exposed film not processed until our return to the UK up to 5 months later!

Ninety percent of the Zoo Quest episodes were shot in colour, the few rolls of B&W we had were kept entirely for when there was not enough light for the slower colour stock.

The 11th May is the correct original transmission date and I appear in it almost as much as David, who certainly never expected to be the star or commentator and was most worried about it but had little option under the circumstances.

This upcoming broadcast is in fact completely re-edited from all material found quite by accident by a researcher in the BBC vaults.  It had all originally gone out 60-odd years ago in B&W – never in colour – as only B&W television was available, it took some 10 years before colour viewing became the norm.  Nobody had ever seen the original or remembered its existence, including David.

Those who worked on this version and others who have viewed the copy have all commented on the colour quality … “so much better than what is transmitted now”

Jack Lester, who was the Curator of the Reptile House at London Zoo, contracted an unknown tropical disease after a trip to Africa, which is why he couldn’t host the series, not because of an accident – unfortunately he eventually died after several recurring episodes of the disease.

A typical incident on one of the trips which might amuse: 

David and I were camping by a river when the Indian who was helping us said that he could hear a boat coming with an engine – a rare event and it was a long time before we could hear it faintly. When it came into view it was a primitive dugout canoe with a tiny outboard driven by a Indian. In the bows (true) was a cloven stick with a BBC envelope addressed to me. It was from Head of Films and it said … ” Charles Lagus please be informed that recent Kodak research advises use of reflectors.” … signed Jack Mewitt HD Television.  It was the only communication we ever received from the film department!’ … 

Charles Lagus BSC

Charles Lagus BSC

Charles Lagus was the first cameraman engaged by the BBC to shoot natural history footage. His filmmaking career began when he switched from studying medicine to photography in 1946. In 1986 he was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Panda” for his services to wildlife film-making by the Wildscreen International Film Festival in Bristol, UK.

*Zoo Quest was a series of 30 minute nature documentaries broadcast on BBC Television between 1954 and 1963 and was the first major programme to feature David Attenborough. The series began as a joint venture with London Zoo and ended with millions of viewers seeing for themselves animals and locations which might otherwise have remained the stuff of myths and legends.

In each series, Attenborough travelled with staff from London Zoo to a tropical country to capture an animal for the zoo’s collection – which was the accepted practice at the time. Although the programme was structured around the quest for the animal, it also featured film of other wildlife in the area and of the local people and their customs. Attenborough introduced each programme from the studio and then narrated the film his team had shot on location. The series was the most popular wildlife programme of its time in Britain and established Attenborough’s career as a nature documentary presenter.

 

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2016 in Cinematography

 

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HOW I GOT INTO SOUND POST-PRODUCTION … by Ben Simpson

My response to the question: “Oh that’s Sound Post-Production … what got you into that then?” – by Ben Simpson

It wasn’t so much that I was incapable of doing the work at A Level, it was more that I wasn’t in the right state of mind to make a good job of it. I know I can’t be the only one to ever feel this way – too much time spent being talked at rather than to. I suppose the insipid teaching is partly responsible. After I came out with two AS levels in Law and Psychology and an A level in Drama, I felt my time in education was over and so I went into full time work.

The monotonous tedium of jumping from job to job got old all too quickly and all I knew was that I wanted to be involved in music, creating it, producing it and making it sound like the tracks I’d admired for so long. I decided that now was the best time to ‘follow my dreams’ (kind of) so I enrolled in a BTEC course in Music Technology. Three tutors in particular were very encouraging and kept pushing my limits, which I loved because it gave me a challenge that high school never could. It was the best experience I’d ever had in education – apart from Reception because you could just mess around in the sand pit all day; you do that now and people think you’re odd.

It was during this course that I did my first post-production module and knew that I’d found what it was I wanted to do with my life. It had never occurred to me before that sound should be recorded separately from where the film was shot. It sounds silly to me now obviously, but not many people will believe you when you tell them that, for example, 98% of the sounds in ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ were created entirely separate from the filming. Foley and composition were the main parts of post-production that stood out for me. I got to write music and also create some natural effects with weird and wonderful techniques, such as kicking a bin in various ways with different things in it to create the sound of an exploding tank. It’s all about layers – like an ogre.

From here I managed to convince an award-winning director to let me compose some music for his short film ‘Grotto’. By this time the film was already picture locked and so I asked if he would give me a few days to compose something to it and if he didn’t like it, then at least he would know he made the right decision. From what I can gather, it is now being made into a feature length film, which is awesome. I wasn’t as confident with Foley back then as I am now and so I didn’t dare apply for that role too and potentially ruin it! Though with hindsight (being 20/20), it would have been well worth just trying to get involved in it somehow because although I wouldn’t have been able to contribute all that much, I might have been able to help now and again and would have learned a lot. Sometimes though, you want to make a splash when you do something for the first time instead of just wading in slowly from the shallow end and have everyone think you can’t do full lengths of butterfly. My plan was to get good behind closed doors, then kick it down like ironman with the sound effects to boot!

I worked so hard at college that I got the best possible grades, showing me at least, that not all intelligence is measured in academia, and the value of a person in society should not be forever coupled to the measure of how well they could regurgitate what they were told as a teenager. As Albert Einstein said, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on how well it can climb a tree, it’ll go through it’s whole life thinking it’s an idiot.”

