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THE BUSINESS OF SNOW by Darcey E Crownshaw

Even today, when filming on real snow locations, the logistics of getting equipment, cast and crew safely on and off the snowbound sets adds a whole new dimension to the challenges faced by any production.  These challenges are even greater when filming on mountains, frozen lakes or within the Arctic Circle.  When a film crew work on an area of real snow, it soon turns to mud any area requiring ‘virgin snow’ can only be used for one take, costumes get wet, cast, crew and equipment freeze, trucks get stuck.  No movie in this age has the budget to wait for real snow to arrive when falling snow or blizzards are required….from an article published in Network Nine News     www.snowbusiness.com

 

Lillian Gish in the 1920 film ‘Way Down East’ working in freezing conditions!

In 1920 D W Griffith made what some people class as the greatest movie of all time, ‘Way Down East’ (1920) starring Lillian Gish.  Mr Griffith wanted realism at any cost, he wanted nothing to do with the white painted cornflakes that were regularly used as studio snow at that time. For the climax of the movie, Anna (Lillian’s character) was to be driven out into the blizzard and stumble on to the rivers of moving ice. 

Lillian Gish wrote …”‘Our house was near the studio and I was to report to work at any hour that snow started to fall, as we had both day and night scenes to film.  It was a late but severe winter; even Long Island Sound was frozen over.  I slept with one eye open, waiting for the blizzard. Winter dragged on and was almost over and still those important scenes hadn’t been filmed. The blizzard finally struck in March.  Drifts eight feet high swallowed the studio.  Mr Griffith, Billy, the staff and assistant directors stood with their backs to the gale, bundled up in coats, mufflers, hats and gloves.  To hold the camera upright, three men lay on the ground, gripping the tripod legs.  A small fire burned directly beneath the camera to keep the oil from freezing.

Again and again, I struggled through the storm.  Once I fainted – and it wasn’t in the script.  I was hauled to the studio on a sled, thawed out with hot tea and then brought back to the blizzard, where the others were waiting.  We filmed all day and all night, stopping only to eat, standing near a bonfire.  We never went inside, even for a short warm-up.  The torture of returning to the cold wasn’t worth the temporary warmth. The blizzard never slackened.  At one point, the camera froze.  There was an excruciating delay as the men, huddled against the wind, trying to get another fire started.  At one time my face was caked with a crust of ice and snow and icicles like little spikes formed on my eyelashes, making it difficult to keep my eyes open.

Above the storm Mr Griffith shouted: ‘Billy, move! Get that face! That face – get that face!’ – ‘I will,’ Billy shouted, ‘if the oil doesn’t freeze in the camera!’ Although he worked with his back to the wind whenever possible, Mr Griffiths’ face froze.  A trained nurse was at his side for the rest of the blizzard and the winter scenes. We lost several members of our crew to pneumonia as the result of exposure…..”

Even today, when filming on real snow locations, the logistics of getting equipment, cast and crew safely on and off the snowbound sets adds a whole new dimension to the challenges faced by any production.  These challenges are even greater when filming on mountains, frozen lakes or within the Arctic Circle.  When a film crew work on an area of real snow, it soon turns to mud and any area requiring ‘virgin snow’ can only be used for one take, costumes get wet, cast, crew and equipment freezes, trucks get stuck.  No movie in this age has the budget to wait for real snow to arrive when falling snow or blizzards are required.

Artificial snows solved these problems but at the same time created a whole bunch of new ones.  Snow Business has dedicated itself to developing and producing new materials and methods of application over the last 25 years.

Unbelievably, white asbestos became popular for a time in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It can be seen in films like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939).  At that time white asbestos could also be bought over the counter (packaged as an artificial snow) for the family use on the Christmas tree!  

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946) used white sand and gypsum to create the snow dressing.  Wet foam was used for the falling snow and this can be seen streaking over George Bailey’s (played by James Stewart) costume during the car crash scene.  Modern dry foams do not do this, they are much more realistic. They have controllable size and rate of fall, the snowflakes look like snowflakes and are self-clearing.  Our dry foam systems are now in use around the world at huge public venues and we used them to obtain the Guinness world record for the largest area ever covered with artificial falling snow (over a mile of Bond Street in London).

For the cavalry charge across the frozen river in ‘Dr Zhivago’ (1965) white marble dust was laid over steel sheets.  Marble dust is heavy, expensive and very difficult to remove, any remnants that remain form a semi-permanent white patch in the landscape.  Today, modern cellulose dusts can be used – they are more versatile, faster to lay and have the key advantage of leaving the location clean. They have even been authorised for use on SSSI and other sensitive sites. 

The ‘ice palace’ scenes from ‘Dr Zhivago’ were created using paraffin wax dressed over white wadding.  Paraffin wax has been used since the beginning of film to simulate ice and icicles but it was only with the making of ‘Day After Tomorrow’ (2004), that bespoke equipment was designed to dress the huge areas quickly and safely.  Modern Ice Waxes have now been developed for spraying which do not yellow under sunlight (for longevity) and are much harder (allowing for use in hot climates).

Three stages of set dressing for ‘John Adams’ in 2008. Left: location before preparation. Centre: prepared with SnowMembrane. Right: set dressed with SnowCel

Urea formaldehyde foam, a two-part foam mix that sets into place, was very popular from the late 60’s to the early 80’s.  It can be seen in ‘Dr Doolittle’ (1969) where it was used to dress the streets and rooftops of Castle Coombe in Gloucestershire.  Urea formaldehyde foam can look fantastic, particularly for large blocks of snow but it is a devil to remove, particularly from surfaces like Cotswold stone.  Modern SnowWhite replaces it, this foam is free of Beetlejuice and CFC’s.  It can be removed easily by jet washing and when disposed of, it biodegrades.

Dendretic salt was very popular in the 1980’s but as with all salts (and sand) it moves in a different way to real snow and more importantly is poisonous, corrosive and capable of doing severe and expensive damage to any location. Magnesium Sulphate was considered at that time as the best snow available (until SnowCel was invented), although it was very expensive it had the advantages of a lovely sparkle and being non-corrosive.  As with all salts it is heavy and, when laid outside, will completely disappear with one nights’ rain.  It cannot be dressed onto roofs or foliage and it has the disadvantage, when used in quantity, of killing plant life. When it is washed into porous stonework, it leaches out over decades leaving an ugly white tidemark.   All unacceptable to the property owner!

