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The Glass Menagerie


The difficulties of shooting The Exorcist in Iraq
Billy Williams Film-maker
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Now I had quite a lot of interesting things to shoot out there. One was in a... a souq, which is like a... an underground market with shafts of sunlight coming through and lots of activity with traders and so on, and Max von Sydow has to walk through this souq, and it was extremely contrasting and I thought: I don't know how I'm going to light this, because there was no way of getting lights in. And all I had were these shafts of sunlight coming through, which were reading, I should think, about F22 on... there... we were still using 100ASA stock, so I'd got these shafts of sunlight with dust, you know, show... making them show up beautifully and... so I just got little bits of... of white card and I put them on the floor out of picture to reflect a little bit of light up from these beams of light. And then just in one... in the foreground I put a bulb to illuminate some work that somebody was doing, and that was about two to two and a half stops under and I shot it at 3.5, and it came out. I was greatly relieved because it had a marvellous atmosphere. I had another scene to do, an interior, and a... in the desert and I didn't have any Brutes... the biggest lamp I had was a 5K and so I had no daylight lamps. But I had some reflectors and because in that part of the world the sun shines all the time, I set up reflectors and shone them through the windows of this building and inside the room I had softer reflectors with... with white board on, so I reflected the light that was coming from the shiny, silver reflectors outside onto these white boards and lit the interior that way, without any lamps and of course, the colour of the light was correct and it... it looked, you know, quite acceptable.

So it was an experience to go back after all those years with the regime change, and the other thing that was interesting was that the... my assistant cameraman from 18 years before was now the leading cameraman in Iraq and the assistant director was the leading director in Iraq, and they both came to work on the film, just for the experience of working on a... on a Hollywood picture, and that was great. The other thing that... that I did, which I used a few times after that, I noticed that... and it... you'll have experienced this as well, is that when you're working in a hot country the morning is usually quite calm and then as the heat builds up, the wind gets up, so you very often get wind in the afternoon, and with all this excavation work going on the wind lifts the dust and it creates an atmosphere. And so I said, ’I'd... I’d like to have a wind machine’, so they brought in an aeroplane engine — a Ritter they call it — and I had a generator and so all of the scenes of the excavation I used this wind machine, which creates so much more movement with the clothes flapping and the wind blowing, and it gives a lot of energy to a scene that might otherwise be a little bit tranquil. And, that... that was... that was, you know, a useful device really.

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, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008