I chose to go on to University to do a Music Production BA, knowing I could specialise in post-production, and doing so for my second year as well as for my final year project. I have been taking every opportunity, which has lead me to talking to some of the top Foley artists in the industry for advice and insight, get advice from seasoned professionals by the sheer luck of going into the right church just to ask if I could record some Foley in there for the ambience, be the composer for a excellent final year film project for the Leeds Beckett Film School, be a Foley artist for a TV series pilot that is currently – at the time this is written – filming, record the Leeds Symphony Orchestra and write this article – all alongside my work for my final year. To get the composition job I used my old trick of “give me a few days and I’ll send you something over, I know I can deliver what you’re wanting.” This time it wasn’t picture locked so I couldn’t sync the music to the picture, I just had to capture the feel of the whole thing by reading the script over and over and listening to what the director and producer were saying they wanted. It works, for me, like an inverted mind map. The centre is the goal and I have to use my knowledge surrounding it to get there, as opposed to expanding outward endlessly.

University – although ‘expensive’ – has been one of the best ways to get to know people in the industry, so that’s the route I’ve gone. I was the antipode of a typical student, I think I went out ‘on the town’, so to speak, only once. To be honest though, I really dislike drinking, being deafened by endless dubstep and ‘dancing’ around sweaty drunken strangers anyway, so it worked out for the best!

However, I believe that because I’ve worked hard it has given me confidence in my abilities. I can demonstrate and discuss what I do and why I do it, meaning when I apply for positions and opportunities, I do so more positively and with more equanimity. That is one of the most important lessons I have learnt from University. The grade is mostly in the justification. If you can’t justify why you’ve done something creative then it can be confusing, but if you can, then it becomes more understandable and shows off your creativity in the light you intended. Think of all that modern art – an unmade bed was one I believe, as was a light switch and a bin full of make-up – it’s how it was justified that made it artistic.

The way of the creative industries is that no one is “the best”. Ask a group of people who is the best actor is and I’d wager it’ll be a while before you get a repeated answer … unless it’s the morning after the Oscars when “Best Actor” has just been awarded – but again, that’s the opinion of a certain group of people – and why would their opinion change yours? What I’m trying to say by bringing up subjectivity and justification is that I’ve found that you can have sound coming from a spaceship whilst in space, you can have elephants shaking the ground with their steps and you can have longbows creaking when arrows are drawn, as long as it makes sense with the film.
I am confident that – with this work ethic – I can continue to be part of wonderful projects, each of them improving my knowledge and making me more and more pleased to have dropped out of work to go after what made me happy. So I tinker around on a piano making nice sounds for brilliantly creative films and it seems my journey through education has come full circle, because ironically enough, I spend a large number of my days messing around in sand pits after all … and I don’t care if people think I’m odd, I love it!

The author's self-portrait

The author’s self-portrait

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2015 in Sound Department, Uncategorized

 

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CARE FOR WHAT YOU SHOW by Peter J Knight

 

Peter J Knight

Peter J Knight

The most important thing is the way that a film is screened for the audience. It is, after all, the very last link in a production chain which will have taken a huge amount of money and involved hundreds of talented people – so if it is not presented in the best possible way then all of that effort has been wasted.

I was asked by Wendy to write this article back in 2009 when digital cinema was actually a bit of a way off, although definitely on the horizon – but there were still projectionists working in the box and they were still a very important part of the audience’s enjoyment.

For various reasons the article was started but never finished and, over the intervening years, things have changed at a great speed, which has seen the majority of projectionists lose their jobs. In most large multiplex environments, the technical roles have been taken over by cinema managers. However, I wrote an article about the Art of Projection: http://www.indieplex.org/the-art-of-the-projectionist/ and this article for Network Nine News came back into mind and this article takes a look at some of the history of the projectionist but also why it is still important to put on a good show.

I call myself a projectionist and am likely to do so for a good few more years – sometimes I add AV Technician as well – but I am still a projectionist. I have been a projectionist for nearly 16 years which, compared to many in the industry makes me fairly junior, especially when you consider I’m only part time. However, one of the things I have always found and been told, or had reinforced to me, is that the projectionist is the last link in a massive film-making chain which has evolved through thousands of people, years of work and millions of pounds/dollars – and if you get it wrong at the point of screening, it has all been wasted.

In the early years of cinema, the projectionists were the showmen who entertained audiences, usually in village halls or fairgrounds showing off this latest technology – a sight which many would have been unaccustomed to. Many of these showmen went on to make their own films, people such as William Haggar, who produced many short films in the early 1900’s for his local Welsh audience.

Early cinema shows were often known as ‘cinevariety’, as it wasn’t just the one film which was screened – there would be a news reel, followed by a ‘B’ movie and then the main feature so with all the projectors and stage lighting there could be anything up to five people in the projection room – this went on until the multiplexes came into fashion.

The usual way that a projectionist was recruited was as a young boy (or girl), often replying to a slide advert in the cinema. Like most trades and apprenticeships, projectionists would start at the bottom, learning about cleaning (projection rooms were always kept sparkling clean) then perhaps going on to be a rewind boy.

Projectionists are a weird bunch; they spend the majority of their lives in darkened rooms with their closest friend often the flickering light on the screen. Through history the projectionist has been responsible for the care of the presentation of a film. Written in numerous projectionist manuals is a line to the effect …”The Projectionist is the last link in the filming making chain and it is your responsibility to show that film in the best possible way”. It was this belief and value which was instilled into the projectionist for more than a century. Right from the very beginning, showmanship and presentation was at the heart of the role. Once upon a time the projectionist would have to hand crank the film, working out the best way to make the projector work and to crank the machine at the proper frame rate!

Often the projector and film would be bought without any instructions in the early days, when many ‘bioscopes’ were run and operated by funfair showman. These basic affairs of a tent with a few benches and a screen got more and more ornate as the showmen tried to out-do each other and persuade the audience to visit their film show rather than a rival. There were big fair organs, powered by steam engines, as well as live stage shows. All required a great deal of skill to make it happen. In the USA it was common for small storefronts to be converted into theatres, charging five cents for a show, thus the ubiquitous name ‘nickelodeons’.