Artifical snow and ice on location

Today, there are many types of paper-based products on the market that can be used as snow but caution has to be exercised as many of them contain salts, fungicides, pesticides and even Borax.  The SnowCel range is the only product specifically designed for use on movie sets (fireproof) and locations (chemical free).

Modern paper based snows are light and can be laid at amazing speed.  The delivery systems blow the snow into the air so that it settles just like real snow, the material passes through a high-pressure water mist so that when it makes contact it ‘bonds’ to the surface (sticking inches deep even to inverted surfaces).   The paper does not kill or damage plants and cannot be absorbed into porous stonework thus avoiding any later staining. 

It is crucial to ensure that before any snow is laid, the location is correctly prepared.  Huge rolls of SnowMembrane (600 sq m) are used to cover lawn and garden areas before any loose snow dressing is applied.  The membrane allows water and sunlight to pass through whilst still being strong enough to gallop a horse across. On wrap, snow is washed off the trees and shrubs on to the membrane, the membrane is then rolled up to leave a spotless location underneath.

Falling snow technology has moved forward tremendously in recent years.  Modern ground based machinery can deliver vast amounts of snow into the air almost silently to fill acres with realistic, slow-falling, self-clearing snow.  Gone are the days of plastic flake or the Polystyrene beads that seem to last forever haunting old movie locations for many years whenever the wind changes. 

On any modern movie snow set you can expect to see a combination of seven or eight types of snow in use at any one time.  SnowMembrane to protect the location. SnowCel Full Size paper to give depth, SnowCel Half Size paper to give refinement.  SnowSparkle top dressing to add that ‘twinkle’.  Polymer top dressing for improved tracks and pick up on costume, PowderFrost or SnowEx to fill in background, BioFlake for use as falling snow and IceWax white to simulate that frozen mountain ‘crust’ to break realistically under footfall.

Snow being laid

Gone are the days of dressing snow by hand using scoops, shovels or stirrup pumps.  Machines create a natural dressing at a non-stop rate of up to 2 sq m per second.  Modern artificial ice is sprayed by all electric, computer-controlled technology at a rate of up to 1 sq m per minute.

Gone are the days of toxic materials and damaged locations. By selecting the right material and processes and by doing the correct preparation, any location can be dressed realistically and can be left undamaged.  Work is completed regularly on the most sensitive of sites, including SSSI, English Heritage and National Trust properties.

Modern materials are recycled, eco friendly, biodegradable and incorporate low embodied energy.  The paper used is chlorine free, the cellulose is from managed, renewable sources. Work has already started on auditing each type of snow in order to issue a full eco-rating covering its manufacture, use and disposal.  That way we enable productions to make even better and more informed choices for filming.

CGI has created the opportunity for filmmakers to make even more ambitious snow and winter effects movies.  Films such as ‘Day After Tomorrow’, ‘Alien vs. Predator’ and ‘Star Trek’ allow practical snow making skills to be developed even further, ensuring the continuation of the industry into the future and benefitting all productions through the availability of better equipment and materials.

SNOW BUSINESS FILM CREDITS INCLUDE: The Way Back – 2010; Star Trek – 2009; Benjamin Button – 2008; Quantum of Solace – 2008; The Golden Compass – 2007; The Bourne Ultimatum – 2007; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 2005; Nanny McPhee – 2005; Batman Begins – 2005; The Day After Tomorrow – 2004; Phantom of the Opera – 2004; Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Askaban; Cold Mountain – 2003; TELEVISION CREDITS: John Adams – 2008; Emmerdale – 2008; Eastenders – 2007; Hogfather – 2006; Dr Who – 2005; Band of Brothers – 2001  

 

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Art Department, Set Construction

 

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F.A.B! by Gerry Anderson MBE

Gerry Anderson (1929 – 2012) with Thunderbird 2

This is an article written for Network Nine News by the legendary Gerry Anderson in 2009. Gerry sadly passed away in 2012 but his story continues with the new Gerry Anderson Legacy Site www.launch.gerryanderson.co.uk

Born in 1929 in London into a poor family, education wasn’t high on the list of priorities and being evacuated during the war didn’t help at all – so, with extreme optimism I decided that I wanted to be an architect and applied to enter a training course! Luckily, the local polytechnic had other building-related courses and I found that I had an aptitude for fibrous plastering and creating decorative pieces which were used for film work. I enjoyed this work enormously for some time but developed an allergy to plaster and had to give up.

I had developed a passion for film work by then and so spent the next few months tramping round the film studios looking for a job.  Eventually, I was taken on by the Colonial Film Unit which was run by the Ministry of Information. Filming was on 35mm and they had a 6-weekly rotation programme so that the trainees got comfortable with all the disciplines – camera, picture editing, sound, direction, projection- and under the guidance of the legendary George Pearson I found that I had a great affinity for editing. George gave me a piece of advice which I’ve always remembered … ‘when you are filming don’t forget to shoot a few feet of a bowl of tulips for cutaways!’ ….

Growing in confidence I applied for and got a job with Gainsborough Studios in Shepherds Bush as 2nd Assistant Editor then worked my way up to 1st Assistant on ‘The Wicked Lady’ in 1945, ‘Caravan’ in 1946 and many more – all for the princely sum of £10 per week! 

Then, as did everyone in those days, in 1947 I was ‘called up’ for National Service with the RAF, where I spent my time as a Radio Telephone Operator.  It was a requirement that, after National Service, everyone was re-instated into their previous job but Gainsborough had closed and I was re-located to Pinewood Studios – then moved to Shepperton as a Sound Editor working on films such as ‘They Who Dare’ in 1954 for the acclaimed Director, Lewis Milestone (‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, ‘Pork Chop Hill’, ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty‘) who terrified everyone on set – although I got on with him very well. 

‘Thunderbirds’ character Alan Tracy with Chief Puppeteer Christine Glanville

In 1956 I formed a production company with Arthur Provis – I think that we were one of the first (if not the only) small production company working at that time, calling ourselves AP Films and renting space in an Edwardian mansion in Maidenhead. We had a filing cabinet, a telephone and headed paper, so we were ready for anything!  However, six months went by without any offers and we all had to do extra work to keep ourselves afloat – then the phone rang!!  It was a lady called Roberta Leigh who had 52 scripts for a children’s series called ‘The Adventures of Twizzle’.  We were over the moon, our big chance to show what we were made of – then she dropped the bombshell that it was a puppet show – but, we were hungry for work and even the modest budget and the tight schedule didn’t put us off.

