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Changes in the movie industry


Walter Lassally Film-maker
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In the last 10 to 15 years I've done a lot more teaching than actual shooting, and I'm not sorry about that. I've always enjoyed teaching. And as I already said more than once, the results when you're shooting are not always satisfactory. Teaching, on the whole, is satisfactory. Once or twice you can be a bit irritated. Like, I was the Head of Camera at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield close to London, from 1988 to 1992. And in 1992 I became... I became 95, yes. In 1992 I became 65 years old. I was 65 years old and Colin Young, the Head of the School had to retire... was forced to retire and I could've carried on, but I said, 'No I think four years is enough, I'll go as well'. And then the school changed character a bit anyway. As I say, I got a bit irritated occasionally, but on whole, it was a nice experience. But you get a bit irritated when you're sitting there in your office twiddling your thumbs, because I'm not a person born to sit behind a desk, quite the opposite. And sometimes you're sitting there and some student comes in, and you say- yes? And he says, could you give me the telephone number of Studio Film Laboratories. And I look at him, and I said, what's that on that board behind you? That is a bit irritating. And I think that... I've often said, that the National Film School students are very, very lucky indeed, having survived the selection procedure, which is complicated and very time-consuming, they had the best teaching staff you can imagine. Much better than the London International Film School, which is the competition, as it were, in London, who just can't afford that kind of personnel. The National Film School have always had this policy that they will engage working professionals, and if they need time off to exercise their profession, so be it. I made... In 1990, while I was Head of Camera there, I made three movies, two of which were feature movies, one of which was "Fragments of Isabella". No, it was the subsequent one. It was called "Diary of a Madman". So there was "Diary of a Madman", "Ballad of the Sad Café", and the German movie that I haven't talked about, which is called "Die Erbschaft", "The Inheritance", were all made in 1990, and I just took a holiday. I took leave from... leave of absence from the school and it all worked perfectly well. So I enjoyed teaching. It's very gratifying to see, when at the end, some of the people that you taught have made it. Not everybody, obviously. Very few people made it. I tell them, the students when they're coming in, that they must be prepared for a period of 10 years to elapse between them leaving film school, with or without some piece of paper, which is more or less unimportant, and when somebody... you're a cameraman, not when the National Film School says you've completed the course, you're a cameraman when somebody's prepared to pay you to be that cameraman, and that involves a degree of trust. Because it's a business, where being a cameraman, is not a risk-free occupation. If you get it wrong it can be very expensive for the producer. So, to get a chance, they say, we'll give you a chance to make your first movie, that is quite a big step, and you must be prepared to wait 10 years. Unfortunately, some of the people are much too old. It was always one of my beefs that the entry age is much too old. The entry age, average age of entry into the National Film School, at that time, was 26. And there were some people close to 40 or even over 40 when they left. Now, I'd made, I don't know, 20 movies by the time I was 40. So that isn't right. I think, in any case, that film schools that offer a two or a three-year course, during which you cannot really do anything else, except in the holiday periods, is not the best way of dovetailing it into the film industry, which is largely freelance. And many film schools, like the National, also run short courses. And I think that is much better adapted. You get a foot in the industry, a foot in the door, in whatever capacity, and you learn as you go along. And in your spare time, you take these short courses. That is a much better preparation than a three-year course. I don't think it's the perfect way. Another very good way is the way that's practiced in the workshops all over the world. Like the American Film Institute do that. The best example is the Rockport, Maine... The International Film and Television Workshops in Rockport, Maine, which are run by a very interesting guy called David Lyman, and I've taught there something like eight times over the years, between... I think the first time was 83 and the last time was 1990. They're very well organised and they're very concentrated. And I used to get letters saying- God I've just realised how much I learnt in that week that I spent with you in Rockport. And I've done it in Los Angeles. I've done it in Rockport. I've done it in London, obviously, in Berlin in both the... both sides of Berlin, the East and the West, in Munich. But there's something funny about German students. They differ from, say, American students in... if they have some expert, like Walter Lassally, has come to teach us, they expect to sit there, and almost like you put a funnel through their head, and you pour in this wisdom, and they just absorb it, you see. But if you say to them, no, look this is not a lecture, this is not a seminar, this is a workshop. A workshop means that you work. We give you the opportunity to do some work, and if you're about to do something extremely stupid, I'll say, I wouldn't do it that way if I were you. But that's about it, you know. I give you the opportunity to do some filming, and I will give you certain bits of advice, and I will tell you certain principles, but after that, it's up to you. And the Germans don't like that. They're a bit... particularly the... actually in Berlin it wasn't bad, but in Munich it was particularly obvious that they thought they'd paid their money and they weren't really getting value for money, because they had to do it themselves. A bit like going to one of those Japanese restaurants where you have to do all the cooking yourself.

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: 6 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008