A projectionist would have to earn their way to being chief projectionist by learning the requisite skills, starting as a rewind boy and spending all their time cleaning the projection room, often for many months before being allowed anywhere near any film – and it would be a long time before they would be allowed to touch a projector.

This extract from what is obviously a much longer document demonstrates very clearly the care and attention that went into the projectionist’s work – cinema showmanship Late 40′s style: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvQWMSZS-Rs. In fact, such was the importance and value given to the projectionist, that there was an ‘Operators Creed’ – this was not written by me but was found in a 1935 Projectionist Diary – but is just as true today as it was then!

THE OPERATOR’S CREED

  • Remember yours is one of the most highly skilled jobs in this modern wonder age and technical developments succeed one another with bewildering rapidity.
  • Concentrated within the spool-box is the consummate artistry of playwrights, actors, producers and camera-men. You are the last and the most important link in a great chain.
  • According to your diligence and craftsmanship, so has this artistry, this anxious care, this enormous expense been wasted or justified.
  • Yours is the task of taking thousands of your fellow men and women away from the cares of an often drab and colourless existence, transporting them on your magic carpet to a land of make-believe and sending them away refreshed to tackle the world of reality with renewed zest and high courage.
  • To achieve this you have to master a formidable list of highly technical subjects, you have to be resourceful in emergency, calm in danger and unremitting in sacrificing your time and, if need be, your person in the interests of the public you serve.
  • A noble and inspiring calling that is surely, if slowly, receiving the recognition it deserves.

However, slowly and over time, cinema chains have decided that it is no longer necessary to have curtains, masking or lighting adjustments in the auditoria. Audiences now walk into a cinema with a big, white, blank screen – and some of the awe that had once filled the auditorium was inexorably and finally lost. With the advent of Digital Projection it is possible for the presentation of an entire cinema circuit to be controlled from a room, anywhere in the world, by only one person. For the majority of cinemas, a single uniform presentation style began to be implemented. Only a very few independent venues still have a projectionist because of their desire to continue to do some theatrical presentation.

Cinema has become more complicated with all the different formats, aspect ratios, sound systems and other requirements from content makers. This film which shows the number of different aspect ratios which have appeared over the years helps demonstrates some of this: http://vimeo.com/68830569.

While the everyday films can often be run by low-paid, non-skilled workers who have no sense of whether the film is being shown in the best possible way, or whether all the speakers are working properly, or if the lighting source lamp is aligned correctly, or if the 3D filter is in its proper place – and so many other questions that most of these amateur ‘projectionists’ don’t even know to ask. This work is often delegated to concession workers, assistant managers, or anyone who just happens to be available when something needs to be done in the booth – or if, heaven forbid, something goes wrong during a screening.

The new digital technology has convinced cinema owners that the projectionist can go the way of the lighthouse keeper or the steam train stoker. Where once there may have been five or more projectionists in the box, now there will be nothing but blinking lights and whirring fans as servers and other digital equipment which replace the showmen of yesteryear. Like all technology, it is great when it works but it is when it is misbehaving, or when there is something unusual and technically tricky to screen – that you need the hands, eyes and experience of the expert projectionist.

THE FUTURE

Even in modern cinema with all the latest technology, there is still the need for a projectionist, or at least a technical person in the box. While the everyday requirements of making up and running a film may have been reduced in their overall complexity, a projectionist is still a useful person to have around. Digital projectors still need maintenance, still need someone to reboot them when something goes wrong – but that is the easy part. Cinemas are looking to making use of this new technology through hiring the venue for alternative content which is where a technical person is of most value – there are now more formats and aspect ratios and ways of connecting equipment than ever before – and someone who knows how to get the best from the equipment and wants to put on a good show should still be an essential part of the cinema experience.

It doesn’t matter what your role is or where you work, the most important thing is the way that a film is screened for the audience. It is, after all, the very last link in a production chain which will have taken a huge amount of money and involved hundreds of talented people – so if it is not presented in the best possible way then all of that effort has been wasted. It should not matter whether it is a big blockbuster, a low budget, or a short – people have spent their time and money to make that dream come true – so is vital that the film is shown in the best way possible.

About the author: Peter J. Knight, otherwise known has The Mad Cornish Projectionist (www.madcornishprojectionist.co.uk), has been involved in the cinema exhibition industry since 1997, when he was started as an assistant projectionist at Flix – Loughborough Student Cinema. Later becoming head projectionist and actively involved with the overall running of the organization. After graduation Peter moved to London where he has freelanced as a Projectionist/AV Technician since in a variety of different venues from arts centres to preview theatres and even at the Glastonbury Music Festival. Peter is chairman of the Projected Picture Trust (www.ppttrust.org), an organization interested in the preservation of cinema technology equipment, and is also the vice-chairman of the BKSTS Cinema Technology Committee, an organization which is interested in the education of the current day cinema technical worker and cinema technological development. Peter also writes extensively about all areas of the cinema industry and the technical elements of projection. He has also recently just launched We Can Still Show Film (www.wecanstillshowfilm.com) a free international website which is aimed at recording all the people, venues and companies still able to handle film.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Cinema Projection

 

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THE EARLY DAYS OF NEWSREELS by Kenneth Gordon – from an 1950s lecture in London.

Kenneth Gordon 1890-1969

Kenneth Gordon 1890-1969

Ken Gordon 1890-1969 was employed on lighting duties in 1904 by Films Limited at their show at Hengler’s Circus in London and was soon working as a projectionist both there and at the Earls Court Exhibition.

