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Creating rain for The Manhattan Project


Creating a storm for The Manhattan Project
Billy Williams Film-maker
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In 1985 I went back to New York to shoot The Manhattan Project. Its English title was A Deadly Game. Scripted and directed by Marshall Brickman, who was a one-time co-writer with Woody Allen, who lived in New York and he'd written this screenplay about a nuclear scientist, played by John Lithgow, who sets up a nuclear research laboratory in New Jersey, in a residential area or just outside a residential area, and eventually it produces nuclear weapons-grade plutonium. Now, a very bright college boy and his girlfriend, played by Nicho... Christopher Collet and Cynthia Nixon, get wind of this and are so disturbed by it that they decide to try and steal some of this plutonium by breaking into the research laboratory and getting away with some of this plutonium, and being a smart kid, he... and having visited the site because the nuclear scientist chap is making a ploy for his mother, who is separated and so there's a slight romantic involvement there, and so this kid has been inside this nuclear research place and worked out a few things and the fact that it is very heavily protected by security devices, so he works out a plan of getting into this place but he has to wait for a storm, an electrical storm, which will upset all the electronics and allow him to break in. So we have to create a storm which meant lightning and rain and it was the best lightning and rain I'd ever worked with. We had a special effects guy called Brian [sic] Ferren, who was an absolute genius, and instead of using the old scissor arcs for lightning or a lightning box, he'd developed this method where he had huge banks of Xenon lamps — I think they were 1kW each bulb and there were... there were banks of them — and we had to have a huge generator because they took an enormous amount of power and when he pressed the button, these lights went off in a random fashion, so you had this extremely bright lighting eff... light effect, but it was moving the way lightning does. You know, when lightning goes across the sky, you get a kind of movement with it, and with these lamps you could break it down into smaller units if you just wanted a little bit of lightning coming through a window or something and... or you could have 20 or 30 of them if you'd got a big area to light and it was the best lightning I've ever used, it was so convincing.

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, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008