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Shooting Going in Style


A furore over my permit to shoot Going in Style
Billy Williams Film-maker
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I did a picture called Going in Style and... was with a very young director straight out of film school, the American Film Institute in New York. And he was only 27 and his name was Martin Brest. And... he'd insisted that I shoot the picture although we'd never met. And of course there is a problem when a European goes to America, you have to get a work permit and you can only get a work permit if the union will agree to you working. And in New York, for quite a long period of time they'd accepted many European cinematographers, people like Giuseppe Rotunno and Ozzie Morris and so on. There had been lots of Europeans coming in. But at this particular point they decided to make a stand and to not want any more Europeans coming in — this was the executive of the union - so when Warner Brothers applied for me to go to America, they... they turned us down and said: ‘No, we're not going to let Billy Williams come in, you've got to find somebody locally’. So Warner Brothers made a second application and it was turned down again. Now this young director, Martin Brest, was persistent in that I must photograph the picture, and he said, ‘I'm going to go along and make a... a third request that he should be allowed in’. The studio said, ’Okay’ they said, ‘but if you're turned down, if the union won't agree, we'll pull the picture out of New York, and we'll shoot the location in Chicago and we’ll shoot the studio work in Hollywood’.

So Martin Brest went to the union, and they turned him down. Well of course, the studio then moved. They said, ‘we're taking the picture out of New York’. Well! Talk about a furore! Because it wasn't just the camera local that was affected, it was all the unions that were going to wor... work on the picture. So the camera local called an emergency meeting of the membership to vote on whether I should be allowed to come and work in New York. And they voted 108 to three in favour of me coming to work and the three that voted against were the three members of the executive on the union who’d decided the policy. So I went to New York, not quite knowing what I was going to find, whether I would be welcome or not. And when I got there, the crew couldn't have been more friendly. I had a wonderful op... operator called Tom Priestley who’d worked with Ondricek and Rotunno and, you know, a lot of the European cinematographers and was a great operator, and a very good focus and loader and... and I... everything was fine.

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, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008