I hated what I had already seen on television as puppet shows and so we decided to add a few ‘film’ techniques to make the sets more realistic with cut-outs in mid and foreground to add depth – also, whenever the puppets were meant to look at each other they always seemed to miss the eyeline as the puppeteers, who by now we had moved up to a high gantry to give more set space, had a very restricted view, so we painted arrows on the puppets heads to make it easier! 

Every episode we made we got a little better. Christine Glanville was the chief puppeteer and made the heads herself from cork dust, glue and methylated spirits – which was infinitely better than the original papier maché as they could be sanded down to a smoother finish. Eventually all the puppets would be made of fibreglass. We noticed that, as the puppets eyes were made of wood, the grain was very noticable when they moved – so we called in William Shakespeare!  No, not the bard but a nice man who made glass eyes – and he produced the first pair of plastic puppet’s eyes for us. As he said, he had never ever been asked for a pair of false eyes before!

Around 250 set-ups were needed for a half-hour episode and the 1/3 life size sets were built on moveable stages to be wheeled in and out very quickly.

‘Thunderbirds are Go!’ – Lady Penelope and Parker on an undercover mission in France!

So successful were we with ‘Twizzle’ and before the series was finished, Roberta Leigh came to us with another new series, ‘Torchy the Battery Boy’.  The budget was increased to nearly double and the team wanted to see how far they could go to improve the look and ‘workability’ of the puppets – finer wires, a spring in the jaw to snap the mouth shut to simulate speaking without the head bouncing up and down as the puppeteers jerked the wires. Eventually mouth movement was controlled by an electro-magnet device – another first – this was when we came up with the name ‘Supermarionation’

We were working on 35mm film with a Mitchell camera and I wanted to see what the TV audience would be viewing as we were working. I bought a lightweight video camera and fixed it to the Mitchell camera we were using so it looked directly down the lens, linking to a monitor and giving us a constant picture.  This ‘Video Assist’ technique was soon adopted by the film industry worldwide.

The next series,  ‘Four Feather Falls’ finished in 1960, and ‘Supercar’ came along in 1962 with the support of Lew Grade and the ITV network. Eventually ‘Supercar’ was broadcast coast-to-coast in the USA and became the top rated children’s programme.

‘Fireball XL5’ followed closely behind in 1963 with ‘Stingray’ in 1965 made in our new home in a large warehouse in the Slough trading estate.  I think that ‘Stingray’was possibly the first puppet series to entertain an adult audience, was shot in colour and had an enormous budget at that time of £20,000 per episode.

Gerry leaning on FAB 1 – a full-size working model of Lady Penelope’s car in ‘Thunderbirds are Go!’

While ‘Stingray’ was still in production I was writing a new series which eventually would be called ‘Thunderbirds’. Public response when the series was aired was phenomenal! Apparantly the astronaut Alan Shepherd was a fan!  The very futuristic ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ came out in 1968 followed by ‘Joe 90’ in 1969.

Shortly after this Lew Grade came apologetically to me and said that, as all the programmes we had produced were being repeated so much on television, we were drowning in our own product so unfortunately, I would have to switch to live action!  What joy – all I’d ever wanted to do was live action!  So ‘UFO’, ‘ Space 1999’ and ‘Space Precinct’ followed

Major developments and change have always been an essential part of the industry. Puppet work has been superceded by CGI and we dipped our toe in the water with ‘Lavender Castle’ and re-made ‘Captain Scarlet’ in 2005 using the latest software – except that I still worked with film people for storyboards and set design to make sure that it had that ‘3-dimensional’ film feel.

The 2005 CGI version of ‘Captain Scarlet’

I always remember something that Lewis Milestone said to me way back in 1947 when I was working with him.  He said ‘Do you want to be famous?’ … I was slightly taken aback by the question but obviously answered ..‘Yes’‘Never second-guess your audience’ he said ‘make what you want – if they like it you’ll become famous, if they don’t you might as well open a greengrocer’s shop!’  I have lived up to this advice throughout my career!

I really enjoy what I do and can’t imagine retiring – the technology and techniques during my career have changed so much and continue to evolve, so it makes each fresh project an exciting and rewarding challenge.

Ed: Gerry brought much joy and entertainment to several generations of of fans. Hopefully, through re-runs and perhaps through unfinished projects which may be completed in the future, his legacy will continue.

Gerry Anderson’s film & television credits include: New Captain Scarlet – 2005; Lavender Castle – 1999; Space Precinct – 1994; Dick Spanner – 1987; Terrahawks – 1983; Space 1999 – 1975; The Protectors – 1972; UFO – 1970; Doppelganger – 1969; Joe 90 – 1968; Thunderbird Six – 1968; Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons – 1967; Thunderbirds are Go – 1966; Thunderbirds – 1965; Stingray – 1964; Fireball XL5 – 1963; Supercar – 1960; Four Feather Falls – 1959; Torchy the Battery Boy – 1958; The Adventures of Twizzle – 1957

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Animation

 

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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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Motion Picture Photography

Motion Picture Photography, from a lecture in 1949 by Freddie Young OBE BSC

You have to consider the relation of the cameraman to the director. Some directors are technically wise and help the cameraman sympathetically with his difficulties by arranging action so that it was possible to light speedily, or possibly arranging for a cut in order to avoid an otherwise complicated lighting problem. Nevertheless, the director must have the final decision, since the ultimate responsibility for success or failure of the film rested with him and all the technicians – even the stars – must bow to his judgement.

An experienced lighting cameraman will have learned ways of saving time and will not be experimenting in the same way as a beginner – but he must be careful to avoid turning out stereotyped photography, without artistry or meaning.

Not every picture gives the cameraman the opportunity to show artistic ability. Often he is put on his mettle to demonstrate his speed of working and yet is still required to produce a photographically acceptable picture.

Natural Lighting

Some cameramen strive for naturalistic lighting, the light appearing always to come from a correct source. Others seem to ignore this requirement and allow the light to fall from any direction, providing only that the general effect is satisfactory. I prefer natural lighting so that, when shots are edited, there is a feeling of smoothness and correctness over the entire sequence.

