I’d like to thank Tunji Akinsehinwa for his timely and eloquent article on this page in Issue 100. His call for change is one that must be expressed continually now lest we lose momentum. His parting shot that extolled the power of being a picker, “a chooser”, and that therefore change can be simply a matter of choice, was a powerful and memorable one.
We are heading back to work. That would seem to the main headline from the time since I last wrote. It is tentative and cloaked in uncertainty, but film sets are opening up again. As most people might have predicted, the “big beasts”, the large studio pictures that are contained mostly on stages and which possess the financial heft to manage the Covid protocols, have gone back first. The protocols laid out in the BFI/BFC report to the government, detailing (and I use that word reservedly) the methods by which crews will be kept safe were enough for the culture minister to announce a UK film industry up and running again. A good news story. I heard experienced producers being interviewed joyfully agreeing with the proposal that VFX can be used to tackle the issue of actors and SA’s intermingling and performing at close quarters. Would that it were so simple.
Most other productions have had to venture back with a more bespoke approach and with fingers crossed;6 and, it has to be said, with the government having agreed to underwrite film and TV productions to the tune of £500m (that was a good-news story). As someone recently said to me, outside the military, the film industry is probably the most ingenious, problem-solving, can-do body of men and women out there. And like the military, its success relies on an often unseen support structure, a corp of auxiliary workers who are as key to the success of a project as any on-set dept. In many respects they the unsung heroines and heroes.
The camera and facility house is where our work begins and they remain stalwarts to the the project throughout. Their personnel are key in the supply-chain of equipment and materials to the camera and lighting depts and without them we have, literally, nothing to work with. The task of sanitising equipment has become the new imperative whilst keeping kit in circulation. “I never would have guessed I would become such an expert in cleaning agents and their by-products”, says Hugh Whittaker at Panavision. He is not alone among his A.S.P.E.C* colleagues and indeed all the other rental and facility houses that serve our industry.
Testing is now underway again in most of the camera houses but with restrictions on numbers attending. Only the equipment that comes off the shelf is allowed to be tested. It’s frustrating for all of us who have previously relied on the ready to-and-fro of kit, parts and ideas but we must respect the workplace and its personnel. I think we can take it as read that all the companies concerned feel equally as frustrated. I would like to pay tribute to the all those companies and their employees (many still furloughed and who long to be back) for their tenacity and determination to keep open and find solutions to un-envisaged problems.
It would be good to know that those overseeing on-set sanitising are just as on the ball as our comrades in the rental houses. I’ve heard of Covid H&S on-set being outsourced to people who have no direct experience or knowledge of film production or its equipment. Hence, attempts to fumigate cameras and lenses with no thought to the electronics within. We should leave this to the experts.
I mentioned in my last piece, four months ago, that IMAGO was about to get a new President. We now know that person is Kees Van Oostrum ASC NCS. Many congratulations to him. It’s a significant development insofar as it also coincides with the ASC, in principle, joining and the AFC re-joining the federation. As a founding member, the BSC will stay a full participant in this pan-global project.
And finally....keeping with Health & Safety...it’s rare when the very thing we work with, light, becomes the story. And for it to become one now, during these days of scientific certainty (or lack of), lends the following some poetic resonance. Protests on the island of Ireland about switching lighthouse light sources to LED. The reason? The perceived loss of “The looming light” that locals associate with their land and seascape. “The most important objection is the reduction in the quantity and character of the beam”, writes a campaigner. Now I’m not going to argue against the environmental reasons for switching to LED but when people set up roadblocks and “unusual political alliances” are forged over the character of (a) light, then it kind of gives heart to cinematographers that we do indeed work with something deeply emotional and vital. Here’s to switching on some lights soon. We need it.
*ASPEC - Association of Studio and Production Equipment Companies.