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Stone Pillow: Working with Lucille Ball


Making TV movies in America
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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As of the... late 1970s, I made several movies for American television. Two with Katharine Hepburn, the lovely Katharine Hepburn, and one with Lucille Ball. They were all made in the same way. American television movies are made very much in a pattern. Even with a star like Katharine Hepburn you cannot get more than $2.5 million. That was true in 1978, 1988 when we made that first film. In 1992 it was still true. I don't know about now. But $2.5 million was the top budget, and 22 days was the top schedule, even with Katharine Hepburn. I went into it at one point and said, 'Well, why can't we make this film more comfortably in 25 ten-hour days, 250 hours, instead of 22 12-hour days, which is 248 hours or something'. The reason turned out to be the actors. The crew's salary would be the same, the actors, having, let's say, seven days work in a 22-day period, is very different from having seven days work in a 25-day period, because there are three extra days where he could be working somewhere else. So that is a crucial factor why you cannot get any extra time. Absolutely crucial. So you'll find that 22 days is generous. There's a lot of American television material which is shot in 14 days. So 22 days is generous, but to me, it's absolute hell, because to make a full feature, and I've never made a difference between... in my mind there's no difference between a cinema film and a film made for television. My work is the same. I take the same kind of care. I want the same kind of result. Because a film that is made well for television could also be screened in the cinema, there is no difference. But America is the only country where I found you still can make a differentiation between a TV movie and a theatrical movie, because they're almost like two separate industries. The top budget for a TV movie is $2.5 million, the bottom budget for a theatrical movie is something like $12 million. In between there's a huge gap into which black hole fall a number of subjects which just cannot be produced because they're too expensive for television and too cheap for the cinema people.

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: Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball

Duration: 2 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008