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Differing working methods with directors

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Recently I did a seminar at a film festival, Camerimage, in Poland and I was addressing a large group of students and I'd done a kind of personal assessment of all the directors that I'd worked with. I thought it might be interesting to know where they'd come from, what they'd been before they became directors, and it was extraordinary, the diversity. One had been a cinematographer and one had been a camera operator; a couple had been editors; a couple had been first assistant directors; one had been a designer; one had been an architect; two had been to film school; one was a producer – and that was a disaster; there were two or three whose lineage I was uncertain of; but four had been writers and eight of the directors I'd worked with had been actors. Now, what does that say? It says to me that the principle concern of the director is geared towards the storytelling and the acting, because I've noticed, working with… with the directors who’d been actors, how good they are with the actors, how understanding they are, how sympathetic they are, how good they are at getting the right performance. And I think that if the cinematographer can work together with that, with keeping the actors comfortable, giving them plenty of room to work, not confining them with too many technicalities, giving them some space and if you can do that efficiently without making too much of... of a drama of it, then keeping the set calm — because, you know, things do get a bit overheated at times — and I think if a cinematographer can keep cool, it helps to, you know, prevent things getting out of hand. And I've enjoyed that relationship; sometimes it works better than others; I've had some really good friendships with directors, others where it doesn't work so well, but that's the way it goes. You know. It's so much a question of personality. I think the directors I've most enjoyed working with are those that have got a bit of sense of fun, and… and can, at the right moment have a laugh and a joke before going back to the serious issues. Directors that don't have a sense of humour, I think, are really missing out as far as I'm concerned. But… but I've… generally speaking, I've had a lot of fun filming, a lot of satisfaction too, a lot of enjoyment.

Billy Williams, London-born cinematographer Billy Williams gained his first two Oscar nominations for the acclaimed “Women in Love” and “On Golden Pond”. His third nomination, which was successful, was for the epic “Gandhi”. He was President of the British Society of Cinematographers, and was awarded the Camera Image Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

Listeners: Neil Binney

Neil Binney began working as a 'clapper boy' in 1946 on spin-off films from steam radio such as "Dick Barton". Between 1948-1950 he served as a Royal Air Force photographer. From 1950 he was a Technicolor assistant technician working on films such as John Ford's "Mogambo" (photographed by Freddie Young), Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (Bob Burke), and Visconti's "Senso" (G.R. Aldo/B. Cracker). As a camera assistant he worked on "Mind Benders", "Billy Liar" and "This Sporting Life". Niel Binney became a camera operator in 1963 and worked with, among others, Jack Cardiff, Fred Tammes and Billy Williams. He was elected associate member of the British Society of Cinematographers in 1981 and his most recent credits include "A Fish Called Wanda" and "Fierce Creatures".

Duration: 2 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008