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Having to shoot Agaguk in Super 35


Playing a joke on Donald Sutherland
Billy Williams Film-maker
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So here we were in the Arctic with the real tundra and a... a horizon, which... which I'd never seen when we were in the... in the quarry in Montreal; we were always looking down on things. Now we had this wonderful landscape or snow-scape with wonderful ice floes, sunrise and sunset, beautiful low light and we shot some lovely scenes there. We had Donald Sutherland with us there, with a... a sledge drawn by huskies, and we did some beautiful material which, you know, was cut into what we shot in the quarry. A difficult match, of course, but it was a marvellous experience just... just going to the Arctic and working in those conditions. We had a Steadicam there too and that worked very well in the cold.

But of course, I was working with Donald Sutherland again, after Ordeal By Innocence, where I'd experienced this business of not... not being able to look up at him and so I talked to his makeup lady, who'd been working with him for some years and I said: ’How long has Donald had this business about not shooting a low angle on him? And she said: ’Oh, it just happened suddenly on one picture a few years ago and he's pursued it ever since and every picture he says he doesn't want to be looked up with a low camera. So I devised a little game because we had a lot of scenes with him, particularly some really good scenes when he was with Toshiro Mifune — together they were absolutely marvellous — and so we'd get the set up and we'd mark everything and we'd carefully mark the height, you see and Donald would then go off and I would say to the... the grip, I’d say, ’Put the camera 2 or 3in lower than I've just told you’. So I light everything and Donald would come back on the set you see and I'd look through the camera and I'd say,  ‘I’ll just bring the... bring the camera up’, so I brought the camera back up to where I'd originally want it to be and Donald would say, ’Oh, okay’. And I did that all the time, it was a great gag, you know, and he fell... and whether he fell for it or not, I don't know, but anyway, he went along with it and he was no trouble. He got on... the director was such a marvellous raconteur and a personality that there... there was no... no problem and things went... went beautifully in that respect. There was one occasion when we were in the Arctic when we were having breakfast and I looked out of the window and I... there were three suns in the sky... there was the real sun and on either side there were two more suns, and it was some kind of, you know, atmospheric reflection, I don't know what. It had gone before I had time to take a picture of it.

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, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008