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Tom Jones: Technical difficulties with filters


Tom Jones: Technical difficulties with lighting
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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Tom Jones had some technical challenges. The first... the first challenge was the lighting which had to be sufficient to expose colour, which at that time was 50 ASA. The Eastman colour of the day was 50 ASA. It started at 25 ASA and then in 1954, I believe, and then some years after that they developed the next generation which was 50 ASA. Because the old Technicolor, people don't remember this, but the old Technicolor, with the three-strip monster camera, was the equivalent of 8 ASA, as was, in fact, Kodachrome. Kodachrome was 8 or 12, depending on whether it was daylight Kodachrome or tungsten Kodachrome. But in the days of the three-strip camera, those actors were virtually fried, you know. In fact, there's an illustration somewhere in some journal about the lighting of, I think it was, This Happy Breed, and it's a two-shot, a close two-shot, and each one of the two people has an arc on them which is at a distance of something like 6 ft. It says somebody was arced with two layers of silk in order to stop Celia Johnson burning up. This doesn't mean burning up only photographically, but it means literally burning up, because they were nearly fried. If you can imagine those huge Hollywood sets for the musicals and all that, all lined with arcs all the way round. At that time they didn't have brutes, they had a smaller arc which was just called the 175, whatever, according to the amperage. But the set was lined entirely with arcs, so the heat must have been phenomenal. They must have had very efficient ventilation, because otherwise the place would be red hot, right away. So in Tom Jones we had the opportunity to work with a 50 ASA material, but that was about half the speed of the black and white material of the time. So you had to have double the light. And, if you wanted to use the light mainly soft, mainly reflected, then again, that means that you had to use certain units. Because by the time it's reflected, there's less coming back, of course. I had already developed, I can't remember now. I developed a box light. It's just a great crate, like this. It was about that high and that wide, and it had 12 flat-fronted photo floods in it. And, we used that for some of the location stuff. That was specially made for us. And then we had some smaller, similar lights made, but smaller with six photo floods in them, which we used in the interiors later on. And initially the company that made these up, sort of said, well, we're afraid you'll have to pay for the... because nobody else wants this kind of light. And some years later, of course, I went to their storeroom and it was full of those lights, because everybody realised that they were quite useful for certain things. So we had this rather large soft light. Because if you had flat-fronted photo floods, first of all you had the choice of using spot floods or flood floods, there were two, there were milky fronted ones which were soft, and there were glass fronted ones which were, transparent glass, which were spots. And by mixing those you could achieve certain effects. Like in the interiors which we filmed in Londonderry House, which no longer stands, in Hyde Park Corner, next to the Hilton, I used a box of six of those lamps above each of the windows, I think there were four windows. And I put spot photo floods in the top range, so there were three spots in the top and three floods in the bottom, so the floods lit the area near the window, where there was also a certain amount of daylight coming in, and the spots lit the area further away, all in one go, as it were. So, the only place you can see that that doesn't always work terribly well is near the far wall, where somebody went... once Albert Finney comes in and he's got about 15 shadows behind him, which I didn't fancy. But that only happened when somebody was really close to the wall. Most of the time that worked very well. But for the natural interiors in Dorset and Somerset, we had this large soft light, you could call it a soft light. In some cases, like the scene where George Devine, playing the Squire Allworthy, is supposed to be dying, on his deathbed, that was the principle light source. It's a kind of three-quarter backlight and it just had that and a little bit of film. It makes a very nice atmosphere. And I used, I don't know if I used the 5k occasionally, but most of it... the largest light in most of those interiors is either a 2k or that particular large light, which I only used once or twice, and there's quite a lot of reflected light, just off polystyrene boards. Very simple, but very practical, because in some of these locations you're in a quite a small space. And, if it doesn't have a white ceiling, which is very handy for reflecting the light, sometimes you paint the ceiling white or you put white board up on the ceiling so you can use it for reflection, as we did in Taste of Honey in the various interiors. Then you can use- you can position little 2k or 1k, they call them inky... what do they call them? Redheads. In England they're called Redheads and Blondes, here they call them something else. Every country has it's own name for those things.

Anyway, you can have lightweight stands, a small light with barn doors so if you want to control the reflection, you just close the barn doors, open the barn doors and you get more or less reflection. It's a very simply way of working, but every effective, which I've used ever since; ever since that point.

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: lights, heat, actors, interiors

Duration: 6 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008