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Shooting Agaguk in a quarry


Almost backing out of Agaguk
Billy Williams Film-maker
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In 1990 I was sent a script called Agaguk. Now, it was adapted from a book which is well known in French-Canadian history; it's the story of the Inuit in the Arctic and this particular story is about the life of the Inuit and how, with the arrival of the white man, who came to trade furs with him, they were corrupted by alcohol. Our lead character in the film, Agaguk, was played by a young American called Lou Diamond Phillips, and his father in the movie, who is also the Shaman, was played by Toshiro Mifune, the great Japanese actor, who'd done so many marvellous movies with Kurosawa. Donald Sutherland was also in the picture, and Jennifer Tilly plays the wife of Agaguk, and it was all going to be shot in French Canada, the finance being French-Canadian. Well, they called me about two weeks before the picture was due to start, which I thought was, you know, a very short time to prepare, so I went off to Montreal and met the director and the producer and so on and we talked about what they were going to do. And we went up to the Arctic on a recce and during the course of this recce I began to realise that the director didn't have much experience of directing, in fact, he'd been a producer all his working life, and he was now in his mid -40s. He'd directed one small film beforehand and this was an epic, it was the most expensive and the most ambitious Canadian film ever made. So when we came back from this recce, I felt this isn't going to be good news and I offered to leave the picture. Well, producer and the director came back to me and pleaded with me to stay and the producer said, well, ‘Really’ you know, ’We want you to take care of the camera and the setting up and everything and Jacques — Jacques Dorfmann, the director — he’ll... he's very good with the actors, he'll work with the actors’ and so I was persuaded to stay. Well, they'd spent a lot of time preparing this picture; they had a very creative production designer, but his ideas weren't always very practical and certain decisions had been made long before I came on to the show, which were to give me really serious headaches.

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, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008