Archive for Inside an Uncle

Sure sure

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on January 31, 2013 by dcairns


Friend, cinematographer, artist, teacher, Scott Ward, who photographed basically everything I made in the last twelve years, from CRY FOR BOBO on, just died. This was the first I’d heard he was even ill. As one friend said, “Of course. That’s exactly what Scott would do.” Part of what made him such an easy collaborator, and such a reliable, efficient creator of elegant, beautiful images was that he avoided fuss.

I had the easiest of relationships with Scott, a collaboration a bit like working with an actor, and I learned every bit as much as I have from the good actors I worked with: Scott’s camera always needed a motivation if you wanted it to move, which was a great lesson to me. He wouldn’t complain, as most actors don’t, but if you saw him looking unhappy he could tell you exactly what was wrong with the shot you were suggesting, and then, only if you asked (and I made it a point to), exactly how you could make it better.

It seemed like we picked up a new catchphrase or running joke together each time we did a film. “That seems like a plan,” was the first, a line we threw around on BOBO every time we arrived on set and worked out what we were doing. The last time we worked together, we found ourselves saying “Sure-sure,” rapid-fire, like Sid Musburger. “Where did that come from?” asked Scott. “The Hudsucker Proxy,” I said. “Yes, but why?” he asked.

I’d never met him before BOBO, and will always be grateful to producer/friend Nigel Smith for introducing us. Scott instantly endeared himself to me by his communicativeness, sensitivity and the gorgeous footage he created every single day. And he was fast, which a director always appreciates. I guess he’s also responsible for the title of this blog, since I asked about noir lighting when I interviewed him for the gig and he said something like “Yes, I flatter myself I’m quite good at shadowplay.” He sure was.

I learned every time I worked with Scott, and when I taught alongside him. He did a devastating critique of Stanley Kubrick’s use of candlelight in BARRY LYNDON — “Of course it’s interesting, but because they’re augmenting the candlelight you can see in shot with huge banks of hundreds of candles out of shot, you lose the flicker, and so what you end up with doesn’t look very much like candlelight at all. Certainly less like what you could get just by faking it with an electric light on a dimmer.” Same for the cab interiors in COLLATERAL, where they coated the whole vehicle with reflective stuff to bounce the light around, resulting in something spectacular but totally unrealistic. Scott could be very funny about the fetish for natural light: “It just seems weird to me that you’ve got all this other kit that you have to bring, but you’re not allowed to use your lights.”

And his greatest tenet, applied to film-making technique of course, but it seems to me applicable elsewhere in his life and ours: “You get rewarded for bravery, always.”

Scott filmed our “reconstructions” for the forthcoming NATAN, and I had no idea he was ill or that it was to be his last shoot. But I’m told by Minttu, his wife, that he was glad to finish his career with something about cinema. He loved cinema.


Scott (left) and me, INSIDE AN UNCLE.

Misadventures in Babysitting

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on March 4, 2008 by dcairns

This is a low-budget kids’ short I made for BBC Scotland and Scottish Screen’s Tartan Smalls scheme. It was fun to do Joe 90 sci-fi props and muck about with a childs’ eye view. But I guess I’ll never be Carol Reed or Alexander Mackendrick when it comes to directing kids. These boys were really good, but I didn’t know how to get the best out of them. I gained a lot of experience directing a couple episodes of a kids’ show called INTERGALACTIC KITCHEN afterwards, and feel I could do a lot better now.

But here’s how it SHOULD be done:

I like how the (very) little girl doesn’t seem to have been CONTROLLED, so much as turned loose with her dialogue. She swivels around and fidgets and she’s constantly in RANDOM MOTION, like a real kid.

It’s from THE NANNY, script by Jimmy Sangster, directed by Seth Holt. S.H. was an interesting chap whose career crosses from Ealing (he produced THE LADYKILLERS) to Hammer (he died – of hiccups — while making BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB). Holt was singled out by the iconoclasts at Movie magazine as representing the best hope for British cinema to escape its literary-inspired “tradition of quality” and achieve some kind of robust, authentic, home-grown cinema. It didn’t quite happen.

Holt’s NANNY star Bette Davis described him as “a tower of evil” and “the most ruthless director I have worked with apart from William Wyler,” which I assume was intended as praise, since Bette had a tempestuous affair with Wyler and made three great films with him. I wish she’d made more with Holt! Perhaps his failure to sleep with her ended that collaboration.

Come to Nanny

I can see why Movie rated Holt so highly — he’s gutsy, clever, and in THE NANNY, genuinely inventive and capable of exercising a tight grip on the audience’s emotions. TASTE OF FEAR (AKA SCREAM OF FEAR), the film Movie singled out as showing signs of real promise, is an above-par DIABOLIQUES clone with effective frissons (a corpse seated at the bottom of a murky swimming pool traumatized a young Tom Hanks when his mother mistakenly took him to see the film!). Even a piece of hokum like BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB has points of interest, from its frenzied character performances to its knock-out ending, which seems to anticipate Polanski’s THE TENANT.

More kidstuff: THE NANNY also features a turn from Perky Pam herself, Pamela Franklin, a Shadowplay favourite for her work in THE INNOCENTS and AND SOON THE DARKNESS.

Off the Map

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2008 by dcairns

City of Dreadful Night

The Sea of Phrenology

Smoke and Mirrors

These imaginary landscapes from Mario Bava’s HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, composited in-camera from miniatures, magazine cut-outs, and occasionally some actual life-sized live-action (tiny figures on the cliff on the right of [3]) may not be REAL, per se, but they have a physical existence beyond that of the digital landscapes of Zemeckis’ BEOWULF, and that seems to matter to me.

I hope I’m not a Luddite — I’ve used C.G.I. with pleasure in my short INSIDE AN UNCLE and the TV show INTERGALACTIC KITCHEN. But there’s a tendency to use it to tackle every problem nowadays, when maybe it’s only the right solution SOME of the time. For instance, did anybody find the computer generated bugs-crawling-under-the-skin in Stephen Sommers’ THE MUMMY half as disturbing as the bulges that traverse the body of the hapless inhabitee in Cronenberg’s SHIVERS? The difference is, one thing is incontestably THERE, in front of the camera, and the other, we know, isn’t.


I don’t think I need SAY anything to connect this post to our Nibelungen Week here at Shadowplay. A picture (or two) tells it better:

Cave canem

clan of the cave, bare

Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN is a magnesium-tipped arrow fired at the rooftops of epic entertainment, which overshoots and ignites a mausoleum of APOCALYPTIC GRANDEUR.

Bava’s HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD is a piece of cheeky matinee fun, with a slightly off-colour malaise lurking somewhere behind its Technicolor dioramas. Bava’s dark side always provides a subtly bitter aftertaste, while Lang’s is like swallowing one of those booby-trapped Monty Python chocolates where steel bolts shoot out through your cheeks.


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