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Early inspiration


Changes in the movie industry
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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I called the last chapter of my book Plus ça Change, which means that in many ways the industry is exactly the same as it was when I joined it. But there are significant differences. Technically, the revolution that's overtaken sound is not comparable to what's happened to cameras. Cameras, if anything, are getting heavy again. I think I already mentioned that. So, other than the change to video, which is inevitable, and it's going to happen gradually, fairly gradually, but fairly quickly, I think not all that much has taken place on the camera side. The biggest changes are the changes in the industry. I think, what's happened to Hollywood and the American industry in general, is really tragic. Because Hollywood, after all, had the knack of entertaining a very large and very varied audience, very efficiently over many, many years. In the '20s, in the '30s, in the '40s, in the '50s, and into the '60s, and they have lost that knack completely. The knack of speaking to the intelligent as well as the stupid, to the young as well as the old, is not in demand anymore. What's in demand now is films for seven to 17-year-olds. Now, I don't mind that, but why should they be the only films that get made? Why can't we have films for intelligent over-40s? In fact, I once proposed to somebody we should make an intelligent film, and in the publicity we should a health warning: teenagers stay away, you might be bored to death, but on the other hand, if you come in, you may learn something. You may learn to appreciate adult movies.

But it isn't a question of entertainment versus art, either. Hollywood managed to combine very beautifully, very nicely, entertainment and art. And art versus industry is a trade-off that has always existed. It wasn't a question of: do we make an art movie or do we make a commercial movie? Sometimes, of course. Sometimes people set out to make a deliberately esoteric movie aimed at a relatively, but deliberately, small audience. But a lot of the time, this is a trade-off that... It's not the first time we've been asked to make this trade-off and they found a way of doing that perfectly naturally. So none of those things are... should be obstacles. But to make a good film... well, it's always been difficult.

I've always thought, but particularly in the last 20 years, I've thought that any halfway decent film that manages to get itself made and finished is nothing short of a small miracle, because the obstacles that are strewn in the way are tremendous and mostly unnecessary, mostly unnecessary. These days first of all you have too many cooks making the broth, the credits are sometimes longer than the film... that old joke of Olson & Johnson, the associated producer is the only one associated with the producer, but now you have eight executive producers and four associate producers, and three co-producers, and God knows what. Merchant Ivory pointed to that very subtly... well, not all that subtly, and very effectively in, I think it's Remains of the Day, where there's a running title at the beginning listing all the sponsors, which goes so fast that you can hardly read it, and Merchant Ivory present, you know... I think they made that point beautifully, just by that little device. And of course, all this runs up the bill too, all these producers and executive producers and associate producers. Yes.

And the costs, the spiralling costs, I just can't believe it. I can't believe it. I do know... I'm absolutely convinced that, given a few experienced people in the few key positions, given an adequate amount of money, not a huge amount of money, and given stars who don't want to be millionaires overnight, because it all goes to the tax people anyway, you can make a decent movie. And very, very often, it's occurred to me very often that the quality of the emergent movie is often in direct, reverse proportion to the amount of money spent on it. Because if a movie is very expensive and requires an enormous amount of organisation, it's more like organising a battle, a field battle in the army. The artistic aspect is bound to get drowned in circumstances like that. And it did get drowned, or nearly drowned, in The Deceivers, quite often, because they wanted to make it big and expensive, and in the end everybody lost out. It's a great shame because I'm convinced that... the thing that is the greatest shame is that the audiences exist. I'm quite convinced, that there are people over 40 who haven't gone to the cinema for a long time now, because they're convinced that there's nothing there to interest them, and they're nearly always right.

And secondly, there's a pool of talent out there who'd love to make some more nice movies, but they can't do it because they can't be connected with the audience. For one reason, because there's this gap, in American terms, there's this huge black hole between the most expensive television movie and the cheapest movie movies. There's a lot of very nice movies that could be made in that area, but they don't get made because they're too cheap for the movie people and they're too expensive for television, which is a terrible shame. Anyway, I count myself as semi-retired. And if a nice project came along, with nice people, preferably in Greece, but not necessarily. It could be Turkey, which is next door. And if it's got a good story and adequate time, adequate time, very important, then I'm still available.

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: Remains of the Day, Merchant Ivory, The Deceivers

Duration: 5 minutes, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008