Archive for Cry For Bobo

Through a Glass Darkly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by dcairns


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.

University Obituary

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.

The Sunday Intertitle: Think Positive

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 3, 2013 by dcairns


This intertitle is from CRY FOR BOBO — I made it out of lettering and borders I photocopied and stuck together, sourced from a book of naughty Victorian/Edwardian imagery found lying around in the office space we’d rented to make the film. It turned out that there was a print shop next door and I had them flip the white paper to black acetate, with transparent border and lettering. The day after the shoot was a Sunday, so we couldn’t return the camera gear until Monday, so cinematographer Scott Ward and assistant Steph Bates came in and shot some stuff, including the main title and this one, hanging them from lighting stands and backlighting them so the letters glowed. Scott tried a few fog filters, giving the glow a softness– like a 1970s movie set in the 1930s.

Strange how everything was so handy on that film. All the locations/sets (about fifteen of them for a ten-minute film — crazy!) were within half an hour’s walk of my house, as if I were Kubrick or something. But more than that, stuff fell into our laps.

The Glasgow Short Film Festival is going to show CRY FOR BOBO next Sunday in memory of Scott, along with THE PERPETUAL TWILIGHT OF GREGOR BLACK, a visually stunning film with oneiric rear projected backgrounds. Thanks to Matt Lloyd. Remembering that Scott had shot that film, I thought of using rear projection for our reconstruction scenes in NATAN, and Scott was able to put actor Niall Greig Fulton into backgrounds from LES VAMPIRES… Particularly apt since Bernard Natan was responsible, in a roundabout way, for the popularisation of the rear-screen process in Hollywood.

The screening is at 9:30pm at the CCA in Glasgow, accompanying the prize-giving. BOBO producer Nigel Smith and I plan to attend.

Cry for Bobo from David Cairns on Vimeo.

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.


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