However, this requirement introduces a number of problems. A star often looks better with the key light directly in front and not at all satisfactory with cross-lighting – compromises are often necessary. Front key lighting is flattering to most faces but it can be uninteresting to see an entire picture with the principal characters lit from the direct front, regardless of where the scene is located or the time of day. Some producers maintain that it is necessary only that the stars should look attractive but good lighting is noticed, even if only subconsciously, by the audience.

Questions of mood and atmosphere must not be ignored. Such factors help to make a scene convincing and to maintain a sense of reality with which no film can be considered an artistic success.

Black and White vs Colour

In lighting for black-and-white photography one seeks to obtain a stereoscopic effect by a separation of the planes of the subject, so giving an impression of depth and roundness. A frequent method of producing this illusion is by the use of back-lighting. However, it is not always correct to have light emanating from the back of the set and the use of back-lighting has, in the past, been overdone.

There is an infinite variety of methods of securing contrast in light and shade. A patch of light on a wall will throw into sharp relief a dark mass of furniture standing in front of it. A cunningly placed shadow makes the perfect background for a light object. The cooperation of the art director is valuable in the careful selection of colours and in avoiding placing dark objects one in front of another.

Colour photography is, in some respects, less exacting as colours will separate from each other naturally – one would obviously avoid having a navy-blue dress in front of navy-blue drapes. All such factors will be appreciated by a trained artist and it would be an excellent thing if every cameraman had some art training in order that he might appreciate the laws of perspective and of light and shade.

Light Sources

Just as it is necessary for an artist to have a variety of paints and brushes of all sizes, so must a cameraman have lights of all shapes and sizes. Powerful lights for the broad strokes and smaller lights for the fine detail. Every light has to be controlled and spill or leak light must be kept from illuminating the shadows. All the units must have their barndoors, diffusers or ‘goboes’

Lighting in a low key, such as moonlight or firelight, calls for great skill and judgement. It is easy to under-expose and so lose contrasts. It is desirable to have somewhere in the picture one highlighted point – moonlight, a street lamp, firelight or even a streak of light under a door. Reflectors must be used to give a soft radiance without any definite light source – but as a general rule there should be one highlight in the picture and one area of deep black.

The Light Meter

A light meter is used to obtain a consistent density throughout the film. The negative is developed by sensitometric control and only a small latitude is allowable for incorrect exposure. If the laboratory were to be able to work to a constant gamma and obtain a fixed density throughout the entire negative, the cameraman is compelled to use a light meter.

It would be foolish to try to judge by eye a quantity that could be indisputably measured by means of a light meter. On the other hand, the cameraman must never allow the meter to become his master but must use it as a servant to assist him technically to accomplish the final artistic achievement.

For interiors I prefer to work at low light levels and a wide lens aperture, which more closely approximates the characteristics of the human eye. This also lends reality to practical lights used on the set, such as candlelight, oil lamps or electric lamps of low wattage which, if a high key lighting were used, would be unnaturally dimmed.

Problems of Movement

In cinematography, an entirely different set of problems is presented from those of still photography. The motion picture cameraman has to allow for the movement of his characters. If, for instance, an actor moves towards the key light, the brilliance might increase from perhaps 100 footcandles and serious over-exposure would result. Dimmers must be provided to control the intensity of light throughout the scene. The dimmer controls must be checked by the cameraman with the aid of a light meter.

Shooting in the artificial rain on ‘So Well Remembered’ – 1947 in Denham Studios starring Sir John Mills and directed by Edward Dymytryk.

Examples of quite different looks were screened for the audience. In ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ made in 1938, there is a mellow atmosphere associated with a traditional English school. In contrast, the ’49th Parallel’ made in 1941, has an atmosphere almost documentary in style. It was photographed during the early stages of the War, most of the exteriors being taken in Canada – these exteriors set the key which had to be matched in the shots taken in a British studio.  The 1947 film ‘So Well Remembered’ was set in a town in the North of England and, to create the atmosphere of squalor, artificial rain was freely used.

 

Some of the comments from the Q&A session following the lecture:

Q: What do you think of the use of the t-scale compared with the old f-value?

A: f-calibration is not definite enough and great errors have been found between different lenses whose f value marking is the same. The new method of calibrating lenses by transmission values will, I’m sure, be welcomed by all cameramen. Difference in aperture can still be due to play in the iris of the diaphragm.

Q: Can you expound on a simple formula for high-key and low-key lighting in footcandles?

A: If the director wants great depth I might set my lens stop at f5.6 and use 300 footcandles, whereas in the low-key set I would work at f2.8 with 80 footcandles, depending on the colour of the set – that’s a most important factor. For a high key of light, the ordinary fair face with normal makeup would demand 100 footcandles at f3. If you wanted the face in a dingy light you could work down to 50 or 60 footcandles at f3. 

Freddie Young (1902-1998)

Building a set at the Shepherd’s Bush Studios. At the Debrie camera are Freddie Young (left) and St. Aubyn Brown

 

Freddie Young entered the film industry in the silent era and, in 1917 he started working at Shepherd’s Bush, gaining his first credit as assistant cameraman on ‘Rob Roy’ directed by  W.P. Kellino in 1922.  By 1928 he was chief cameraman and, in 1929 Herbert Wilcox, largely ignorant of the technical aspects of film craft, placed Freddie under contract to his company British and Dominions, leading to his first solo credit in 1930. Any visual flair in Wilcox’s films of the 1930’s was allegedly due to Young’s inventiveness and technical skill. his first use of Technicolor was in one reel of Wilcox’s ‘Victoria the Great’ in 1937.

He worked from 1922 to 1985 on more than 130 feature films and several television productions. His many awards include an OBE in 1970 and Oscars for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ – 1963, ‘Doctor Zhivago’ – 1966 and ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ – 1971, as well as the ASC International Award, a BAFTA Academy Fellowship, four BSC Best Cinematography Awards and a Golden Globe in 1963. 

He invented  the process of pre-exposing colour film (pre-fogging) to mute the colours, giving the ability to alter the look of colour photography to suit the subject. This was first used on ‘The Deadly Affair’ directed by Sydney Lumet in 1966 and was the first British cinematographer to film in Cinemascope.

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in How It All Began

 

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Apprentice Ornamental Plasterer

Aaron standing in front of a set from ‘Hugo' in Shepperton Studios - 2010

The plasterer needs the technical skills and the creative ability to be able to construct realistic props and materials which blend in with the surrounding period details and must be able to understand and interpret technical drawings.

