A 16mm Film Crew Prepares… Commentary on the complex process of getting a simple interview

Whilst the sound recordist is connecting up his Nagra tape recorder, the camera assistant then declares that he is going to load the film into the camera magazine. He consults the cameraman (not the director) about the required length of film, and is told 200 (feet). The director elucidates: “that will give me, what, ten minutes?” a rhetorical question for the benefit of the eventual users of this filmed simulation. The assistant gets the film can from its metal storage box. The electrician turns on the blonde and, once he can see the kind of light it casts, begins to raise it on its tripod. The director, receiving the light into his face, jokes “that will improve my suntan”, emphasising, again for the eventual users, the heat that the light is emitting. The electrician remarks, somewhat obscurely, “we can light your soul”. The electrician asks the cameraman where he wants his key light but has to repeat his question in order to get his attention as he is concentrating on refamiliarising himself with the camera. The cameraman gets up and moves closer, pointing towards the light he wants and where he wants it.

Meanwhile the camera assistant has sat down on the storage box and found the big black lightproof bag in which he will carry out the procedure of loading the film into the magazine. As he goes to take the magazine from the camera body, he asks the cameraman’s permission to take it using the formula “just taking the magazine for a second, David, if that’s alright”, which asserts his intention and assumes consent. The crew are now into the second half of this particular set-up procedure, with an unexpected delay of a couple of minutes to come.

Sitting on the storage box, the camera assistant begins the skilled procedure of loading the film into the magazine. As the film is light-sensitive, this has to be done in a special bag which excludes all light. The assistant therefore has to do this by touch only, a craft skill which required considerable practice. He begins by taking the sealing tape off the film can, placing it in the bag, opening the magazine, placing that in the bag, zipping and sealing the bag and putting his hands into the bag’s special sleeves. He then tells the simulation filmer who is following his actions, “if you want to go to something else, I’ll tell you when I’m coming out of the bag”. Presumably he says this as his next actions would simply look like fumbling around, or because it has already been arranged that he will give a separate blindfold demonstration of this activity later on for the simulation cameras.

While this is going on the process of lighting continues. The electrician turns on the key light and the cameraman asks for some ‘paper’ diffusion on it “if you don’t mind”. The electrician offers the alternative of further closing the ‘doors’ on the light to reduce its intensity but the director refuses this. The electrician then asks whether he wants the light to be raised. There is a problem with the simulation microphone that he is wearing at this point and he is briefly called to the side to fix it.

Meanwhile the sound recordist is reconsidering the placing of the microphone as he is watching the evolution of the lighting plan. He asks the cameraman whether the boom should be placed on the other side of the interviewee’s chair, and the cameraman consents “I think it might, if that’s all right with you”. The sound recordist is visibly pleased that this suggestion is accepted. As he positions the microphone, he enters into a light-hearted conversation with the director, who is still sitting in the interviewee’s chair, about what he is doing. He progressively moves the microphone closer to the director, to ensure a better sound pickup. The director questions this and the sound recordist says in mock resignation “I’ll push my luck until I’m moaned at”, emphasising (in role this time) the perceived subservience of sound to image in the filming process.

The film loading and setting of lights continues. The cameraman sits listening to the talk between the sound recordist and the director. The assistant, with the simulation camera back on him, remarks that it is “a little ugly” to be loading the magazine on set and embarks on a humorous anecdote about how “a little old lady” mistook the activity of an assistant loading a magazine whilst sitting in his car for something more dubious: probably another oft-told anecdote.