Gordon wanted to become a civil engineer and studied electrical engineering whilst working as a stills photographer with Bolak’s Press Agency. He afterwards became a press photographer on the Daily Mirror and, in 1908, covered the stadium events at the London Olympic Games.

After a number of provincial jobs returned to London in 1911 to work in the laboratories at Gaumont, making the transition from press photography to newsreel work. He was the replacement for Brooks-Carrington and his first major assignment as cameraman was at the Coronation of King George V in June 1911.

In 1944 Gordon also covered the liberation of Paris and was instrumental in organising the Association of Cine Technicians (ACT), in conjunction with George Elvin. In September 1944 the ACT reached an agreement with the Newsreel Association over staff wages and the employment of ‘learners’, for which Elvin and Gordon received the credit.

German surrender on Luneberg Heath 1945

German surrender on Luneberg Heath 1945

In May 1945 Gordon filmed the German surrender on Luneberg Heath and the first demobilization of British troops in Belgium. After the war he spent six months in Germany, filming both the occupation and the war crimes trials – including the Belsen trial in September 1945, where he worked alongside Ian Struthers of Paramount. He also provided film for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. Gordon officially retired in 1955, but was still filming for Pathé News in 1965.

Now read on……

Gordon 2

Queen Victoria in Dublin – 1898

The filming by Robert W Paul of the Derby in 1896 may be described as the first newsreel. This was followed the next year by the record of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The story of the late René Bull, the great war artist, building a rostrum of bamboo poles in order to film the charge of the Dervishes in the Battle of Omdurman – and the London Times’ report of filming the action in Crete in 1897 by the war correspondent, F Villiers, constitute the first coverage of war news.

The First Newsreel – The first regular news coverage was by the Biograph Company, an American firm which established laboratories in Great Windmill Street in London. Each subject was only 160ft in length and a single frame measured 2¾ins by 2ins – this will give some idea how short the subjects were.

In 1898 A J West inaugurated his combination of news and interest films of the Royal Navy which, for so many years ran in the West End of London under the title of ‘Our Navy’. Shortly afterwards came the era of Charles Urban, Will Barker and W Jeapes. Their firms – the Warwick Trading Company and later the Charles Urban Trading Company – dealt mainly in one-reel news events such as the Grand National, the Derby and the Boat Race.

A number of new firms were started to cover the great news events. Cecil Hepworth, whose pioneering work did so much for British film production, came into the picture. WS Barker founded the Autoscope Company and WC McDowell and A Bloomfield, two members of the Biograph Company, started British & Colonial Films. Each of these firms covered news as well as story pictures.

The Biograph cameramen, WKL Dickson and J Rosenthal, covered the Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War. During the Boer War the two photographers carried their very heavy camera – which perforated the stock at the same time as the film was exposed – in a bullock cart!

Newsreel Equipment – Later came the newsreels as we know them today. Pathé Gazette was at first filmed here and then processed in Paris. It has been stated that the Gaumont Graphic followed only a few days later. Shortly after came the Warwick Chronicle (founded in 1903 by Charles Urban), Topical Budget (founded by Jeapes and W Wrench, the projector engineer), the Williamson News and the Éclair Journal. All produced two issues weekly at 2½d per ft (much less than a current 1p!)

The cameras used were hand-cranked – Pathé used their French model with outside boxes, Gaumont use the Prestwich (an English model) also with outside boxes. Moys, Williamsons and Éclairs were also used. Later, Topical Budget used Debries, and Warwick started using the first automatic Proszinski Aeroscope. This was run by compressed air and the first models were fitted with a gyroscope to keep them steady when hand-held.

The Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, whose cinemas were amongst the first to be built as such in England, had darkrooms in their main theatres. Local films were taken, processed in the local cinema and shown the same night.

The Prince of Wales Carnarvon 1911

The Prince of Wales
Carnarvon 1911

Speed of Production – About this time Charles Urban introduced the Kinemacolor and William Friese-Green was experimenting with a process known as Biocolor. King Edward’s funeral and the Coronation of King George V gave a great incentive to the newsreel producers. Many production records were broken with the laboratories working day and night. One of these speed records was made by Gaumont Graphic – they filmed the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon. On the pilot engine of the Royal Train were coupled a pair of large milk vans – these were turned into travelling darkrooms. The negative was developed, dried and rough cut – and a print was made on the way to London. As we sped along, every time we crossed any points the developer, hypo and washing water would splash over and cover us. The developer was so low when we developed the print that it did not cover the frame – but the movement of the train saved the day – and the resulting film, nearly 1,000ft in length, was shown the same night at the Electric Theatre in Marble Arch. The negative was re-washed before further prints were made.

News in Colour – It was the colour version of this film, made by Charles Urban, that put newsreels in the big money class. Kinemacolor was made on a black and white print, using rotating filters both in the camera and in the projector, therefore it was able to be processed in the same manner as black and white. The colour film ran for a long while at the Scala Theatre and many other key theatres throughout the world.

Charles Urban and Biocolor had some difficulties with patents. The costs of the resulting law suits rendered them both bankrupt. Gaumont brought out Chronochrome which stopped during the First World War.

About this time I had my first assignment in Turkey. This was during the Balkan War. My apparatus was an inside-box Prestwich camera fitted with 3in and 6in lenses.

The First World War – During the First World War the newsreel firms banded together and formed the War Office Film Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir William Jury. This enabled cameramen to work to a common purpose. One of them, JB McDowell, won the MC and the OBE for his work on the battlefield.

