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Losing the make-up battle with Jane Fonda


My lighting techniques for On Golden Pond
Billy Williams Film-maker
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For the... for the night interiors I wanted a warm look, but I wanted to use soft light — diffused light — but controlled and my gaffer showed me some lamps by Mole-Richardson and they were like a giant Zaplight. They'd got quartz bulbs which reflected into the lamp and bounced back a soft white light. And these lamps were about two, 2.5ft square and you could have one or four bulbs burning, each bulb was 1000W, so you could vary the intensity of the lamp. And what... whether you had one or four lamps on you had this soft light coming out. And they'd got metal egg crates that you could slide into the front, rather like I'd used on the lamp that I... was called the Billy Lamp that I used on Saturn III, so you could slide this egg crate in and control the light so you didn't get a lot of spill falling in areas that you didn't want it. And if you... if you wanted it even more confined you could put a second egg crate on the front to make it more extended. And that turned out to be an ideal... an ideal way to light because I had the advantage of this... of this pitched roof with... with these beams that I could clamp to, and so I could... I put a lamp anywhere I wanted. And of course with the American system they've always got plenty of grips and diffusion. They have nets, frames, they call them American grip nets with a... a black gauze on them. And a single gauze is a half a stop and another one has got a double gauze which is a stop and then there's anoth... a third one which is three gauzes which is a stop and a half. And so you can use these as... to... to shade the light, you know, if you just want to reduce the intensity a bit. And very often with using this soft light principle if somebody walks a bit too close to the lamp, they may come towards you and get too bright and then walk away. And what I would do is... is for one of my electricians as... as they come more forward and walk towards the lamp, is just to bring one of these nets across so that it kind of fades it down and then as they go away again to open it out. And you can do that sort of thing providing the camera’s moving and you... you're never aware of the fact that the light level has dropped. I prefer to do it that way rather than use a dimmer. Because if you use a dimmer the colour temperature gets more orange so I didn't want that problem of the colour changing. And... and, you know, I've used that method for... for years now, even... even on location if... on exteriors if you're using your lamps outside you can... providing you've got some diffusion on the lamp you can do what we call float something in front. And you might leave it there or if they move away again you can take it away. So you get... you get a lot of control that way.

For some of the exteriors I'd got shooting to do in amongst the trees. And of course the sun is always moving and you might start a scene in shadow area and then before it’s... the sequence is finished you've got harsh sunlight. Now I didn't want harsh sunlight on the faces of either Jane Fonda or Kate, and so if I got into that position where... where, you know, I'd got too much sun I'd get the... the grips to cut large branches, because we'd got plenty of trees around, and saplings, to cut some, put them in a flag sand and create my own shadow in... in an attempt to kind of match the light. But very often, the camera would pan from... shall we say a shady area into the brilliant sunlight of the lake. And... I always do stop changes on those occasions, sometimes as much as two stops, so that you can still keep it looking dark in the shady area, but not so dark that you can't see anything. So, you know, one might start at 5.6 in the shadow area and then as you pan out to the bright lake you might go to a stop of 11 or whatever. So... and... and providing the camera's moving, the stop change doesn't notice. And I've used that technique for years, especially going in and out of buildings sometimes you can do it, if you're going from an exterior to an interior, as you track past the door, you just open up the lens a little bit, because it has to be done very carefully and you can't do it if the camera's static.

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: 4 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008