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Tom Jones: technical difficulties- lighting

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Tom Jones: the camera style and shooting- then and now
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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"Tom Jones" had a lot of careful preparation. And- Tony wanted to make it all on location and I said, yes, why not, I see no problem there. And- We had a basic discussion. We formed a principle that if the art direction and the costumes were impeccably in period, 18th Century, was it 17th or 18th? I can never remember. Anyway, if they were impeccably in period, then the camera style could be very modern. That was a very interesting and fundamental decision which worked extremely well. Because if you look at "Tom Jones", alongside any major epic, say the Roman Empire or any Hollywood-made film, or even the British spectaculars, there were a few made before, just before "Tom Jones", the look of "Tom Jones" is completely different. And that is partly due to- or it's largely due to that decision, that it uses few lights, it uses reflected light, it has a very mobile camera style with hand-holding, with a mixture of helicopter and little low tracking vehicles for the chase, for the hunt, I mean. So that decision was fundamental and it worked extremely well. Then Tony had one of those big eve-of-shooting party before we all despatched off to Somerset and Dorset, and he said- now, let's all go and have a lovely 14 weeks holiday in the West Country. I can't do his accent, because he had a very specific way of speaking. And it was a- It was a lovely shoot. It wasn't all easy. Sometimes it was very taxing. But we had fun, and that's the big difference between films of that period and film making in that period, and film making nowadays. Because nowadays, all the fun has gone out of it. The pressures have increased so much, and the lack of time is so mordant, that you, sort of, think, well if a film is 50% stress and 50% fun, okay. But if it's 90% stress and no fun at all, then why do it. Why do it? It's such a pity that you can't find a comfortable way of making films. Not working 18 hours a day and having no time to do anything. So, "Tom Jones" was a very pleasant shoot, I would say, with some very hairy moments and some very difficult things. Once I actually refused to do something, which I regret to this day. Because it was raining and the rain came on suddenly, and I was- it was summer so I was dressed like I'm dressed now, very lightly, and I was cold. I was freezing, in fact, and Tony said- oh, let's go and do some improvised stuff with Susannah and Tom- no, Albert, with Susannah and Albert Finney, all wet. And I said- oh, you'll never use it, you know. And Desmond did it, my operator did it, and it's in the movie, and I always felt very sorry about that, because I shouldn't have chickened out like that.

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: 3 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008