RSS

Tag Archives: film history

DYNAMATION … from a lecture by Ray Harryhausen in 1984

Dynamation is a term which was coined by producer Charles Schneer when we started making black and white films together in the 1950s. We specialised in combining live actors with animated models and, since nobody knew quite what stop motion photography was, they would call it an animated film. We were trying to establish a new division between cartoon and three-dimensional animation, so we came up with the word ‘Dynamation’ for that process. As the years went by, the publicity department felt that they had to enhance the word, so we got ‘Super Dynamation’!

Georges Meliés experimented with stop motion photography in France before 1900 with his unique short film Trip to the Moon but it was Wilis O’Brien in America who first found a commercial use for stop motion. His greatest triumph was King Kong which set me off and I have never been the same since!

It left such an impression on me that I felt it was the type of career I wanted, so I made it my business to find out how it was done – hence Dynamation sprang out of the basic O’Brien technique.

The principle behind the technique is that we project a small picture of the live action. Unlike many companies who build 50ft models, we build small models and shrink the actors down to size in order to have control. The larger you go with complicated hydraulically controlled mechanisms, the less control you have – particularly in dramatic situations – so we use a small rear-projected image of the live action behind the animated model, sometimes adding matting process.

When we were presented with the story of Gulliver’s Travels’ we wanted to make it as inexpensively as possible. We had heard of the yellow backing travelling matte process used in England at that time (1959) making its own matte instantaneously using a bi-pack camera. We thought that would simplify combining big people with little people. Since we had planned 150 travelling matte shots, we came to the UK to investigate and we have been here ever since. We used the yellow backing system on three pictures, then it suddenly went out of fashion. That was the darkest day I can remember. Now, of course, we use the blue backing system.

We had just perfected the miniature projection duping process for Twenty Million Miles to Earth where you could hardly distinguish between the original negative and the Dynamation shots – and I would have liked to do the next picture that way – but Charles Spooner said you could not shoot an ‘Arabian Nights’ type picture in black and white, so we made The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad in colour. This took some experimenting as we did not have a choice of colour film which we could use for back projection plates. However, we took the plunge and it worked out quite well commercially. Not too many people found it objectionable to see rather grainy Dynamation shots intercut with the original negative. People who are technically minded are far more aware of that than the average cinema audience, although audiences today are very astute and certainly do not accept things that they would have done twenty years ago.

One of the biggest problems with colour film is contrast and change of colour and we found that the new low contrast print film, designed mainly for television, was very useful. It is much easier to control the colour balance today than it was back in 1958, when you could not leave an unfinished shot in the camera overnight. If you did, it was quite evident the next day to see a colour change jump due to the California temperature drop during the night.

Many times I set my own challenges and I find that my goal is always a little too high for the assets we have. I think that one of my greatest challenges was in Jason and the Argonauts where three men fight seven skeletons. That sequence presented a lot of problems and there were times when I averaged about thirteen frames per nine-hour day – which is less than one foot of film. The accountants got very uptight because they expected me to grind out the footage very much faster than that!

Some of the animated figures used in Jason and the Argonauts

It was necessary for me to handle all the skeletons myself as they had to be synchronised very intimately with the three miniature-projected swordsmen. The skeleton’s feet had to be fastened to the floor and, the minute they left the ground, I had to suspend them on wires for accurate control over the animation. Being keen to make the skeletons look professional, I studied fencing myself but unfortunately, I threw my hip out of joint and had to give it up!

The whole fencing sequence had to be choreographed like a ballet and broken down into numbers. We had to pre-plan the cuts ahead of time through the storyboard – and I cannot stress enough how important that it. When you get on the set you do no want to have a lot of arguments and discussions on how shots should be set up. I always make a number of pre-production drawings which aid everyone concerned in visualising just what the final effect will look like on the screen.

The famous Skeleton Fight from Jason and the Argonauts

I always prefer to animate models of animals for exotic settings and situations instead of using real animals. It is so difficult to find a talented crab who will perform just the way you want, or a baboon who can play chess! You do not want to be at the whim and mercy of a lizard, hoping he will go from point A to point B in so many seconds. I find that real lizards become lethargic under the hot studio lights and barely blink or yawn for the benefit of the camera. The animated ones will perform exactly as directed.

For the bulk of the shots in our films I prefer to use miniature rear projection instead of travelling mattes because it’s easier to execute intimate interplay between actor and model. You have the projected image right there in front of you, rather than wait for weeks to see the combined effect from an optical printer. However, we do resort to many travelling matte shots which, in themselves, are very time consuming to put together.