From an article published in Network Nine News – if you would like to receive the magazine please contact info@network-nine.com – it’s only £12 for a years’ subscription! 

My journey as an apprentice ornamental plasterer in the film industry has been an enjoyable and rewarding one. So far I have learned a variety of different skills which I know that I can fine tune over my career.

I attended Acton College beginning with the basics of solid plastering and then, during my second year I was introduced to a different form of plastering – fibrous – which opened a whole new aspect of the world of plaster! I immediately felt that I’d found something which stretched my technical and creative capabilities and which I could envisage myself doing for life.

I was introduced to this field by Charles Green, a plasterer in the film industry and my mentor. He came to the college and chose six boys to participate in a short movie set building course.  

This short course taught me so much more and then Charles chose three boys, including me, to have a go at working on a film set so I went on to work for Ken Barley, Head of Department Ornamental Plasterer on ‘Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time’ which was an amazing experience!

This film acted as a stepping stone and the start of my career in the film industry. Since then I have worked on ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘John Carter of Mars’ for Doug Allen, who has also been very influential – and I am currently working again for Ken Barley on ‘Hugo’ – so he must have thought that I did a good job on ‘Prince of Persia’!

On this film I will finish my apprenticeship and within a year I will have completed my improvers training. Working hard on the initial training process is essential.

The plasterer needs the technical skills and the creative ability to be able to construct realistic props and materials which blend in with the surrounding period details and must be able to understand and interpret technical drawings. Above all, we need to work with the team, be punctual, pleasant and willing to do what is needed to finish the job on time and within budget.  

I’m now looking forward to a long and fulfilling career in the film industry.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Set Construction

 

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The Sound Editor

Eddy Joseph using his trusty DAR work station on ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone’

After more than 40 years in the Film Industry and 30 years as a Supervising Sound Editor, I have learnt this – if you want to make the Film Industry your career, talk to as many professionals as you can, always display keenness, never be late, never complain about having to work ridiculous hours, learn the basics before you even try to get a job, be humble (you may think that you can do the job better but don’t forget they already HAVE the job) and, above all, learn to make a good cup of tea! Best job in the world!

This is from an article published in Network Nine News written by Eddy Joseph – if you want to subscribe to the magazine contact info@network-nine.com or go to the www.network-nine.com ‘Publications’ page

I left school at 17 with a smattering of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels but no interest in further education. It was thought that, as I was good at mathematics, I would make an acceptable accountant! After less that two years commuting to London and wearing a suit, I left and wandered – somewhat aimlessly – making pork pies, injecting plastic lipstick cases, training as a clerk for the Inland Revenue (oh, the stories I could tell – but I signed the Official Secrets Act!), delivering for the Victoria Wine Company and studying for an HND in Business Studies (didn’t finish that either)

Eventually my Dad, film producer Teddy Joseph, said in exasperation, ‘What DO you want to do?’ Now, I have to say that I had also failed as a singer/songwriter, although I had appeared with Tom and Jerry (later to become Simon and Garfunkel) in a Folk club in Chesham, so my artistic ambitions were severely dimmed. ‘Wouldn’t mind getting into the film industry Dad, like you’.

In June 1967 I was employed as Production Runner on ‘Salt and Pepper’ at Shepperton Studios at £12 a week plus overtime plus holiday credits. It was BRILLIANT! Only problem was, what to do when the shooting was over? A friend I had made in the Shepperton Bar (where else?) called Peter Keen – incidentally a superb sound editor – told me that there was a 2nd assistant picture editor’s job going at MGM Studios in Borehamwood with Archie Ludski and David Grimsdale on Ivan Foxwell’s ‘Decline and Fall of a Birdwatcher’. I turned up not having much clue what a 2nd assistant did but, knowing that I wanted to work in the film industry more than anything else, it was a stepping stone. Whilst hanging around the cutting rooms and reading the script a union organiser (ACTT then, BECTU now) knocked on the door and asked to see my ‘ticket’ (Union card). So by lunchtime on the first day of my new job I was ushered out of the studios. The rule  then was ‘you couldn’t get a ticket without a job but you couldn’t get a job without a ticket!’

Another friend I had made at Shepperton told me that Illustra Films, a successful commercials company in Soho, were looking for a trainee assistant editor and, by training in the cutting rooms, I would eventually get my ‘ticket’. Illustra didn’t need a trainee but they did need a bookkeeper! I agreed to sort out their books provided that, when an opening arose in the editing department, I would move across. After a couple of months this happened. I was trained up to assist, to cut Sunday Times commercials, to run around Soho and generally have a great time.  A year later I got my ticket, forgot about working on the production side and got a call from John Taylor, a music editor on a TV series at Pinewood Studios called ‘Strange Report’, telling me that they needed a 2nd assistant picture editor. On that series I worked with a wonderful man,  Keith Palmer, who later took me as his assistant on both picture and sound projects.

In 1974 I assisted Leslie Hodgson on ‘The Odessa File’ and subsequently, an ITC/RAI TV series ‘Moses the Lawgiver’ starring Burt Lancaster. When all the editors had left, Roger Cherrill (the owner of the Post House) asked me to be the sound editor on the re-cut feature version. The main editor was Gerry Hambling. I assisted him for a few years on films such as ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Fame’. Then in 1981 Alan Parker asked me to be the sound editor on ‘Shoot the Moon’. That was my first film as Supervising Sound Editor and sound editing has been my life for 30 years.

WHAT QUALIFICATIONS ARE NEEDED?

I progressed through a form of apprenticeship. I don’t think that there were any film courses when I started. Unfortunately, the editorial structure has changed since 35mm magnetic and not many sound editors now have the luxury of an assistant – but I learned from watching over the editor’s shoulder and absorbing the knowledge by a form of osmosis.

There are many courses now at film schools and universities that flirt with sound editing and design and some, like the National Film & Television School, which specialise. The problem is always how to leap from the confines of education to the élitism of the cutting room. Luck, application, hard work and more luck are needed – and it is still ‘who you know’ more than ‘what you know’.

To answer the question. There are no specific qualifications required to start sound editing. It would be useful to have a technical background and a working knowledge of ProTools or a similar sound editing tool. A degree, HND or BTEC in some area of sound could be an advantage but is not necessary. Indeed one of the foremost sound designers in the UK left school at 16 and started straightaway in the cutting rooms.

HOW DO YOU HAVE TO INTERACT WITH OTHER DEPARTMENTS?