The Government bought up Topical Budget and ran it as an Official War News. I joined them after the war and went to Russia as a war cameraman. Jeapes re-purchased Topical from the Government and attracted the attention of many newspaper owners.

After this I went to Ireland to get some shots of the internal strife prevailing. The resulting films attracted bottles of ink when shown in the cinemas – some people even used my films of the Black and Tans for target practice with revolvers!

Still from WWII footage

Still from WWII footage

Newsreel War – In England at this time a newsreel war was developing. The main cause of trouble was the granting of exclusive rights of the various sporting events –  the Grand National was an example of this. This was the end of the ‘closed season’ for unemployed cameramen – all who could stand were certain of work, either as a ‘pirate’ with all expenses paid, or in the official party. One stranger, a ‘pirate’, was looking around for a position – I carried his gear, installed him and left him quite contented – but ignorant of the fact that I had left a ‘minder’ with him to see that no film was taken!

At the last Cup Final at Stamford Bridge, the flats at one end of the pitch was the position of one Pathé camera. This had been spotted by Topical Budget, who had exclusive rights to this match, as was intended. Topical planned to fly a balloon in front of the camera with a banner hanging from it in an attempt to stop us ‘pirates’. They did as they had planned but we had another camera already in place which was put to good use, much to the consternation of Topical. This was the time the Debrie ‘Sept’ automatic camera was introduced – it would run only 15ft of film. I managed to get shots of the King inspecting the teams, a fair coverage of the game and, by good fortune, the only goal – which was a penalty. Every roll was taken back to the office by messenger as soon as it was ready.

Exclusive Rights – Then Gaumont entered the war, buying up all the rights they could, some of which they shared with Movietone. Pathé lost the rights to the Grand National by being outbid and we had to become ‘pirates’ at this fixture. Pathé used scaffold towers and fights took place around these, although they were outside the racecourse. The towers were built at the last minute – on our stand were Jock Gemmell, with his range of long focus lenses and myself, with the slow-motion camera. Then the fight was on! Our opponents got hold of the rope which we used to lift our gear and started to pull the tower over. Just as this 60ft tower was about to topple over someone cut the rope and we just managed to get our cameras lined up – the race had started – then we were attacked for a second time. Fireworks were fired in front of the cameras, which frightened the horses causing the favourite, Golden Miller, to fall in front of our slow-motion camera.

That season’s cricket test matches brought out balloons, heavy netting and many other tricks to stop filming. The balloons were punctured by airgun fire and the pictures stolen!

Later the Newsreel Association was formed and agreement reached on the conditions of exclusive rights. By competitive bidding the price demanded for the exclusive film rights had risen out of all proportion to the earning capacity of newsreels.

Footnote – An unnamed radio & television presenter, in his thanks to the lecturer said ‘….there is still a tremendous vigour and enthusiasm in the newsreel business and, wherever and however the film industry develops, the newsreel men will be right out there in front. Newsreels were there to see the twentieth century in and will still be in the picture when we see the century out….’ 

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Cinematography, How It All Began

 

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The Stuntman’s World by Jim Dowdall

Fom the perspective of one who has been ‘at it’ for rather a long time and should know better by now!

Jim Dowdall

Jim Dowdall

When I came into the industry in the 1960’s as an armourer with Bapty’s, my first film was ‘The Dirty Dozen’ – and what a picture that was to cut your teeth on!

Surrounded by the legendary luminaries of both the acting and technical departments, I began to realise that, despite my mother’s exhortations that I would be destitute for life without the obligatory 5 ‘O’ levels and 2 ‘A’ levels, it might be possible to make a living in an industry that neither required nor asked for bits of paper – and that my single English ‘O’ level was not required on the voyage!

A prior spell working with big cats as a beastman for Bertram Mills Circus, with a bit of trapeze thrown in and a number of other odd jobs, had infected me with the ‘adventure bug’ and, having left the armoury business some time after finishing on ‘Where Eagles Dare’, I joined the Parachute Regiment, got the Champion Recruit’s Cup and thought that the army was going to be my career – but a parachuting accident left me unfit and I was invalided out 18 months later.

It was now the early 1970’s and the film business was booming, so I enrolled with the ‘Ugly’ agency and a couple of others to get some walk-on work and thus acquire the very desirable (and hard to come by in those days) Equity card.

Being catapulted through an explosion for the boat chase on ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ - 1989

Being catapulted through an explosion for the boat chase on ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ – 1989

 

The Stunt Register was just being formed as a professional stunt body within the remit of Equity and I squeezed in with a few of the stunt contracts I had acquired working for an agency called ‘Havoc…Specialists in Hazards’.Since then, life seems to have been a fantastic whirl of various films, TV shows, commercials and occasionally, live shows (which are always unnerving for their very real inability to ‘go again’)

The normal course of events runs like most productions with a script being offered, various meetings to ‘get the job’ and then the business of breaking down the ‘gag’ to work out the best way of translating the director’s wishes into the camera – and always within the limitations of the producers depth of pocket. Of course, just occasionally, one gets the chance to work on various productions (like the earlier Bonds) where you just said what bits of kit and personnel were required and it was so.

 

This was in Iceland doubling Pierce Brosnan in the Aston Martin on the ice chase for ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002. Remarkable likeness (I don’t think!!)

This was in Iceland doubling Pierce Brosnan in the Aston Martin on the ice chase for ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002. Remarkable likeness (I don’t think!!)