Dynamation is a word which really means using every trick in the trade – but there comes a point in the economics of doing stop motion animation where you cannot do as much as you would like to do in the way of retakes and careful matching. The time factor is quite considerable. The ideal situation in the future is the Chroma Key method as used in television. When this method has the same resolution as film, you will be able to make instantaneous travelling mattes. I believe that some companies are working on this at the moment.

In recent years there has been a great exposé of the ‘behind the scenes’ details of making complicated special effects. It is my belief that it rather spoils the illusion when the audience is told how it is achieved. It is like a stage magician who tells everyone how he achieves his illusions of magic – soon the audience loses interest in the show!

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Art of Illusion … by Wendy Laybourn

THE BOOK!

I’ve been really busy for the past couple of years helping my Art Director friend Terry Ackland-Snow to write a book about working in the film Art Department. We decided to call it The Art of Illusion: Production Design for Film & Television because illusion is what making a film or a television programme is all about – what the audience sees on the screen isn’t altogether real!

Like all good things, this project was started over a glass of wine. Maybe I should think twice next time – but I’ve really enjoyed working with Terry and helping him to pull this whole thing together.

Essentially, the book is aimed at anyone wanting to make a career in film production and it will take you through the processes involved in creating a film set step by step. Film sets have been constantly developing from the simple canvas backcloths used on theatre stages, right through to the present day where computer generated effects augment the highly sophisticated art of designing, building and dressing sets.

The Art of Illusion will be available on 11th September from all good bookshops and on-line providers with ISBN number 978 1 78500 343 1. If you want to pre-order you can take advantage a discount offered by the publisher, Crowood Press on Crowood Press

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Army Film & Photographic Unit (1942-46) and its Association with Pinewood Studios … by Wendy Laybourn

Poppy Every 11th November Pinewood Studios hosts a Remembrance Service, not only in memory of the fallen in every conflict – but specifically to honour of the members of the Army Film & Photographic Unit (AFPU) which also embraces the RAF Film Production Unit (RAFFPU). This year the service was conducted by the Reverend Nick Todd CF, Chaplain to the Irish Guards and the two minutes silence at 11 o’clock was marked by Colour Sergeant Shaun Held, Senior Bugle Major, The Rifles – with the Colours presented by the Royal British Legion, Iver Heath.

Formed during WWII, the AFPU and RAFFPU had their headquarters in Pinewood Studios where a permanent reminder in the form of a Memorial Plaque, which records losses proportionately as high as any Unit in the war, is displayed in the corridor leading to the cutting rooms where so much of the film footage, which is still frequently seen on television, was edited.

The AFPU & FAFFPU Roll of Honour

The AFPU & FAFFPU Roll of Honour

Paul Clark is the person who is currently looking after the AFPU Veterans Association, and organises the attendance of the remaining members and the friends and families of those who are no longer with us – as well as the reunions over the years (which were inspired originally by Captain Alan del Strother, a one-time Adjutant at Pinewood). He took over the reins from Harry Thompson, who in turn had taken over from George Reeves. Because PR and war correspondents were attendees at the reunions they are also listed on the roll of honour – and let us not forget the darkroom technicians, camera mechanics, clerical and transport staff who all  played a vital part in running the Unit and are deserving of equal listing. As Paul mentioned in his introduction at the service, the membership is reducing each year but I think that he can rest assured that this wonderful piece of history will continue to be honoured by Pinewood Studios and the friends and families of the AFPU and RAFFPU members.

History

Before the start of the Second World War the Central Office of Information controlled publicity related to all military and civil actions with the Director of Public Relations in the War Office being responsible for the affairs of the British Armed Forces. When the War broke out in September 1939, just one Army photographer, Geoffrey Keating and one film cameraman, Harry Rignold, accompanied the British Expeditionary Force to France.

It was quickly realised that the front line would be a dangerous place for untrained photographers as well as the possibility of them endangering not only themselves but the people in the battles they would have to photograph. On 24th October 1941, the Army agreed to form a corps of trained photographers and cameramen. The unit was called the Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) and, under the leadership of Lt. Colonel Hugh St. Claire Stewart, Pinewood Studios was selected as their headquarters – as well as the RAF Film Unit and the Crown Film Unit, who produced propaganda films for the Ministry of Information.

There were many professional film and press photographers who had already been called up for service so they were quickly located and brought together in Pinewood Studios, which served both as a headquarters and training centre for the Units. Number 1 Unit was based in Cairo, which was to come into its own when retreat changed to offensive at Alamein, opening with the launching of the barrage skilfully and uniquely filmed by Sgt Billy Jordan, MM – who continued as a cinematographer, working in news, features and shorts for Associated-British Pathé, Alfred Hitchcock and The Children’s Film Foundation.

