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The multiplex idea on the set of The Silent Partner


Shooting Going in Style
Billy Williams Film-maker
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And we started shooting the picture; Going in Style written by Martin Brest and directed by him, straight out of the film school. The cast was George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. The story is of three old men living in Queens, living on social security, bored out of their minds not knowing what to do with life except, you know, go and draw their pensions, go into the park, feed the pigeons. And the George Burns character, who’s very sharp, he watches a lot of movies and he noticed at the local bank, that, you know, money seems to be going in and out and there didn't seem to be all that much security, so he devises a plan to rob the bank. And so these three old men dress up in disguises, they steal... they steal or borrow... guns and ammunition from the nephews of one of them who’s a gun fanatic, and they rob a bank, in all these funny spectacles and moustaches, and they get away with it. And of course, it's all over the television, what's going on with our old people that they have to resort to robbing banks? Well, as a result of the robbery one of the three, Lee Strasberg dies – of a heart attack – and George Burns and Art Carney, not knowing what to do with all this money, decide that perhaps they will go to Las Vegas. So they fly to Las Vegas and play the tables and win a fortune and come back with all this money which they then give to a nephew who is in need. The... the bank never gets its money back and eventually George Burns, who is by then the only survivor, finishes up in prison. And that's the end of the story, with George Burns saying: ’Well no place like this is ever gonna hold me’.

So it's a comedy but it's also a lot about old age and the boredom of old age. And it was fascinating working with George Burns, because he's like a metronome. He's got a certain rhythm with a scene and you could play it 20 times and it was always the same, it was exactly the same performance every time. Whereas Art Carney, who was a much more of a spontaneous actor, varied enormously from one take to the next. And Lee Strasberg who was of course one of the founders of the Method school of acting. You know, he coached Brando and Mar... Marilyn Monroe, he was rock solid. So we had these three wonderful characters and a novice director. And I had a really hard time because it was like having a film student in charge. I'd just about... a year earlier I'd had my first experience of working with students at Beaconsfield, and I came onto this picture with this... with this young man who was very bright and very nice, very nice personality, but he didn't want to accept anything that I had to say. He... everything had to be proved, so that when it came to getting a set-up, we'd set the camera and he'd say: ’Let's move in a foot'; 'No, let's change the lens’; Change the lens; ‘Oh, let's move back a couple of feet'; No, that's not right. 'Let's try another lens’. And it was a bit trying to work it out by numbers, as if you were, you know... working with someone who... well he hadn't made a movie before you see. And... gosh! It really... it was really tough going to have to, kind of, accept that he was in charge and yet the whole time he was feeling his way, not sure how to how to do things, and not rea... really willing to listen you see. He had the set painted three times because he couldn't make up his mind on the colours you see. And, I would talk to him about the way the... the set should be shaded to make it look aged, and, you know, the art director understood what I meant because that was... that's the way you do a set. But he wouldn't have that, he wanted to do it differently because he didn't think it would look right, so all sorts of things like that that he was completely naive about and yet wasn't willing to listen. He'd gone to all this trouble, and fought tooth and nail to get me there, and then when... when I was there, he didn't really want to listen.

So I found it very frustrating, but it was a good picture, fortunately. It was a good picture, it was very funny, the cast were great and it... and it did well, but I didn't work with him again. He went on to... to make some quite successful pictures including Beverley Hills Cop with... with Eddie Murphy, but I couldn't go through that again. He’s nice... he was a nice guy but I couldn't go through all that, you know, palaver.

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, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008