I started my career on the set of ‘The Shining’, working for John Alcott the films DoP.
Having never been on a film set before, I can still feel the wonder and heady excitement that engulfed me all those many, many Moon’s ago.
After spending years with my DoP, he left for America. I went on to have the most unforgettable career, working with Freddie Young BSC, Freddie Francis BSC, Billy Williams BSC and Bob Paynter BSC. It was Alcott that started my love affair with art, a relationship I still have today, Having painted for more than thirty years I do find paint, painters and canvas my main inspiration, primarily when working on a period drama. As Alcott was to art, Freddie Young was to celluloid, refusing me on to his set, not touching camera equipment … and certainly not loading a camera mag. Freddie despatched me to Metrocolor Labs in the Arsenal for two years, learning processing / developing, printing, the ENR 35mm, and bleach-by-pass 16mm processes. I still have his words … “And don’t come back until you’ve learnt something” echoing through my synapses.
After spending years in the company of these gentlemen, I decided to up stakes, and take up residence within the hallowed grounds of the BBC in Ealing, the home of the Ealing comedies … the British film industry. I worked on single dramas, series, serials, features and documentaries for about ten years. During my time in documentary, a period that will remain one of my best, I met and learned the real craft of camera, (John Warwick and Mike Fox BSC) not just the sensitivity, and the awareness you must have for the people and their situation in the film, but how to transfer the emotion and moral tone through the camera. If appropriate, when and how to move.
Not chasing dialogue but feeling, understanding … having empathy even when this is a mountain to climb … The challenges were great in documentary. I’m reminded of a dear friend … Mike Lax, (Sound Recordist) the most intuitive restless soul, he would tell me sound will inform … “There are colours and shades within the notes, tones and vibrations, if you are open to these, and allow them to influence, your choice of composition and storytelling will be richer.” Similarly, he would understand the camera, interpreting enhancing living within that moment, allowing the world of sound not only in but outside of my frame to inform, guide, and on so many occasions capture the story.
The relationship between camera and sound is truly amazing … Ah … the echoes of wonderful men.
After leaving the BBC, working as a freelance DoP, on projects, being able to use different film stocks the likes of reversal, Ektachrome Agfa-sound and infrared… a la Simon Marsden … Hmm, I was filming entire documentaries on B/W infrared 16mm … for the BBC…amazing! …to get the best quality it is necessary to use a very dense red filter, which means you can’t see through the eyepiece … Hum … great days I was even using candles to smoke up optical flats and very gingerly taping them onto the front element of my lens …
Still feeling I needed to learn more I undertook a course at the National Film and TV School in Beaconsfield … I was in my element, while still working in the industry, and doing the required coursework, every weekend I’d be testing each and every film stock ENR, Bleach-by-pass, post-flashing, pre-flashing … with different colours/fabrics, pushing the stock in the labs, and/or rating the film differently … creating my own soft effect filters with varying densities of chiffon and inks.
A part of my interest in photography and painting for me is how one (the painter, photographer) is reflected within the scene, as well as a sense of time … time being very important … giving ponderance.
I love Grimshaw and Markino…. they taught me so much about storytelling, the technique of painting the backs of passers-by, of the men and women within the picture, giving us the presence of the artist, in turn inviting us to wander, meander through the streets and alleyways … to feel the biting chill of the winter’s fog. If focusing on a face no matter how shrouded or obscured, this now becomes about them … the character(s) … the individual … we … no longer free to roam, but drawn into this landscape through the wishes and desires of the protagonist.
Now that technology has moved on, and High Definition is the preferred format I still have the same approach … wanting to bring texture to the image. To photographically tell a story it can not just be about light and shade, colour, contrast … storytelling is visceral, tactile; being affected emotionally by the unquantifiable, this to me is texture, grain or the feeling a chemical process is taking place within the very fabric of the film. I have adapted my film techniques and loving the work I’m doing on High Definition.
I recently filmed The suspicions of Mr Whicher ‘Beyond The Pale’ on the Alexa, with 1970 Cannon K35 lenses. When I’m researching for period films my point of reference is invariably painters, for example, John Atkinson Grimshaw, 1836 to 1893. His expressionistic, abstract view of London was perfect … highly textured and deeply evocative of a corrupt city with hidden secrets.
Frankenstein Chronicles I chose Yoshio Markino 1869 to 1956. He used a technique of painting over a still wet canvas, giving an effect of blended coherency between the textured foreground (Artists), and background (the environment). My choice of smoke and the Vari-Con system, (giving me control of the contrast, and putting my chosen blue-green shading into the shadows) and the Vantage 1 lenses which I used wide open (T1) for most of the shoot, giving me a beautiful, similar painterly quality.
I used the 40mm 90% of the time, moving the camera rather than exchanging for a longer lens, this continued the coherent relationship between artist and environment.