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What I think makes a good director


The role of a cinematographer
Billy Williams Film-maker
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For me, the key relationship on set is my relationship with the director. Now, as a cinematographer of course, we are always chosen, we don't really choose who we're going to work with. We… the director and the producer approach the cinematographer and make a decision as to who they want to use, so we come on to a project, having been chosen for our previous work usually, or recommendation. So when we come on to a… a project, I feel that it's my responsibility to interpret the script in visual terms, but in close conjunction with the director's vision, and usually the director will express certain ideas, certain references perhaps to other movies, perhaps to certain works of art, paintings and so on, certain photographers, particularly if they're looking for an unusual style or a particular style. And gradually, if you have good product… preproduction time… I think this is where pre-production is also very valuable; if you're working with a director that you… you haven't worked with before, it's a chance to get to know one another, to build up an understanding. Because it's very much, as well as a... a technical relationship, it's very much an emotional relationship because, you know, I always feel the... the cinematographer there is... is there to give the maximum support to the director. I feel the director is a bit like the captain of a ship, he's got the responsibility of the whole enterprise and the ship in the course of the film-making process is going from A to B. And the cinematographer is the chief engineer, he's going to make it happen; he's the driving force on set really, because, you know, the director rehearses with the actors, certain things are worked out regarding the placement of the camera and the movement of the camera and the movement of the actors and the coverage.

When that's all determined, the director usually leaves the set while it's… it’s all put together — the tracks are laid and it's lit — and so the cinematographer with his crew — camera crew, grips and electrics — then have to make it happen in the shortest possible space of time. And of course, the first… first assistant director is a key person also in making this happen, because he's also organising other things that have to be ready at a certain time, like make-up and hair and wardrobe and having the actors ready when everything else is ready. So it… everything has to be coordinated and the assistant director is largely responsible for that, but he's working closely with the cinematographer and his crew as to how long things are going to take… what do you need to, you know, facilitate all these things. So the closeness… my feel… my closeness to the director will very much determine how the pace of the film is. If a director is a little bit slow in working and takes a long time with rehearsing, then sometimes that… that time has to be made up by not having so much shooting time because movies have to be made with… within a given schedule. Sometimes they go over and sometimes they can't go over because there's not enough money there to allow it to go over. And so… speed is terribly important; it's been said that a producer wants three things of a cinematographer: he or she wants the work to be… to be good, and she… he wants the work to be done quickly and he also wants it to be done as cheaply as possible. So he wants a… a good cinematographer, a fast cinematographer and an inexpensive cinematographer, but in real… reality that producer will only get two out of three of those things, because if a cinematographer is good and fast, he's not going to be cheap. If he's fast and cheap, he might not necessarily be good and if he's good and cheap, he might not necessarily be fast, so the… the producer is looking for… for three things and, you know, as a cinematographer one is… is working always to, kind of, make things happen as quickly as possible, also to fulfil the director's vision, to photograph the actors in the right light, to create the right mood with lighting, to convey the character or the age of the character, to create the time of day that certain things are happening, so it's quite a complex issue, really, with a lot of different things happening at once, particularly if you're working on location with changes of light.

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: 5 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008