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Saturday Night: shooting

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Saturday Night: problems with sound recording
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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I need to remind you that at that time sound recording was a hell of a problem, particularly for amateurs. There was no tape. There was no magnetic recording of any kind. There was wire recording, but that was only used for the army for certain things, and was very poor quality. So it wouldn't be suitable. And, in order to record sound for a movie, in those days, you needed a truck- a truck full of equipment, including an optical camera. A camera that recorded sound optically onto a separate film. So by the time you had all that stuff together, you had this truck. And many studios had a garage. The sound department was, in fact, a garage where this truck, which could also be used on location, was backed into this garage, and at the back there were a lot of cable connections. So you plugged in all the various bits and pieces, and they led, via cable, to the studio. And that's why you need a large sound crew. The Unions stipulated that you needed a minimum crew of four in the sound department, as you needed a minimum crew of four in the camera department. But the four people in the sound department each had a specific job to do, there was the sound recorder is on the stage, with that little mixing panel in front of him. There was the boom man. There was a chap who helped generally to run the cables, and there was, very important, there was the sound camera operator who was sitting somewhere else in his little booth, or his truck, recording the sound on an optical sound camera. So sound recording was not something you could do very easily. So we had decided, first of all, that the- a large part of the film wouldn't have any- wouldn't need sound recording because it wouldn't have any dialogue. And only the last section, which takes place in a café called Velotti's, which was next to the British Film Institute in Shaftesbury Avenue, only that had dialogue, and this dialogue we proposed to post-synch. I can't remember if we had the guide track- we couldn't have had a guide track because what would we record it on? It just wasn't possible. The first tape recorder that I ever operated was a relatively basic affair that we used in 1950- now what year was that? 1952, when I made the documentary "Thursday's Children" with Lindsay Anderson, 52 or 53. I had this little Philips tape recorder which was one of the earliest ones produced and some of the scenes in that film are recorded with that tape recorder. But in 48 we didn't even have that. So we couldn't do it that way. And then we went into these rather more elaborate scenes in the library and in the political meeting on the soapbox, which I loved. But there again it had to be post-synched. It was all going to be post-synched. And then a major problem arose because Bryan Forbes who was the main actor in this film, who at that time was a small-time actor who'd already started his career, but only just. He used to play, what did they call it, the Below Deck Sailors, who were always Cockney and figures of fun, because in those days in the 50s and before, working class people were- didn't appear a lot in movies. If they were there they were there for comic effect, usually. They weren't treated very seriously. So Bryan Forbes had a whole series of parts as a below-deck sailor in some warship or other. Anyway, he agreed to do this film, and he was the main character. About half way through- this film, incidentally, was filmed between 48 and 52, over four years; the filming stretched over four years, and even then it wasn't finished. But somewhere in the middle, somewhere round about 1950, Bryan Forbes decided to get married and he was going to emigrate to America. He did go to America. He married somebody called Constance Smith, who was his first wife, and they went off to America. So, in a great hurry and with a lot of fuss, we managed to get him into a studio in London where we recorded his dialogue, but only his dialogue because he couldn't get together all the people that he was talking to, particularly in the library scene. There were a whole lot of people he was conversing with, so we only had his lines because he was due to leave next week. So we recorded his lines on a big one-inch EMI huge machine that they had in that- it was a post-synching studio in Soho Square, it's still there I think. So we did that and we put them all away somewhere and eventually they got lost actually. We can't find them. But anyway, that was- they were recorded and he went off to America and we went on with the rest of the movie.

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.

Duration: 4 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008