The early days of Bond were a real eye opener for me as everything (as on all productions in those days) was shot in-camera and we would sometimes have weeks of rehearsals either on location or in the Band Room at Pinewood Studios – which would be fully kitted out with mats, trampolines and all the other bits of equipment which might be required, usually for the ‘end sequence’ in the villains lair, which then had to be blown up over a number of days. When we did the submarine sequence for ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (for which the famous Pinewood 007 stage was constructed) filming began shortly after Christmas in a very cold January on a vast stage with a requirement for a number of us to do ‘falls’ into the water. Although we would be paid a stunt ‘adjustment’ for these falls, there was a certain ‘hanging back’ as we knew that it would be unlikely that we would have time to change into a dry costume before take two – and few of us owned such a sophisticated piece of kit as a wet suit!

As the astronaut on ‘Superman 2’ in 1980 being thrown by Terence Stamp. This is the wire job where I have to be revived with oxygen!

As the astronaut on ‘Superman 2’ in 1980 being thrown by Terence Stamp. This is the wire job where I have to be revived with oxygen!

Wire work on pictures like ‘Superman’ 1 & 2 was pushing the envelope at the time and Geoffrey Unsworth’s capacity to ‘light out’ the wires was masterful – in those days it was without the benefit of ‘Paintbox’ or such sophisticated bits of kit which would come on stream in the 80s. I remember being on wires wearing a space suit with the helmet sealed on which gave me a limited amount of oxygen before I began to get a bit woozy. I would then see Geoffrey up and down a tall ladder spraying the wires with a black paint aerosol just before we shot. I had to be revived twice with a whiff of oxygen after a couple of …‘sorry, just need a second on the wire spraying’… occasions.

For ‘Flash Gordon’ doubling for Timothy Dalton, we spent weeks rehearsing the fight on the disc floating in space with knives coming up out of the floor. We also all had to learn how to use a bullwhip from one of the stunt boys, Reg Harding, who had been a ‘jackaroo’ in Australia and was a master with that very dangerous (mostly to the user) bit of kit

Hours spent in the chair having prosthetics put on to double the monster on wires

With Michael Caine  on 'The Eagle has Landed' in 1976
With Michael Caine on ‘The Eagle has Landed’ in 1976

 

for Michael Mann’s ‘The Keep’ meant a 6am start and sometimes a 10pm finish 6 days a week with all the penalty payments and overtime one could imagine – luckily all before Christmas – and the car park at Shepperton Studios, stuffed with a variety of our newly acquired BMWs and Range Rovers after the holidays, became known as the ‘thank you Michael Mann’ car park!

As the 1980s progressed and the sophistication in filmmaking began galloping forward, commercials became a great laboratory for new devices and gimmicks as the repetition on TV, combined with bulky production budgets, meant that the directors wanted to use every new device that was either coming on stream or was just nudging its way through a crack in the door.

In the water with Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones on the set of ‘Entrapment’ in 1979

In the water with Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones on the set of ‘Entrapment’ in 1979

For me, this was an opportunity to be introduced to the cutting edge of every new gizmo whether it was the ‘Hothead’ or ‘Paintbox’ – and I was fortunate enough to be involved in some of the early experimental work on Libra with Nick Phillips and Harvey Harrison by driving various vehicles either on racetracks or bolted to the side of Land Rovers going over really rough territory.

‘Star Wars’, ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’, ‘Bond’, ‘Indy’, ‘Private Ryan’, ‘English Patient’, ‘Enemy at the Gates’, ‘Corelli’, ‘The Pianist’ etc etc, all have their interesting facets and learning curves which require a certain thought process and how we can make it look good safely (within reason….) and the challenge continues!

The main differences between then and now is that we all have mobiles and email and GPS and CGI … but when it comes down to it, the business still requires a good script, good direction, good actors and good action where required. We are just a part of the jigsaw puzzle, the big difference is that the successful ones can put the linament on the bruises with a £50 note!

Stunt people have, by definition, to be jacks of all trades and sometimes master of one or two – tomorrow might be a stair fall on fire, Tuesday falling off a horse, Wednesday turning a car over, Thursday a high fall and Friday a fight sequence.

I did have a week like that a couple of times. Exciting it is, boring it ain’t!

On the set of ‘The Long Good Friday’ in 1980 with Bob Hoskins ‘inspecting the meat’

On the set of ‘The Long Good Friday’ in 1980 with Bob Hoskins
‘inspecting the meat’

Jim Dowdall’s film credits include: Skyfall – 2012, Safe House – 2012, Blitz 2011, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows – 2010, The Descent 1&2 – 2009 & 2005, RocknRolla – 2008, Death Defying Acts – 2007, The Flood – 2007, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 2005,  Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 2005, Sahara – 2005, Finding Neverland – 2004, The Bourne Supremacy – 2004, Die Another Day – 2002, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – 2001, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Entrapment – 1999, Little Voice – 1998, Saving Private Ryan – 1998, Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997, The English Patient – 1996, Batman – 1989, Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade – 1989, Whoops Apocalypse – 1986, Brazil – 1985, Octopussy – 1983, For Your Eyes Only – 1981, Star Wars V – 1980, Force 10 from Navarone – 1978, The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977, A Bridge Too Far – 1977, Star Wars IV – 1977, The Eagle Has Landed – 1976, Where Eagles Dare – 1968, The Dirty Dozen – 1967.

Television credits include: Eastenders 2012, Call the Midwife – 2012, Richard hammond’s Invisible Worlds – 2010, Rock & Chips – 2010, The Bill – 2004 to 2009, Top Gear – 2008, Dalziel & Pascoe – 2006 to 2007, The Gathering Storm – 2002, Prime Suspect – 1995, Minder – 1991, The Professionals – 1982, Doctor Who – 1975.

