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Using Roscoe scrim to diffuse the light in Gandhi


Preparing to shoot Gandhi
Billy Williams Film-maker
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I went out to India about a month before. And I flew with Ben Kingsley, who was going to play Gandhi of course. And it turned out that his father was born in the same State as Gandhi, Porbandar, so he had a Yorkshire mother and an Indian father and so, you know, he looked... he looked the part. And of... of course Dickie Attenborough spent 18 years trying to set up this film and had never been able to get the script and the finance and the actor all together until this moment. So, for Dickie, it was a... it was something of enormous importance to him because he had believed in this film for so long and dedicated so much time to it. And, you know, I was so proud to be and delighted to be associated with this film, because not only was it a marvellous visual subject, but it was about a man who, you know, one had to admire for his beliefs of settling problems without resorting to violence. And... you know, he was perhaps unique in that respect.

And... so we spent quite a bit of time researching the life of Gandhi. I mean I read various books and looked at hours and hours of newsreel footage because this had been quite well covered by the newsreels over the years, you know, the fasting that he did, the salt march to the seas to claim salt, his meeting in London with Ramsay MacDonald when, you know, the independence of India was first discussed. And of course it didn't happen until 1946, wasn't it, and... '47, and so it was many years after that that independence was eventually granted and then of course, immediately after independence we had partition and there was this terrible bloodshed which... which broke Gandhi's heart and of course it was, you know... everything was divided between India and Pakistan. But... so we went to India four weeks ahead and I had a chance to absorb the scene and get the feel of the country, visit countless locations. And by that time I had my gaffer with me and so we were preparing various things. We were obviously going to need more equipment for certain scenes. We had one very big night scene which we shot in Bombay and we needed lots more brutes. And Alan went along to this rental place where, for an agreed fee, they rented I think it was four more brutes. But then he discovered that he was actually only renting the housing and that the man's cousin actually had the mechanism. So he then had to go to this man's cousin and pay another fee to rent the mechanism for the brute, because without it you couldn't run it. And then it was a further fee for the Molivator stand, so they were pretty smart at getting every penny out of us. And then we discovered that they didn't have any cable. Because when you shoot an Indian movie – a Bollywood movie – and you've got brutes on location, you set up the camera and you put the brutes near the camera and you put the genny alongside. And the genny is not silenced, so you've got this terrible noise and they post-sync everything. Everything's done to play back or it's post-synced, they don't worry about original sound. Well of course that was no good to us, I mean we had this wonderful sound mixer, Simon Kaye, who wanted as much as possible to get original sound. And so when we did these big night exteriors we had to park these Indian generators as far away as possible, enclose them in a building. But we didn't have any cable, so the cable had to come out from London. So it was all very complex and... but we... we did it and it... it came... everything... it came out well, we got some good... very good night work.

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, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008