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How do you teach cinematography?


My only science fiction film: Saturn 3
Billy Williams Film-maker
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I've only done one science fiction picture, Saturn 3. And it... the idea was created by John Barry, who was the production designer for Star Wars, and he also did the second unit on Star Wars. And he wrote the original treatment for Saturn 3 and directed it. It was his directo... directorial debut. And I was very thrilled when... when he invited me to photograph it for me at Shepperton Studios. Stuart Craig was the designer and we had some wonderful futuristic sets, long, curved tunnels made of a kind of black plastic material which, you know, offered all sorts of dramatic set ups. And this is all supposed to be in a space station in the future and the characters were Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett and Harvey Keitel. It was just a threesome. Harvey Keitel is the bad guy who has created a robot, and the robot, is meant to perform certain functions in this space station. But the robot gets out of control and starts to destroy everything and become a threat to them all. The robot was big guy in a suit with all kinds of antennae popping out and all of a... really weird costume. And it turned out to be nightmare every time we had to do a shot with the robot, because it took so long to put it all together.

So we started, and I thought things were going very well. I was getting on very well with John Barry, he's very visual, as you... as you imagine with a production designer. And, things were looking good and we'd been shooting for two weeks. And Monday morning we were called on to the set to be told that the director had been replaced and that the producer was now going to direct the picture and the producer was Stanley Donen, who was lovely, really nice man, but it wasn't his cup of tea. I mean he was a director of musicals, Singing in the Rain and things like that and directing this robot wasn't exactly like directly Gene Kelly. And... you know, we plugged along and... there was a huge investment in this picture by Lew Grade who also financed Voyage of the Damned. And... you know, a big name cast but in the end it didn't... it didn’t really hold together. And although we spent a lot of time making the film, they then had to put the special effects on. It went to Hollywood to do the special effects and when you look at them now, they... they just don't hold up, things... things were advanced so much in post production that a lot of the... the space scenes of, you know, in orbit and so on, just don't hold up. But it was quite an interesting thing to do, something completely different from anything I'd done before. And... it's always a... a disappointment when things aren't quite a success.

What was wrong with the first two weeks work? Nothing. Politics. There was nothing wrong with the first two weeks work, except that we were a little bit behind and we were behind because it was taking so long to... any time we had to do something with the robot. And Kirk Douglas had complained that the director was spending too much time with the robot, but it... but it was inevitable, in fact the picture went weeks and weeks over schedule because you couldn't avoid the fact that the robot had to be in certain scenes. Like he has to play a game... the robot played chess with Kirk Douglas and so the robot had to do all the move, picking up hand... picking up the pieces with a kind of claw-like mechanism... Takes time. So he was all these animatronics which had to be worked out.

You had to have a single light source I suppose, out in space? Well we were inside a space station you see, and this space station had like got its own methods of generating light. And I designed some lamps to look like futuristic lamps. And, I didn't know where to start to be honest, but... so what I did, I... I got some... some lamps — I think they were about 1000W — they had a round shape, and I got the art department to paint a black... a black sphere in the middle of a diffuser frame. So you had like this black dot in the middle of a white globe. And I had dozens of these, perhaps a hundred or more of these, in banks so that you had this light source with these strange black dots all over, rather like frog's spawn. And it looked different, but I was just searching for something that looked different from conventional lighting. And that was quite fun. And of course, you know, certain things were fuelled by the sun obviously. But... but there’s... it was a bit weak, the whole idea wasn't... wasn’t really worked through.

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: 6 minutes, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008