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Agreeing to work with John Schlesinger on Sunday, Bloody Sunday


Elizabeth Taylor: The perfect professional
Billy Williams Film-maker
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Many times in my career I've had to work with... with beautiful women who are in their 40's and they want to look 10 or 15 years younger, and... and you have to do it by a combination of good make-up and hair, the right wardrobe, choosing the right lenses, diffusion, but principally the lighting, where you put the light, and since those days... you know, once I started working with... with very well known actors and actresses who, you know, wanted to look right, I would make a point of... of when they were... say the... during the test, the day of tests, going... going into the make-up and taking a little lamp with me and talking to them about how they would like to look and what was their best side, and anything they were worried about, with the make-up person present, just the three of us, and I'd move around with the hand-held lamp and see what happened with the light in different directions. It's amazing just how much you learn about the different configurations of the face, the good points, the bad points, the good side and the bad side that's not so good.

So I'd kind of make... keep mental notes of... of where was the best place for the light to be and so that whenever one started to get in close, I'd make sure that they had the best possible light. Sometimes when you're in wide shot you can't maintain that degree of... of finesse because you have a lot of other considerations as well. So that usually as.... because particularly with someone like Elizabeth [Taylor], when you're getting closer you re-light the shot a little bit, take a bit of time to improve things, and that's... well, it was in those days, accepted as... as being important because she was the money, she was selling the picture. So it was... it was really great fun working with her. The other thing that... that I... really impressed me about Elizabeth was that, although she might come on the set rather late, she knew exactly what she had to do and we would do one... one final rehearsal once she came on set, and then we'd shoot and take one would always be perfect. She was absolutely spot-on with her lines, her marks, whatever props she was handling, whatever the timing was, it was absolutely spot-on and she would carry on being perfect for about three or four takes. Now if she was playing a scene with someone who took some time to warm up, as some actors do; not... not all actors hit it first take, some actors take three or four takes before they really get into it and then it starts to happen. But, of course, if you're in a two shot and... and you've got one actor like Elizabeth who's there from the... from the first moment and someone else who's not, it can be a bit of a problem.

But we didn't have that because we had Michael Caine; he... he's always good. You know, Michael's very, very dependable and consistent. But we also had a smaller part actor called Billy Dean who'd been a... a stand-up comic and he'd never appeared in a movie before, and they cast him as a police inspector and he has quite a few scenes with Elizabeth, and he couldn't always get his lines right and he'd got one line that he had to say... he was... he was sort of enquiring about someone and he... his line was: 'How old was he, would you say?' And he couldn't get it right and he kept saying: 'How old was he... would you say... how old was he, would you say he was?' He just couldn't get this line right you see, and in the end it became a bit of a laugh, but, of course, it didn't help Elizabeth, but one gets around it by cutting. But she was a delight... and I was later to do another picture with her where she was... she was equally good fun.

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: 4 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008