We couldn’t operate without a close relationship with the editorial department. In fact, it was always the picture editor who chose the sound editor. That isn’t so much the case these days as sound editors can be appointed by the director, producer – or be a part of a post-house package . The sound editor’s loyalty, however, must always be to the director and the picture editor.

We should be able to take the editor’s working track, which may include sound effects that we have already supplied and start from there. The picture assistant should be encouraged to liaise with the sound department whenever changes are made to the picture.

ANECDOTES – PROBLEMS – PRIDE

I was interviewed in the mid 90’s by a director who was looking for a sound editor for his high profile project. ‘I shall expect alternatives for the sound effects’ he said. ‘Oh’ I said ‘you’d better look for someone else. I don’t lay up alternatives’. ‘Why ever not?’ he questioned. ‘Well, when I track-lay the effects that I feel are right for the particular scene, I move onto the next scene. Surely you should employ someone who is confident in their creative ability?’ I got the job, didn’t lay alternatives and was never asked for one!

Using a synchroniser on ‘Angel Heart’ in 1986 at Elstree Studios

 

During the crossover period between magnetic and digital sound, we realised that the new technology was really not tried and tested. We were the guinea pigs. One of the problems was how to keep the projector, the 35mm recording master and the digital play-off tracks in sync. On one film the re-recording mixer and I were so concerned about sync slippage that we transferred out all the dialogue premixes onto 35mm and I spent all night re-cutting those premixes so that they were perfectly in sync with the picture.

‘Angel Heart’, directed by Alan Parker in 1986, was a wonderful film to work on. Apart from it being a fascinating film for sound design, most of the post-production was done in Paris!  Although we started the premixes in Elstree, we finalled in Los Angeles at Warner Hollywood Studios. It was my first experience of mixing in Hollywood! 

MENTORS ETC

One of the reasons I moved over to sound editing was having the privilege of working with Alan Bell. In 1969 I was the 2nd assistant picture editor on ‘I Start Counting’, a thriller directed by David Greene. The editor, Keith Palmer, brought on Alan Bell two weeks before the end of principal photography to do the sound. This practice has long gone. It is now considered perfectly acceptable to start the sound department after the film has been locked, rarely leaving enough time to think the project through. Alan was a stocky, heavily bearded ex-Merchant Navy man with a penchant for roll-ups and drink. Many drank then – in fact it was normal to have a couple of pints every lunch-time. It didn’t seem to affect efficiency and creative perception! An early scene in the film featured a teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) going into the woods to play in a deserted cottage. In the corridor near Alan’s room I could hear strange bird coos and wing flaps. What Alan was doing was laying pigeon sounds as if they were emanating from the roof of the porch so that whenever Jenny (or anyone else for that matter) went in or out of the cottage the birds would be disturbed. I realised then how important ‘sound’ was to story telling and that one sound could create or destroy a mood.

TECHNIQUES & TECHNOLOGIES

I started working on 16mm and 35mm (both picture and sound), editing in mono on Synchronisers and Moviolas. Sound accuracy (on 35mm) was to one sprocket or 1/96 second. When the mix was complete an Optical 35mm Negative would be shot, processed overnight and, after the print had dried, played back the next day. The last mono film I worked on was ‘Another Country’ in 1983, although I had track-laid and mixed for 6 track Magnetic and Dolby Stereo on ‘Pink Floyd the Wall’ in 1982. The Dolby 2tk Stereo was a fantastic advance which I enjoyed using on ‘Birdy’in 1984.

On the Todd mixing stage in Los Angeles for ‘The Commitments’ in 1992. Alan Parker in the foreground with Eddy 2nd from right

The first ‘digital’ film for me was ‘Damage’ in 1992. Louis Malle’s sound recordist, Jean-Claude Laureux, decided to record the production dialogues digitally on a DAT machine. Louis requested that the dialogues should be edited digitally. I was offered the sound editor’s job by John Bloom provided that I learned to use a Digital Work Station. I only track-laid one more 35mm magnetic film after that. My first DWS was a DAR 8 track and I stayed with DAR until ‘Cold Mountain’ in 2003 when Walter Murch suggested I should use a ProTools system.

When I started, I was taught how to scrape the magnetic oxide off the track to reduce clicks, sibilance and to create fades. How different it is now! There were also a maximum of 3 sound editors on a film. The sound effects editor supervised with a dialogue editor and a foley (footsteps) editor – each editor had an assistant. Now there can be as many as 10 editors but only 2 or 3 assistants on the big films and there is much more specialisation. There are sound editors known for certain facets of sound for example, vehicles, guns, animals and atmospheres. There are usually 2 dialogue editors, one for production dialogue and the other for ADR. You may get a foley supervisor and several foley editors and, of course, specialist sound designers.

After more than 40 years in the film industry and 30 years as a Supervising Sound Editor, I have learnt this –  if you want to make the film industry your career, talk to as many professionals as you can, always display keenness, never be late, never complain about having to work ridiculous hours, learn the basics before you even try to get a job, be  humble (you may think that you can do the job better but don’t forget they already HAVE the job) and, above all, learn to make a good cup of tea!  Best job in the world!

Eddy Joseph’s credits include: Green Zone – 2010, Nowhere Boy – 2009, Last Chance Harvey – 2008, Quantum of Solace – 2008, Casino Royale – 2006, United 93 – 2006, Corpse Bride – 2005, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory – 2005, King Arthur – 2004, Cold Mountain – 2003, The Life of David Gale – 2003, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone – 2001, Enemy at the Gates – 2001, Angela’s Ashes – 1999, Lost in Space – 1997, Evita – 1996, Michael Collins – 1996, Interview with a Vampire – 1994, Little Buddha – 1993, The Commitments – 1991, We’re No Angels – 1989, Batman – 1989, Angel Heart – 1987, Birdy – 1984, The Killing Fields – 1984, Fame – 1980, Midnight Express – 1978, Sunday Bloody Sunday – 1971, Salt & Pepper – 1968

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in Sound Department

 

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Editor’s Thoughts

… it is almost forgotten that it takes a team of many people with talent to make a motion picture …

I must say, from the feedback I receive, there are so many areas where it’s felt that there is inadequate information and training available. The industry needs young people who are prepared to put in the time and effort to learn the skills and techniques which have been developed and perfected by the professionals who have spent their careers entertaining the audience with their storytelling abilities. 

