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Agaguk: the ice melts


Shooting Agaguk in a quarry
Billy Williams Film-maker
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The story takes place on the tundra in the Arctic, in an Inuit village in the snow, and certain decisions had been taken prior to my joining the production, agreements made between the production designer and the producer and the director, not to go outside Montreal which would have involved a... more travel time, but to shoot the majority of these scenes in a quarry about half an hour's drive outside the city. Well, this quarry was of a grey, blacky-grey slate material. It was 100’ deep and it was about a quarter of a mile square; it was absolutely huge, and the production designer had built an Inuit village – igloos – at the bottom of this quarry and I said: ’Well, what are you going to do about all this black slate behind?’ He said: ’Well, I put water pipes all the way round and I'm going to trickle water down and because it's very cold during the winter... and at night it get down to -20  or so’,  he said: ’All the water will freeze and we will have cascades of ice, so we'll have like a glacier behind them’. And I thought, well, let’s... let's see how it goes. So during the short period of preproduction that we had, he set this in motion and the weather was very cold and after a few days these thick layers of ice had formed which blended into the snow that was already on the ground, so that, you know, you got this sort of believable icescape with a village tucked in underneath, like a cliff of ice. And so we start shooting on the exteriors, with a certain amount of weather cover in a studio in Montreal, and we start shooting and the first few days were overcast and things go pretty well and the next day’s sunny. And of course, we start off the day at half past seven or eight o'clock in the morning and as the day progresses and the sun comes up, a giant shadow goes right across our village, which of course, didn't match anything that had gone before and there's no real... there’s no explanation of where this giant shadow comes from, and then the sun goes round of course and eventually it goes behind and drops and we're left in shade again. So this was the pattern of shooting for some weeks. There was a lot of material to be shot in this village and it was a nightmare trying to match scenes. We had scenes there where an aeroplane has to come in and people get on the aeroplane and it taxis off, takes... takes off, so it was... it was impossible to match and this really strange shadow was a perpetual menace to me.

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, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008