Through a Glass Darkly
I wrote an official obituary of my friend and colleague Scott Ward for Edinburgh University, and spoke about him at three screenings. I’m reproducing an edited version of what I said, partly for Scott’s friends, partly because you can’t talk about Scott without talking about valuable lessons, and so this material is of possible use to people who never met Scott, who never knew he was here at all.
Scott Ward (1966-2013), who died last week, was a cinematographer and a teacher of cinematography. He taught cinematography for both documentary and drama in Edinburgh College of Art’s Film and Television Department for close to ten years.
His two jobs, teacher and filmmaker, were quite contiguous: you couldn’t work with Scott without learning, not because he would lecture as he worked – he was far too efficient for that – more because of the questions he asked in advance and the conclusions he reached, and the sensitivity with which he put a plan into action.
Always calm, patient when he had to be, but briskly decisive when it was time, he made all his collaborators look good, by framing and lighting expressively, always taking the most interesting and courageous route but never overstating an effect or being guilty of the obvious. He raged – gently – against the problem of the “default film,” where decisions are made for reasons other than creativity. “You’re making a film so you think you need the latest camera and the best lights and the most expensive actors, but until you ask what the film is about, none of that can be assumed. You might not even need a camera at all!”
The whole film department at ECA is shocked at this sudden loss of an essential colleague and friend, somebody who could be consulted on any project, experimental, fiction or documentary, about any technical or creative question, and who had answers that were beautifully practical, that told you more about what you were trying to achieve as well as how to achieve it. And with enthusiasm, spirit and vision, generosity and humour.
Edinburgh College of Art Screening
If one were about to make a film — a crazy idea, but go with me — one would be looking for collaborators. And you would ask what sort of qualities an ideal collaborator would have? You would want them to be knowledgeable technically, aware of what could be done, but also knowledgeable historically, aware of what had already been done. You would want them to have good taste. You would want them to have that indefinable sensitivity that an artist requires. You’d need them to be hard-working and totally reliable. You’d like them to be pleasant to work with. You’d want them to be smart, not only so they could come up with ideas to help the project, but so they could understand your ideas swiftly, and make it clear that they’d understood. You’d want them to be able to do the job to a very high standard — and also to do it quickly.
Obviously, I’m talking about the ideal collaborator. But obviously I’m also talking about Scott.
Glasgow Short Film Festival Screening
You should all be so lucky as to work with somebody as good as Scott. And I don’t know realistically how that can happen now. The best chance is for us all to try to be more like Scott. This would mean being artistic without temperament. It would mean being brave without being foolhardy. It would mean being smart without being cautious. Scott said “You get rewarded for bravery, always.” So you have to figure out what it is you’re making, and make it the boldest, most exciting, most powerful version of that, that it can be. If we can all do that, then we’ll all have good films to watch.
Dublin International Film Festival
This premier is dedicated to Scott. He was already ill when he did our shoot, but we had no idea. When I heard he had died, I asked his partner if there was anything I could do, but she said, “You already did do something: you made his last shoot something about cinema and papier mache heads. He was so happy about that.”
The screening in Glasgow of CRY FOR BOBO was wonderful — the audience laughed at everything save the first gag (Nigel was right about that one — it IS too soon to get a laugh) and were generally appreciative, while the projection of our new HD copy of the film looked smashing. Glasgow audiences are known for sometimes being tough (one Music Hall comedian committed suicide after a particularly unsuccessful gig), and the last time BOBO showed there, in front of Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY, the audience was more interested in seeing the film they had come to see, which is understandable. (Though I did get a free ride through in an Edinburgh Film Festival limo, along with the gracious Mr. Cumming.) But this crowd, even though they were anxiously awaiting the results of the Short Film Fest’s awards, were very vocally responsive, in a nice way.
Thanks to Matt Lloyd and Morvern Cunningham for putting it on, and thanks to Brian Robinson and Simon Vickery for company. Thanks to everyone at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival for our screening, and to Emma Davie for organizing the showing at ECA.