It’s probably not ‘what have we done wrong?‘ we should be asking but ‘what more do we need to do to put things right?’ in those areas where specific training for the film industry is needed. Quick answer to that is – if you are running a course at whatever level then please enlist the help of industry professionals – individuals, guilds or organizations – to either advise in the initial discussions on course content or attend as guest tutors. 

Perhaps we shouldn’t limit skills training to those who work creatively – production grades coming into the industry may benefit from taking time out to learn about the responsibilities of the crew they going to employ.  An experienced crew member can prevent a great deal of wastage on time and tantrums if they are used efficiently as they will have the ability to read the mood in the meeting or on the floor and change, alter, move and re-invent as often as the director wants with the least amount of fuss. 

Initial decisions on crew, methods and equipment which are based purely on cutting the budget to the bone can eventually become very expensive, as mistakes made due to wrong or ill-advised choices can have a disastrous impact both on the bottom-line and the quality of the finished product.

Keep the feedback coming – I need your thoughts, ideas and comments so that I can make sure that the ‘News’ is covering areas of most interest.

Go to www.network-nine.com and click on the ‘Guilds & Associations’ page to access some of the industry organizations.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Feature Film Production

 

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The Special Effects Secrets of Gillie Potter

Gillie Potter 1923 - 2004

Gillie Potter 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 special effects in television advertising. 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 commercial work started in the mid 1950s. This work earned him more than 40 international awards, including a Golden Lion at the Cannes Advertising Film Festival and was involved in the production of more than 2,000 ads, including classic commercials for Rolo, Vicks Vapour Rub, Quaker Oats, Nesquick and Shredded Wheat. His special effects work can also be seen in feature films ‘The Last Emperor’, ‘Superman: The Movie’ and ‘Jurassic Park’.

Gillie Potter was a living legend, still working because he loved it, right up until his death in 2004 at the age of 80. He was the magician of advertisements during the early years of commercial television. In those days, trick film work was a novelty and, at the morning coffee breaks across the land, last night’s TV ads would be a hot topic of discussion …. ‘just how did they do that?‘. Indeed, when we look at some of his early show-reels today it is difficult to see exactly how he did it – in fact, they often look digital when digital technology was at least 20 years in the future.

The predominant brief at that time for commercials was that they should contain something which was very different from anything that had ever been seen before. Once this challenge had been faced and some sort of presentation devised, the vital next step was to select the most appropriate method to achieve it. This usually turned out to be the simplest way of doing it and that, in turn, often proved to be the cheapest – or at least the most cost-effective.  The budgets for special effects commercials in those early days were actually quite small compared with those of live action shoots.  

Usually, the main sections of special effects shoots were made ‘in camera’ – sometimes using multiple exposure but more often shooting a free-standing optical illusion that Gillie’s small team had created. The final work might be embellished by optical composites but in-camera methods kept overall control in the hands of the production company. This was often the cheapest and usually the quickest method. They had the further, very positive, advantage of keeping down the number of generations, as film stock was more primitive in those days and generation-free digital copying was not yet even a dream.

Gillie had invented a particular device – the groundbreaking technique of putting a moving picture onto a moving pack. He always tried to obey one very important rule – keeping the product identity – which most often means the product pack itself right there in the shot. How many commercials we see today leave no lasting impression of what they were about!  Gillie’s ingenious idea was to build on this important principle by showing a movie of the product being used on the surfaces of a moving (usually rotating) pack of that very product. This seems easy now, particularly with all the digital systems available but at that time, it was something that had never been seen before in a television commercial. Camera people guessed that he must have used a rotating projector but they were puzzled as to why it didn’t appear in the shot at some point. The crucial item here was a small mirror, which enabled the rotating projector to be positioned below the field of view of the camera.

A cigarette advert which had cigarettes, packets and disembodied titles built up into an increasingly impossible pyramid before the whole structure collapsed, with the cigarettes all landing neatly in their packets. Few viewers ever guessed that the sequence was shot by laying the packet and the cigarettes on a glass table and shooting upwards, from below. The text pieces were to be stop-motion animated onto the film afterwards, so it was vital that the artist’s hand should maintain the correct separation throughout the main shoot. Particularly delightful is a move in which the text of the word ‘tipped’ goes off balance and the letters are meticulously animated to take up a sloping format and then corrected, when the hand goes in to make the line level again.  

This might well have been the very first use of video assist in a commercial shoot, as the cameraman and the director were able to co-ordinate the whole procedure with an improvised form of closed circuit television from a video camera strapped alongside the 35mm film camera.        

This article is published with the kind permission of the Potter family. There is a DVD of this interview, which outlines Gillie’s techniques in detail, particularly useful to course leaders and students who would like to experiment with their own in-camera effects. For more information on purchasing the DVD Network Nine News info@network-nine.com

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Special Effects

 

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So, you want to work in the Production Office……?

So, you want to work in the Production Office……?

I miss being a 3rd AD. Every day is new and, because a 3rd doesn’t have to worry about the grander things on set, you can use every moment to watch, listen, learn and implement. I might, at that time, have only been good at making tea and getting the right lunch orders but one has to treat EVERY job as if it is the most important thing in one’s career.

This is from an article written by Terry Bamber in Network Nine News. If you want further information contact me through www.network-nine.com

Sadly, on recent projects, I have had to sack youngsters who have not fully understood the importance of a Production Runner’s job and the dedication and tenacity required. Indeed, everyone’s job on a film is important – right through from the cleaning staff to the Producer – producing a film from script to screen is a joint effort undertaken by every individual in the crew.

The great thing about youth is the experience of turning up each day to be amazed by a wonderfully exciting day. Visiting the set to collect the Camera Sheets from the Camera Clapper/Loader, the tentative approach to the Script Supervisor for her notes to take to the Production Secretary. To make a great cup of tea for the Production Secretary (as she was then called) and to be praised for it used to make my day!

I was working on ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ at Pinewood and was having a wonderful time as Production Office Runner when the Production Secretary gave me permission to join the 3rd Assistant Director on set to get some floor experience – this brought on a whole new set of challenges!

So, the 2nd Unit was going to shoot on Sunday to help finish the film on time. It had taken me quite a while to understand the complexities of ….‘Tea, medium brown, with a dash of milk and a level teaspoon of sugar’.… it’s almost impossible to make a medium brown cup of tea, with just a dash of milk …. but I digress!

