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Maintaining the look of a film after shooting


I should have been thankful for Technicolor dye transfer process
Billy Williams Film-maker
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So the film speeds gradually in... increased, and when I shot Women in Love the speed was 50 ASA to tungsten. Now if you were shooting in daylight of course you'd put the 85 on and that would bring it down from 50 to 32. Well, just after I started shooting Women in Love, Kodak brought out a new fast film, 100... 100 ASA, one stop faster, but because everybody wanted this new fast film, you could only get 10,000ft at a time. So I used to conserve this fast film for the scenes that needed... you know, where I was short of light; the candlelight and the dusk scenes and the firelight scenes, but I'd soon run out of 10,000ft and have to ask for more and they'd send me another 10,000 then another 10,000. So over a period of a film, about half the film was shot on ASA 50 and... and the other half was shot on various different emulsion numbers of the... of the faster film, but when we came to grade it all it all seemed to go together as if there wasn't any difference at all. Now when we came to print the film for release we discovered that United Artists, who were releasing the film, had a contract with Technicolor to say that all release prints had to be done using the Technicolor dye transfer process, so that instead of making a negative-positive print, which our rushes had been provided with... all the rushes were done using that — the normal printing process — you now had to take the negative and make three separate matrixes and using the... a dye process, a printing process of... of using dyes, to make the release prints in... in this fashion; they were called dye transfer prints. Now Ken and I were quite dismayed at this because when it came to it we discovered that the rushes, which had a lovely crisp, sharp look, when they went through this process of... of three layers of printing, we lost quite a bit of definition – it looked softer. Also when you wanted to make adjustments between scenes it... it wasn't so easy to make fine adjustments because every time you made an adjustment you had... you had to go right back to the beginning of the reel, and it was... it was much more complicated to get things exactly as you wanted it, and so we were not as happy with the... this dye transfer print as I think we would have been if we'd printed in the normal way.

Well many years later I was to be very thankful that we had printed dye transfer because it wasn't until the '70s that it was discovered that the contact prints were fading and it was George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and one or two others in Hollywood, that... that sort of raised the alarm and... and got together with Kodak to try and produce a print — a positive — that wouldn't fade, but I don't think they've really succeeded.

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, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008