D-Day Landings

D-Day Landings

On D-Day, 6th June 1944, ten men from the newly-formed AFPU went with the first wave of troops ashore, whilst others landed with the airborne troops – continuing to accompany the Armed Forces as they fought through Europe.

Two experienced pressmen, Ted Malindine and Len Puttnam were among the photographers called up to record the British Expeditionary force in 1939 & 1940.

They both recorded the Dunkirk evacuation and were themselves evacuated twice from the French beaches.

The AFPU was deployed in all theatres of Allied action, often alongside special forces such as the Commandos, the Chindits, the Airborne, the SAS, the Special Boat Squadron and the Long Range Desert Group. All the major  campaigns were filmed and photographed – and the footage from the Desert and North Africa Campaigns was used to produce ‘Desert Victory’ which won an Oscar for the best war documentary. In later years footage from D-Day provided background information for the opening scenes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

The Italian campaign and Western Europe embraced the action at Monte Casino, Arnhem, the Rhine Crossing and the relief of the Belsen Concentration Camp. The Far East campaign was covered by Number 9 Unit under the umbrella of Admiral Louis Mountbatten and footage was used to produce ‘Burma Victory’.

As an example of the breadth of work of the members of the AFPU, the following passage is part of the memories of photographer Frank Covey:

… ‘Having returned from North Africa and completed my parachute training in January 1944, we were waiting for assignment to units. There I saw a notice which read … “Volunteers needed for a course on Photography” … when we got to Pinewood we were met by a gentleman in civvies, who introduced himself as Major David MacDonald, our new CO. We were told that all regular army bullshit was out and that there would be no time for parades or suchlike – but that we should keep ourselves correctly dressed, behave and put all our efforts into the task ahead.

The commanding staff were all well known people from the film industry. The Boulting brothers with Richard Glendinning and David MacDonald formed the nucleus. There was also the Crown Film Unit at Pinewood making war films such as ‘Target Tonight’, ‘Western Approaches’ and ‘Journey Together’ with Edward G Robinson. A young actor starred in some of these films, who we got to know as Dickie Attenborough! All in all we were a mixed bunch of film, newspaper and magazine photographers from across the country … 

… ‘We broke out of Normandy and followed the German retreat, at times entering villages in forests and finding that we were the first British troops they had seen. We joined the Guards Armoured Division for their dash to Brussels. With the infantry (Welsh Guards) led by armoured cars of the Household Cavalry and Cromwell tanks – we dashed 100 miles and got to the city in the late afternoon of 3rd September 1944. It was crazy, we were covered with flowers, given bottles of Brandy etc …

… ‘We went to the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen and Neugamme near Hamburg, where we saw the terrible carnage. At Neugamme the ovens were still there and all over the camp white discs were scattered on the ground, which we discovered later were the compressed ashes of those burned’ …

After the War

Many of the former members of the AFPU became established in the film and photographic industries after the war and several became exceptional figures in their chosen professions – here are three examples:

John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred joined the film industry in 1937, served with the AFPU working on ‘Desert Victory’, ‘Tunisian Victory’ and ‘Burma Victory’ with Roy Boulting.

After the war he went on to, work at Shepperton Studios as music and dubbing mixer on notable films including ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ and ‘Laurence of Arabia’. From 1972 he was Head of Sound at Rank Film Laboratories until his retirement.

During his illustrious career he had many film credits as sound recordist and mixer, including ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ (Oscar nominated), ‘Anne of a Thousand Days’ (Oscar nominated), ‘The Italian Job’, ‘Girl on a Motorcycle’, ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, ‘Half a Sixpence’, ‘The Quiller Memorandum’, ‘Doctor Strangelove’, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘The Guns of Navarone’ and ‘In Which We Serve’. 

Gillie Potter

Gillie Potter

   Gillie Potter joined the AFPU, already having started his career with the National Screen Service as a Title Artist, and was posted to Mountbatten’s South East Asia Command, where he stayed after the war ended to assist in setting up the Malaysian Government Film Unit. After a few years working in Malaysia he returned to the UK just in time for the start-up of ITV.

He was one of the world’s leading special effects animators and became known as the man who could ‘do the impossible’. His revolutionary work in British commercials advanced the use of specialist ‘in-camera’ effects. He elevated the boring ‘pack-shot’ to an art form and invented the device of having live action sequences taking place on a moving product pack. His work earned him more than 40 international awards including a Golden Lion at the Cannes Advertising Film Festival – and he was involved in the production of more than 2,000 advertisements. His special effects work can also be seen in feature films including ‘The Last Emperor’, ‘Superman: The Movie’ and ‘Jurassic Park’.

