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Basic Film's presentation commercial

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Documentaries taught me filming techniques
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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Then began a period of work on documentary films, short films, documentary films, which lasted until I got my first feature. So in 1951, 52, 53, I worked entirely on documentaries. But after I made my first feature, which was "Another Sky" in 54, I continued to work on documentaries whenever such an opportunity arose, because I didn't consider that the two conflicted in any way. Far to the contrary, there was a sort of cross fertilisation between the two media where things that you learnt on documentaries could come in very handy on features. Such as how to insinuate people into a crowd, insinuate actors into a crowd, how to film unseen although you're not actually hidden. And we developed a technique which I've been using right up to the present day. And that was all developed during those days. And I made- during those days I made a film called "Sunday by the Sea" in 1951 with Tony Simmons directing, which won some- I think it won the Grand Prix in Venice. And, there was a sequel to that, "Bow Bells". Both those two films had- were cut to a sound track of musical songs performed by a famous group known as The Players- The Players Theatre Players, and they provided some Cockney songs, seaside songs for the one and just Cockney songs, East End songs for the other. And the film was then edited to those songs. And, in the same period- in the same period, we also made, "Thursday's Children" with Lindsay- Lindsay and Guy Brenton directed that. That's the film where I- we had a- it was in a school for the deaf in Margate and for certain scenes- most of it was done right with the children, right in their midst, once they'd got- accepted us- once they'd got used to us, they took no more notice of the camera, and we were able to make a sort of half circle of these six, seven-year-olds, because there were two classes. There was a class for the under 10s, let's say, or under nines and a class for the over nines. The younger class were sitting on little stools in a semi-circle and the camera was right in front of them so it could pan from one to the other in close-up. And, of course, they didn't know when the camera was running or not. Now you could do it on video because the camera doesn't make any noise, but in those days, that was a big problem, because the camera made a lot of noise, so people knew if the camera was running or not, so you couldn't treat, or rehearse- you didn't know- now you wouldn't know whether you're rehearsing or filming because the camera doesn't make any noise. But in those days there was a great advantage in filming the deaf, because they didn't know either. So once they'd accepted us, we were able to film extremely intimately because they didn't hear when the camera was running. So that was a great plus. So that was- one section of that film is filmed like that, and the second section in the more grown up class, where they're learning to speak, by listening to- they listen to the vibrations like putting your mouth to the thing, and they feel a balloon with the vibrations. And, it's a very nice film, beautiful film. And there, at one point, I was shooting through a little window which was between two classrooms. There was this little tiny window about this big, and it had glass in it and I think it was meant for serving food or something like that. Anyway, so I was filming through this window, through the glass, and, next to me on a table, was this primitive tape recorder. So I was operating the tape recorder with the left hand and filming with the right hand. That was my first synch-sound experience. Slightly before "Lambeth Boys", but we also had an improvised synch-sound sequence. But up to the development of the self-blimped 16mm cameras and later 35, you had to choose- synch-sound was a problem. You had to choose between a hand-held- an easily manoeuvrable- like hand-held camera or synch-sound, you couldn't have both. Because in order to do synch-sound, you had to put your camera in a big heavy blimp and a tripod and all the paraphernalia, and in many circumstances in documentary filming, by the time you'd set all that up, your- your subject, or any spontaneity had evaporated. So you always had that problem. How do you overcome that problem that you can have spontaneity or you can have synch-sound, but you can't have both. And in the "Lambeth Boys" we overcame that by making a blimp out of a sleeping bag. So we had certain sound sequences where you can actually hear the camera running because the sleeping bag didn't muffle the noise totally, but it was sufficient for the purpose. But in 51, 52, 53, I was- I did, "Sunday by the Sea", "Bow Bells", "Thursday's Children", I have to look at the list, but there were several more, until the- until the moment arrived for my- where I got the chance to make the first feature. Oh and some commercials, early commercials in 54. 53, I think, commercial television started in England and Basic Films, this company operated by Leon Clore, they wanted to get into that business. So in order to present themselves as potential producers of commercials, they made this spoof, not spoof, but they made this presentational commercial which was supposed to, look here we are, and we can make commercials. And we made this commercial which is ludicrous.

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: 5 minutes, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008