Working as a cameraman for director Ken Russell was scary. One mistake and you’re out. Pity the poor PA who quipped that a shot of Ken’s looked like one from Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. “Beam me up, Kennie!” Where’d he go?
Tonight I’m going to work as an editor with director Peter Hall and writer John Barton. Together, they founded the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). I’m nervous. Will this be my BBC swan song?
It’s 6 p.m. and they’re here in my cutting room viewing my week’s work. Peter couldn’t be more different from the irascible Ken. While he knows Shakespeare and theater backwards, film editing and postproduction are new to him.
Peter: “Do you understand that we want it to look like a feature film rather than a stage production?” “Yes.” “Having seen it, do you have any suggestions?”
“The whole production could be tightened up. There are long pauses where actors walk in or leave the stage.”
“Chop away. Do whatever looks best. We’re in your hands.”
“Next, the rhyming couplets at the end of each scene don’t work. They reek of a stage production.”
“Agreed—cut them out. Shakespeare isn’t sacred.”
Orson Wells and Gregg Toland line up a low-angle shot.
John: “It’s called the WARS of the Roses. There are wars going on all the time. We shot some real cannons and soldiers fighting, but with hindsight, not nearly enough. There need to be battles scattered over the nine-hour series. You could even interrupt a scene with one. Create new battles from scraps. Étonne-moi.”
Amaze me! What a challenge.
I can’t wait to see my editing FOM, Simeon. Gleefully, he can’t wait to gossip about an RSC screw-up.
“They cut a hole in the expensive new stage to get low-angle shots.”
“Probably copying Orson Wells, who did the same for Citizen Kane.”
“Janet Suzman as Joan of Arc comes running with her sword upraised, there’s lots of smoke and, whoosh, she disappears down into the camera pit. She sprains her ankle badly and limps right up to the time she’s taken away and burned at the stake.”
Budget: What Budget?
“Simeon, John Barton wants me to add mini-wars throughout the nine hours. I can do it but I’m worried about the number of film opticals. The lab costs could be in the thousands.”
“No worries. It’s below the line.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Below the line, like when you need a new chinagraph pencil or a replacement lamp. Film opticals are the same. This is Aunty BBC, not the real world.”
All’s Well That Ends Well
The nine-hour program is a great success. I am offered a full-time staff job. It would be safe and cozy. I pass, needing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune—and friends, they were all there waiting for me.
Outrageous fortune indeed! I should be so lucky.