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Collaborating with Peter Yates on Eleni


My lens work with the church scene in Eleni
Billy Williams Film-maker
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The film is divided between the Second World War and the Greek Civil War, and the kind of period of ‘70s and ’80s. Now, we didn't shoot in Greece because we didn't feel that we could get the facilities there or the crew, whereas in Spain, as you know, they've got wonderful technicians and wonderful craftsmen, and production designer Roy Walker, built a Greek village on the mountainside of... in... in Andalucia, and it was superb... had the schoolroom, cottages, Greek Orthodox church and it... it really looked great, and of course, we had the similar weather conditions. And there was one scene in which in the script the young boy, Nicholas, goes with his mother to church at Easter; now in the Greek Orthodox Church, the men sit on one side and the women on the other, but because he's reached a certain age... you know, until then he's sat with his mother, but when he reached a certain age he would join the men, and it was... this was the occasion.

And I said to Peter Yates, the director, I said... you know, when you're in a Mediterranean country and you're out in the bright sunlight and you look into a church, it's very dark and you might just see a few candles and if you go into that church, it's still dark for a while but after you've been in there for a little while, your eyes get accustomed to the darkness and eventually you can see quite a lot of detail, the sort of things you couldn't see when you're outside in the sunlight’. I said, ’Why don't we start the scene outside in this brilliant sunlight and bring Eleni and her son, Nicholas, track with them, with the rest of the congregation, the people who were going into church, bring them in, go in on their backs into this darkened church and it stays dark for a while and as the camera keeps tracking, we open up a lens and the boy and his mother go right forward to the front on the church where all these beautiful Greek icons are on the walls, and they're all illuminated by candles... there's a blaze of warm, golden candlelight... so that as we go forward we open up until we get into the candlelight, when we've got a full exposure’. I put this idea to Peter and he said: ’Yes, let's do it. And so we did it. So I had, you know, lights on dimmers, and filt... colour filters for the gold light of the candles, and I started outside at a stop of 18, I think it was, and I travelled inside and I finished up at something like 2.5. I know it was about five stops or five and a half stops of opening up the lens — the shot lasted 30, 40 seconds, I should think — gradually opened up the lens, so you've gone from sunlight to darkness into this lovely feeling of candlelight and it worked. And, you know, that was... that gave me quite a thrill.

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: 3 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008