 

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A JOURNEY FROM PRODUCING SHORT FILMS TO A MICRO-BUDGET FEATURE by Christine Hartland

I fell into the film industry thanks to my downstairs neighbours asking me if I wanted to produce a short which a friend, Amelia Hann, had written and wanted to direct. At the time I was (and still am) working as a corporate event and video freelance producer so didn’t really think it would be a big jump – how wrong was I?!   (from an article written by Christine Hartland in Network Nine News)

I met Amelia early 2001 and came on board her S16mm short film ‘Big Girl Little Girl’. I knew nothing about working on film itself as I had only ever worked on video, so things like shooting on 24fps or 25fps or what a focus puller did, was a total mystery. Luckily, another producer came on board and her knowledge was invaluable and we made it all happen. In 2004 ‘Big Girl Little Girl’ won a few awards and can now be seen on the BBC film network thanks to Dazzle (the short film distributor).

I learned an awful lot on that project and caught the bug: I wanted to carry on producing short films with the view of one day maybe producing a feature. The film industry became more accessible and doors were starting to open, especially after the festival run.

The next short film I produced was the 35mm ‘Sick’ by Mike Rymer, which tackled the subject of depression.  Not an easy sell but the support of the Samaritans right from the beginning was invaluable. In 2004, we submitted the project to the Wandsworth Film London scheme and were awarded some production money. A year later in August 2005 with £10,000 in the bank, we shot ‘Sick’ on 35mm. Like Mike, I was keen to shoot it on film as opposed to video. Film does look incredible and, thanks to the support from Kodak, Panavision and Deluxe, we were able to do that. It suited the content of the film and we knew that we wanted to show it eventually in cinemas, which has just happened as the film was shown recently at the Odeon Cinema as part of Epsom Mental Health week. 

Just like on ‘Big Girl Little Girl’ it took us a year or so before we had a fine cut during which time we managed to raise additional fund to cover post-production costs (to include neg cutting, grading, Dolby 5.1 sound mixing at Goldcrest) thanks to the South London and Maudsley NHS Fund which remit matched ours: to raise awareness of depression.

In 2007 the film was finally sent to festivals. Mike managed the whole festival strategy over the course of two years (the ‘A’ list festivals in the first year and subsequent festivals in the second year).  A lot of hard work but so necessary in order to get the film out there to be noticed. Once again we managed to get financial support, this time from Screen South.

Over that time I also helped on two other shorts ‘Wooden Soul’ by Rehana Rose Khan (distributed by Shorts International – 2006) and ‘4 Conversations About Love’ by Jessica Townsend and producer Maria Goyal (distributed by New World Films – 2006). Both were shot on HD, which was the new format at the time, so that was quite exciting. I was also starting to read feature film scripts.

In August 2008, an editor friend suggested that I get in touch with David Holroyd who was looking for a producer to make his micro-budget film, a political thriller called ‘WMD’, which had been short listed (but not selected) in the Film London Microwave Scheme. I really liked the script and the concept. David was keen to shoot on CCTV and surveillance cameras, which was quite exciting, different and innovative – but at the same time very risky.

Very quickly I approached some investors I had met at the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years before. We signed the contract in November and the filming started on 21st January 2008 for about 30 days spread until early March. The filming included shoots in Berlin, Rome and Washington. Post-production started as we were shooting with editor Celia Haining at Clear Cut Pictures, which were extremely supportive. My aim was to finish the film by May 2008 so I could take it to the Cannes Film Festival market with a view of finding a sales agent. Risky strategy as sales agents do not go to markets to acquire more films but sell the ones they already have – but I felt as a first time producer that it was my only shot.

In May 2008 we showed the film at the market and had a few sales agents interested. Success – the strategy worked! Back in London, Independent Film Company (‘Adulthood’, ‘Mr Nice’ amongst many) took the film on.

We wanted to get the film out very quickly and decided to follow a reverse distribution strategy, which in itself was very risky as no one had done it before: we launched it at the Brighton Film Festival and on the digital platform Dailymotion for 48 hours in December 2008. Very quickly we had so many hits, three times more than their most watched film, that Dailymotion asked to expand the screening to many other territories over those 48 hours so we knew there was solid interest in the film.

In 2009 we sent the film to a few festivals including East End Film Festival in London, where it was nominated as Best Debut UK Feature. We also sent it to people such as  the Vanity Fair Editor, Graydon Carter, Clare Short (then an MP) and John Pilger for an endorsement. They all liked it! In October 2009, we had a simultaneous UK theatrical & iTunes release which lead to 3 star reviews from both the Guardian and Channel 4, describing the film as ‘gripping’. In 2010 ‘WMD’ is still going and we are continuing to look at opportunities to get it out there – it never stops it seems! The latest screening to date is on Scandinavian Television on the 1st December 2010. 

The speed at which ‘WMD’ happened was incredible especially compared to the short films I had previously worked on. In less than one year we had a feature length film in our hands and a sales agent on board. It seems that when you have no money, projects can either take a very long time, as people work in their down time alongside their paid work, or go very fast as people block book some time off for the project and all has to fit within that time. The latter is how we managed to make ‘WMD’ – there was no other way possible at the time.

However, one of my biggest learning curves was the phase once the film was completed: it was the beginning of a very long process and journey.  The work, especially for a small independent production, can be slow and painful as usually there is not much industry support and/or barely any budget for advertising and PR, which is key to get your film out there to the world. Whether it is a short or a feature it takes a lot of time, energy and perseverance to get the film out there as well as a little bit of money despite the fact that nowadays a lot of things can be done for free eg. social networks etc.

In October 2010, ‘Sick’ was launched at the BFI – that is five years after we shot it – and in 2011 there may well be some more news about it so does it ever stop? It does not seem to and that is a short film! Therefore as a producer, a good relationship with the film director is key as embarking on a film is not a short but a rather long and adventurous journey.

