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The shoot and protect system


The Adding Machine
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The next film I made in England was The Adding Machine, which was, again, a very interesting project with a charming, but very unusual director called Jerry Epstein whom... who it was widely supposed that he was an illegitimate son of Chaplin's. And it's possible because he looks exactly like Chaplin. There's a great resemblance. And he had made some minor feature films before, some minor, let's say, dramatic films with story line and actors, which I didn't see at that point. I saw them subsequently. So he was supposed to have some experience, he wasn't a newcomer. But it turned out that... that he had certain quirks that you wouldn't expect from a person with experience.

The first week, we spent the entire week shooting one dinner table scene. So after one week we were one week behind schedule, more or less. We shot this dinner table scene where there's four people at the table. We shot it from every conceivable angle except from straight over the top, that's about the only angle we didn't shoot. So there were long shots and closer shots and two-shots and three-shots, and close-ups and over-shoulders, and God knows what. And they're eating soup. The first course is soup. So we shot the long shot and that... and they're always eating their soup. We shot the two-shot and they're eating their soup. And then we came to the close-ups. And, I moved in and I let Jerry have a look and he said, 'No, no, no, that's much too close. I want to see the business'. I said, 'What business?' He said, 'The soup'. I said, 'But don't you think we've seen the soup? You know, we've got the message that they're eating the soup'. He said, 'No, no, it's too close, I don't like that'. I said, 'Well, if I move back, the person sitting next to him will come into shot again', and he said, 'Move them out!' I said, 'We can't do that, because you miss them. You know very well there's somebody sitting within two feet of this guy'. So that... that was quite a problem. So we were behind schedule quite quickly.

And then later on in that film there was an incident about the framing. Because, in common with all the pictures of that era, except the Cinemascope pictures, you had one form or another of the wide screen. And sometimes the camera gate was masked to that format, sometimes we weren't allowed to do that, and you had a mask in the view finder only, so there was all sorts of things being photographed in the top and in the bottom that didn't appear on the screen, at least not if it was screened as intended. And in that scene we were shooting 1:66, I think it was, and the gate wasn't masked, so we were actually shooting Academy, 33. For some reason, they used to see rushes in the lunch hour, and I said, 'I don't want to give up my lunch hour to see rushes, I'm very sorry. I'm very happy to see rushes afterwards, but not in my lunch hour, because I want my lunch hour. I'll have my food and I'll have a little rest and so on'. So one day, for some reason or other, they wanted to check something in another theatre so they went to town, into Wardour Street, and he came back and he was absolutely fuming. We met in the corridor and we had this shouting match in the corridor in Shepperton, where he said, 'It was terrible, terrible, I can't stand it, all the heads were cut off'. I said, 'What do you mean all the heads were cut off?' He said, 'Well, we sat down in the theatre and all the heads were cut off and people kept shouting, 'Rack! Rack!'' And I said, 'And did they?' And he said, 'I don't know, but all the head were cut off'. It was just mis-framed by the projectionist. Because if you use that system where the viewfinder is not the same as the gate, then you're entirely dependent on the projectionist to frame it correctly. But he... he couldn't understand that. The operator was sweating blood by this time, and I said, 'Don't change a thing, we're fine. There's nothing wrong'. Jerry kept saying, 'Too tight, too tight, you're cutting the heads off'.

Born in Germany, cinematographer Walter Lassally (1926-2017) was best known for his Oscar-winning work on 'Zorba the Greek'. He was greatly respected in the film industry for his ability to take the best of his work in one area and apply it to another, from mainstream to international art films to documentary. He was associated with the Free Cinema movement in the 1950s, and the British New Wave in the early 1960s. In 1987 he published his autobiography called 'Itinerant Cameraman'.

Listeners: Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen is a Canadian who came to Europe to study and never got round to heading back home. He did his undergraduate work at Carleton University (in Biology) in Ottawa, and then did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario (in Zoology). After completing his doctorate at Oxford (in the Department of Zoology), followed with a year of postdoc at the University of London, he moved to the University's newly-established Audio-Visual Centre (under the direction of Michael Clarke) where he spent four years in production (of primarily science programs) and began to teach film. In 1974 Bowden became Director of the new Audio-Visual Centre at the University of Warwick, which was then in the process of introducing film studies into the curriculum and where his interest in the academic study of film was promoted and encouraged by scholars such as Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, and Richard Dyer. In 1983, his partner and he moved to Greece, and the following year he began to teach for the University of Maryland (European Division), for which he has taught (and continues to teach) biology and film courses in Crete, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

Tags: The Adding Machine, Jerry Epstein

Duration: 3 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008