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Reelin’ in the Years: Not Dark and Fuzzy

1870 • Caught in the Act

Let’s start our story in 1870. In England, parliament passes the Education Act providing free schooling to children between the ages of 5 and 13.

A hundred years later and it’s time to celebrate with a movie about education in the modern 1970s. The government very sensibly choses a team who knows nothing about education in the UK. Tricia and I were both educated at private schools in Australia.

Our brief: “We don’t want to see kids sitting behind desks. Show them learning by experience. On their feet, outside, building things, in real situations. Nothing staged, no lights.”

No lights in 1970 means I am forced to use high-speed 16mm reversal film (Kodak 7242), the same as used for Albert and David Maysles’ Gimme Shelter.

1970 • Showtime

Cardellini Mini Clamp with Manfrotto Micro Ball Head

Our client, the Department of Education and Science, is thrilled with the result and a premiere screening is planned at the National Film Theatre in London. My film will be introduced by the minister for education (soon to be prime minister), Margaret Thatcher.

On stage, Thatcher talks about how she liked our film. “It’s all real. Nothing has been set up or staged. The filmmakers didn’t use lights, which is why some scenes are dark and fuzzy.”

How dare she! My work is perfect. It’s grainy, but there are no “dark and fuzzy” shots. At the reception, I have to be held back from telling her off. Then suddenly she’s gone.

1971 • No More Dark and Fuzzy

1971, a year later, the Department of Education and Science gives me a commission about a group of researchers in Scotland studying “children’s thought and language.”

As the situations are more structured, I plan to shoot with a tripod, use lights and shoot on a slower, sharper film stock, Kodak 7252.

2008 • I Want to Use My Umbrella Lights

2014, “We Built A Ship.” Frame grab from a 3D GoPro HERO3 hanging upside down from Cardellini Mini Clamp.

I want the same setup I used 37 years ago. I search the Internet for a similar system of clamps and connectors and discover Steve Cardellini. Even better, he lives only a few miles away.

I turn up at his house with the 1971 photo. “Can you build something like this?”

A day later he has everything set up and working in his living room just like the ’71 photo. I want more from Steve and buy a collection of tube connectors, clamps and ball heads.

2015 • My Secret Weapon

Last weekend, I hung a GoPro from our bedroom ceiling looking down for a top shot for Tricia’s “How to Fold a Sheet” video.

For my 3D shipbuilding epic, I hung cameras from the ship’s wooden frames, from the top of a band saw and from a fork on a forklift—shots I could never have achieved without Cardellini clamps—and all because of Margaret Thatcher’s hurtful words, “dark and fuzzy.”