Unfortunately nowadays, producing a debut feature often means that it will be on a micro-budget level (ie under £100,000 and often even under £50,000). What is key is a good script, a good director and cast, and, a very dedicated crew with a lot of support from family, friends, colleagues. A bit of luck and good timing are also very important but harder to factor in!

Personally, apart from still pushing ‘WMD’, my next step is raising money for the next features I am working on using whatever support I can get. For example, for the feature project ‘Nitrate’ by Guy Ducker and Gavin Boyter, we have had a bit of interest after the Trailermade Competition in which it was one of three winners. To be able to show a pre-feature trailer has been very beneficial and, as an independent producer, the main aim is to make sure the project is out there and get noticed. With what I have already learned, I am able to help other debut feature directors and producers with their first micro-budget features. Currently filming is ‘Life Just Is’ by Alex Barrett which is being promoted on YouTube,  both during and post shoot so feel free to check  it out. Again the aim is to raise as much awareness of the project both in terms of building an audience as well as being noticed by the film industry. Let’s see how it goes!

My final thought I would like to share with you: I believe that thinking outside the box and using any means possible such as script (or any other) competitions, seminars, networking events, new technologies, partnerships, charity support, festivals, film markets, endorsements etc can only help get your project noticed by both its audience (very important to know who the film audience is) and the film industry (key for future projects). Good luck!

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Feature Film Production

 

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PRODUCER SAVED FROM MUSIC BUDGET NIGHTMARE

Ivan Chandler

 

‘A CINEMATIC RELEASE?’….ALL MEDIA WORLDWIDE IN PERPETUITY?….THIS WILL BE QUITE A FEW THOUSAND!’, SAID THE MUSIC PUBLISHER , SMILING DOWN THE TELEPHONE WITH GLEE! THE MORAL OF THE STORY? GET SOMEONE WHO KNOWS ABOUT MUSIC AND COPYRIGHT!!

Once upon a time in a production office not too far away, a producer was discussing with the director the music they would like for their newfairytale drama.

However, they did not have much money left for music – only about five hundred pounds in fact – as they had spent it all on fancy camera work, costumes, make up, limousines for the ageing fading ex-Hollywood starlet as well as a some special effects that went tragically wrong and had to be re-made by an expensive computer graphics firm who managed to misinterpret what was required.

After hours and hours and hours of editing, the film was close to being finished. The producer admitted he didn’t know much about copyright and had been promising to go along to an Indie Training Fund Music Rights seminar for about three years.

Nevertheless, he knew that some music was out of copyright and always liked Cavalleria Rusticana by deceased Italian composer, Pietro Mascagni. He played some tasty extracts to the director who loved it. So they used it as most of the score of the film.

Then a little bird mentioned that, as the copyright in musical compositions lasts for 70 years after the composer’s death, should they not check that out. It turned out that Mascagni died in 1945 and therefore there was still a further three and half years or so to go before they could use it for free. ‘Oh dear’ said the producer ‘it’s still in copyright!’.

A quick email to the PRS told them to go to the publishers. ‘A cinematic release?….All media worldwide in perpetuity?… This will be quite a few thousand!’, said the publisher probably smiling down the telephone with glee. ‘Well, we could negotiate it – you’ve used a lot of the score but this is not going to be cheap you know’.

The producer said that the recording was out of copyright as it was over 50 years old and, even with the
extension of the copyright term in sound recordings to 70 years, it was an old recording as he had the vinyl to prove it. However, his recording was so scratchy that they had used a CD, a re-released of the original recording. No-one told them that re-mastered recordings with all the scratches, pops and crackles taken out constitute a new copyright recording. A call to the label resulted in a quote for fees on an MFN basis with the publishers. ‘MFN? What’s that?’, said the producer. The label told him that, whatever the publisher wanted, the label needed to charge the same.

Oh, and as the some of the music is over the closing credits, the fee is three times as much. Oh, no! This is a runaway music budget nightmare!

They asked to look at the licence to check the wording and there was a clause about gaining consents from the performers on the recording. On enquiring further, as the recording they had now decided on using (not the original) was first made in England, it turned out that the Musicians’ Union required re-use fees. How many musicians? 70!

Then, as the fees were catapulting higher and higher and whilst the producer and director simultaneously threw their arms up in the ear, a young Production Manager popped her head into their office. She said, ‘I went to one of Ivan Chandler’s Music Copyright Seminars and I know just what to do’. ‘What, what?’, they literally screamed.

You could easily use a library recording for only a few hundred pounds and, if you use lots of extracts from the same recording from the same library, they might even give you a good discount.

The library rates cover the publishing, sound recording and performers’ consents. In fact, you could also use a few special sound effects where appropriate and, in many scenes, by using no music at all, you could even save more!!

The producer, director and production manager clasped hands, jumped round the room and opened a bottle of champagne. Unfortunately, it was taken from the financier’s vintage collection and valued at, guess what, £500.00!

The moral of the story? Get someone who knows about music and copyright!!
Ivan Chandler, Founder & CEO,
Musicalities Ltd,
Music Copyright & Licensing Consultants
www.musicalities.co.uk

Ivan’s Film Credits include: Mouth to Mouth – 2005, My Kingdom – 2001, The Man Who Cried – 2000, 24 Hours in London – 2000, Waking Ned Devine – 1998, The Tango Lesson – 1997, Shooting Fish – 1997, Bring Me The Head of Mavis Davis – 1997.  Television Credits include: Raw – 2012, The Cost of Living – 2005.

 
 

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