Harry Waxman

Harry Waxman

    Harry Waxman started with International Pictures as a camera assistant and worked in a number of studios during the 1930s, including Ealing, Welwyn and Worton Hall.

During the war he served with the RAF Film Unit making his first feature, ‘Journey Together’, directed by John Boulting in 1945. His work on that film led to a contract with Two Cities Films after the war leading to him working at Denham Studios and becoming involved with the Boulting brothers as cameraman on ‘Fame Is the Spur’ and then as cinematographer on ‘Brighton Rock’ both in 1947.

Harry Waxman was a founder-member of the BSC (British Society of Cinematographers) and served as President from 1966-69 – and in 1959 he won an award from the British Society of Cinematographers for ‘Sapphire’. He is credited with more than 60 other films included ‘Swiss Family Robinson’, ‘The Day the Earth Caught Fire’,Crooks in Cloisters’,The Nanny’, ‘The Anniversary’,The Wicker Man’.

The dedicated and outstanding work of the members of the AFPU and the RAFFPU is carried on by the photographers and cameramen of the Royal Logistics Corps, 77th Brigade who are the current British Armed Forces members working wherever the Army, Navy and RAF are deployed. Perhaps one day we’ll see one or two of  their names credited in award-winning dramas or documentaries, like their predecessors!

 

AFPUbadge2

Pinewood copy

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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….’ 

 
2 Comments

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Film Production Technique …. from a talk given by Alfred Hitchcock in 1948

Alfred Hitchcock 1899-1980

The filming of each picture is a problem in itself. The solution to such a problem is an individual thing, not the application of a mass solution to all problems. Film production methods of yesterday may seem out of date today and yet, tomorrow’s problem may be best solved by using yesterday’s methods. The first rule of direction must be flexibility.

Nothing should be permitted to interfere with the story. The making of a picture is nothing but the telling of a story and the story – it goes without saying – must be a good one. I do not try to put on to the screen what is called ‘a slice of life’ because people can get all the slices of life they want out of the cinema. On the other hand, total fantasy is not wanted because people desire to connect themselves with what they see on the screen.

Those are all the restrictions I would place on the story. It must be believable and yet not ordinary. It must be dramatic and yet lifelike.

Having decided upon our story, we must next develop our characters and the plot. When that is done, are we ready to go on to the floor? I maintain we are not because our picture is going to need editing and cutting – and the time for this work is before shooting. The cuts should be made in the script itself, before a camera turns and not in the film after the cameras have stopped turning.

Script Cutting

My objection to the more conventional method of cutting is twofold. First of all, it is wasteful. The tragedy of the actor whose entire part ends on the cutting-room floor is not entirely a personal one. His salary, the sets he acted in and the film on which his acting was recorded all represent expenditure.

More important, if each scene is filmed as a separate entity out of sequence, the director is forced to concentrate on each scene as a scene. There is the a danger that one such scene may be given too great a prominence in direction and acting and its relation to the remaining scenes in the picture will be out of balance, or again, that it may have been given insufficient value and, when the scene becomes part of the whole, the film will be lacking in something.

The ‘extra shots’ made after the regular schedule is completed are necessitated because, in the shooting of scenes, story points were missed. The extra expository shots are generally identified by an audience for what they are – artificial devices to cover what had been overlooked in the preparation of the film.

How can this be avoided? I think it can best be avoided if a shooting script is edited before the shooting starts. In this way, nothing extra is shot and, most important, story points will be made naturally within the action itself.

If we do not edit before we shoot, we may be faced in the cutting room with one of the most difficult of editorial problems – the unexplained lapse of time. The passage of time may be essential to the plot but it may not have been made clear in the sequences that have been shot. There was a time – long since passed – when one would simply have photographed the words ‘one week later’ in transparency and caused them to appear on the screen in mid-air during the second scene.

The lapse of time can easily be indicated by the simple method of shooting one scene as a day scene and the next as a night scene – or one scene with leaves on the trees and the next one with snow on the ground. These are obvious examples but they serve to point to the need for script editing before production commences.

Camera Movement

Ingrid Bergmann and Cary Grant in ‘Notorious’ – 1946

A director tries never to go on the floor without a complete shooting script but, for one reason or another, one often has to start with what is really an incomplete script. The most glaring omission in the conventional script, I believe, is camera movement.  The director may decide on the floor how he is going to film a sequence – but I maintain that the time for such a decision is in the preparation of the script.