One of the scenes we were filming this day involved Sir Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, the main baddie in the movie.  He is hiding from Bond in the final shootout. I had to cue Mr Lee when he had to step forward from this hiding place.

The first rehearsal commenced and my mind went into overdrive.

Was I supposed to cue Mr Lee as soon as I heard the 1st AD’s voice or leave it a beat and then cue Mr Lee?….    Would Mr Lee see me move my arm to indicate it was his cue for action?….   Should I look at Mr Lee straight in the eye or avert eye contact so as not to distract him?…. 

The first rehearsal started. I could feel perspiration on my forehead and my hands were getting clammy. Suddenly the rehearsal was cut short. Oh Gawd! – had I missed the cue? I stared into the dark of the set and mumbled to Mr Lee that we had stopped ‘I can hear that dear Boy!’ he said. Oops – it was then I remembered the advice my Dad had given me ….‘Keep quiet and people will only think you are an idiot, open your mouth and you remove all possible doubt’….

Communication

One of the worst jobs for 3rd Ads, especially now with so many departments having their own walkie-talkies, is ensuring that batteries are always charged and that you have a check list of which department has chargers, ear pieces and spare batteries. Obviously, you must make sure the Assistant Directors are all catered for but once again, think ahead!! If there is a scene involving action cars then work out how many radios will be required for the drivers to receive their instructions.

As the Second Assistant Director has to make a report at the end of each day noting call times, the time the principal cast were on set, ‘wrapped’ (that is finished work for the day) on set and time they left the studio or locations (this also applies to Background Artistes and Stunts) it’s a great help if the 3rd Assistant is totally thorough in noting these times. It could have a big impact on any overtime that may be incurred by all the elements of the cast.

When the unit breaks for lunch the 3rd AD should find out from the 1st who is in the first setup after lunch and ensure they get their lunch quickly so they can have their makeup/hair and costume checks on time, before coming back to the set. However, sometimes the crew will work a 10 hour straight-through day and then it takes much tighter management to ensure that the cast get enough time to eat. This is when teamwork from all the Assistant Directors is brought to bear. A 1st AD once said that on every shot there is always a perfect position for the 3rd to be to make sure that everything is covered.

A few basic things to remember on set:

ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR RADIO – NEVER, NEVER HAVE TO ASK THE 1ST AD TO REPEAT HIM/HERSELF!! THIS IS A CAPITAL OFFENCE!

THINK AHEAD. PREPARATION IS EVERYTHING.

POLITENESS TO EVERYBODY and SMILE, SMILE AND SMILE, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS!

NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING – ASSUMPTION IS THE MOTHER OF ALL COCKUPS!

LEARN FROM EVERYONE IN ORDER TO MAKE YOURSELF A BETTER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR.

Terry Bamber’s film & television credits include: ‘World War Z’, ‘Ra.One’, ‘Katherine of Alexandria’, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Quantum of Solace’, ‘Casino Royale’, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life’, ‘Die Another Day’, ‘Lara Croft – Tomb Raider’, ‘102 Dalmatians’, ‘The World is Not Enough’, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Luther’, ‘Poirot’, ‘Dinotopia’, ‘Cadfael’, ‘Young Indiana Jones’, ‘Jeeves & Wooster’, ‘Paradise Club’, ‘Max Headroom’.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Production Office

 

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The Script Supervisor

THE SCRIPT SUPERVISORS’ JOB … one of the best kept secrets in the business!

Emma Thomas

The job of a Script Supervisor requires a high level of concentration, stamina and an eye for detail. These skills are often required at times when you are at your lowest ebb and it’s the last hour of the day or night shoot. Even with all the courses available it isn’t a job you can learn from a manual.  Learning  ‘on the job’ is essential because each project is different and requires a number of different personal skills. You need to be a team player but stand your ground and hold your hand up if you make a mistake. Continuity isn’t life and death but it does help if you have a sense of humour when you are trying to do your job efficiently! 

 

FEATURE FILM SCRIPT SUPERVISOR

We provide an invaluable link between the Director and the Editor. We need to have essential knowledge of shot/lens sizes, shot descriptions, screen direction, slating, set ups with single and multiple cameras. In some cases we need to keep track of all sound and camera rolls especially where there are multiple units shooting (mainly for features).

We need to have essential knowledge of breaking down a script, page counts, individual scene by scene timings, story day/year breakdowns, back and cross matching the story particularly in drama productions.  We log all pertinent information for each department; detect overlooked coverage, stage direction, action and dialogue. We are responsible for overall timing of all productions which involves a daily update. This is often completed at the end of a 12 hour filming day. We must also have knowledge of post-production techniques, editing and dubbing.  In particular CGI information for feature films.

TELEVISION SCRIPT SUPERVISOR (Studio-based TV, Sitcoms, Entertainment, Factual, Drama, Documentary)

We provide organizational support for the Director in terms of studio technical requirements, rehearsal schedules, props lists, studio schedules – culminating in a master camera script from the Director’s notes.  This is then distributed to all departments including Lighting, Camera, Sound and the rest of the Production Team. We must have essential knowledge and experience of studio shot calling, bar counting to musical productions with responsibility for overall timing of the programme and absolute timing on live productions. We must have experience of Outside Broadcast shoots, transmissions and again post-production techniques, editing and dubbing.

Most dramas today are edited as the shoot progresses.  So it is even more essential that we provide accurate and concise notes for the Editor on a daily basis. We  used to draw a lot of continuity pics on our script as we went along. Today use our digital cameras instead.  We also used to stand next to the camera team a lot more but as we work on more HD dramas, there are monitors on set to check the shot size and reference details. It is still handy to know the shot/lens size in case the monitor goes down at that crucial moment – or you’re stuck in the middle of a field with very little electrical back up. I would encourage all trainees to learn the basic skills and not rely on the monitor so much.

Emma Thomas’ Film Credits include: ‘The Boat That Rocked’ (AKA Pirate Radio), ‘Captivity’, ‘The Mark of Cain’, ‘Jack & the Beanstalk’, ‘War Bride’, ‘Some Voices’, ‘Elephant Juice’, ‘Among Giants’.  Television Credits include: ‘Luther’, ‘Spooks’, ‘Horne & Corden’, ‘The Bill’, ‘Miss Austen Regrets’, ‘All in the Game’, ‘Last Rights’, ‘Whose Baby’, ‘Canterbury Tales’, ‘Teachers’, ‘Birds of a Feather’, ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Production Office

 

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