Here we encounter once again the fact that the tendency today is to shoot scenes and sequences and not to shoot pictures. The angle from which a scene is to be shot ought to flow logically from the preceding shot and it ought to be so designed that it will fit smoothly into whatever follows it. Actually, if all the shooting is planned and incorporated into the script, one will never think about shooting a scene but merely about shooting a picture of which the scene in question is a part.

Shooting in Sequence

The object of these remarks is to emphasize that I favour shooting pictures in sequence. The film is seen in sequence by an audience and the nearer a director gets to an audience’s point of view, the more easily he will be able to satisfy the audience. The satisfaction of an audience has been deprecated as an aim of picture making and I think that is a very grave mistake. There has been a tendency to sneer at audiences, to regard them as a tasteless mass to whose ignorance phenomenal concessions must be made by producers and directors.

Why is this? One reason is that a director hears comments about his work constantly and these comments come, for the most part, from people associated with the industry. It is laudable to seek the applause and approbation of one’s co-workers but, once one begins making pictures for their satisfaction, it is only a short step to condemning lay audiences for their lack of appreciation of cinema craft.

This is a dangerous point of view. Of course, it is a fine thing to make a picture whose technique excites admiration from people who indeed understand technique – but these are not the people who pay the costs of production!

Audience Groups

A picture-maker need not try to please everyone. It is important to decide at what audience one is aiming and then to keep one’s eye on that target. It is obviously uneconomic to shoot for a small audience and a motion picture costing some hundreds of thousands of pound, which has taken the efforts of perhaps one or two hundred men, cannot direct its appeal towards people with a special knowledge of film-making or to a certain section of the community.

To approach a cinema audience with contempt invites contempt in response. The great playwrights, Barrie and Pinero for example, rendered more than lip service in their respect for their audiences. They wrote every line with a conciousness that it was designed to entertain adult human beings and every line they wrote shows it. By the reasoning of those who maintain that intelligent drama cannot obtain a mass audience, their plays should all have been artistic successes and financial failures – but we know that they were well received, that many of them were terrific hits and we should profit by that knowledge.

Filming Technique 

I turn now to the actual techniques of picture-making. I have a liking, for instance, for a roving camera because I believe, as do many other directors, that a moving picture should really move. I have definite ideas about the use of cuts and fade-outs which, improperly handled, can remind the audience of the unreality of our medium and take them away from the plot – but those are personal prejudices of mine. I do not try to bend the plot to fit technique – I adapt technique to the plot. A particular camera angle may give a cameraman, or even a director, a particularly satisfying effect but, dramatically, is it the best way of telling whatever part of the story it is trying to tell? If not, it should not be used.

The motion picture is not an arena for the display of techniques. An audience is never going to think ‘what magnificent work with the boom!’ or ‘that dolly is very nicely handled!’  The audience is mainly focussed on what the characters on the screen are doing – and it is a director’s job to keep the audience interested in that. Technique which attracts the audience’s attention is poor technique. The mark of a good technique is that it is unnoticed.

On the set of ‘Rope’ in1948 – the first colour film for Hitchcock

Maintaining Interest

Even within a single picture techniques should vary, although the overall method of handling the story, the style, must remain constant. It is, for instance, obvious that audience concentration is higher at the beginning of a picture than at the end. The act of sitting in one place must eventually induce a certain lassitude. In order that this lassitude should not be translated into boredom or impatience, it is often necessary to accelerate the progress of the story towards the end – particularly of a long picture. This means more action and less dialogue or, if dialogue is essential, speeches ought to be short, a little louder and more forceful that they would be if the same scene were played earlier in the picture.

It is sometimes necessary to encourage artistes to overact!  Of course, it takes a certain amount of tact to induce a good actor to do so and this is another argument in favour of shooting pictures more or less in sequence because, once one has edged an actor into overacting it is, sadly enough, entirely impossible to edge him back again!

Direction is, of course, a matter of decisions. The important thing is that the director should make his decisions when the need for them arises and operate with as few rules as possible.

Alfred Hitchcock was born on 13 August 1899, in Leytonstone, London – the son of greengrocers William & Emma Hitchcock. After graduating from the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation, he became a draftsman and advertising designer with a cable company. During this period, he became intrigued by photography and started working in film production in 1921 in London as a title-card designer for the London branch of what would later become Paramount Pictures.

In 1920, he received a full-time position at the then American-owned Islington Studios and their British successor, Gainsborough Pictures, designing the titles for silent movies. His rise from title designer to film director took five years and, by the end of the 1930’s, Hitchcock had become one of the most famous film-makers in England. Alfred Hitchcock made in excess of eighty films and several television series

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 27, 2012 in How It All Began

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: