Thursday 20 May 2010

Stephen Pickard: Chapter Three - Pinewood

It's time for another fascinating trip behind the camera with our friend on the inside, Stephen Pickard. This post is the first of a two-parter, capturing his 6 years spent at Pinewood. Read on for tales from a classic era of British film making. Stephen has also kindly provided me with a few bits of memorabilia....

Of the six or so years that I was an employee at Pinewood Studios, there are a few memories that I treasure the most....

In the autumn of 1968, the studio opened the new luxury viewing facility Theatre 7. This theatre could handle all the basic film formats 16, 35 and 70mm. I was fortunate to be chosen to be the third member of the projection staff. We ran a lot of 'dailies' or 'rushes' (footage that is shot the day before and shown to the director the following day). We would normally show them twice, in the morning would be the 'executive dailies' for the producers and in the evening for the director, crew and actors.

I was a big Bond fan at the time and the prospect of working at the studio where they were made was pretty exciting. Of all the people that worked on Bond, the one person that I was eager to meet was the editor, Peter Hunt. The Bond films were going through some changes at the time, the major one being that Sean Connery had just quit playing the lead. This was Hunt's first assignment as director, having edited all the previous ones and some 2nd unit direction. I remember when I encountered Peter Hunt for the first time. A voice came over the talkback in the projection room from the auditorium, "I believe you have some film to run for 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'". On one occasion Peter Hunt invited me down to the auditorium to watch a 'rough cut' of the pre-credit sequence. The titles themselves had not been made (Maurice Binder) and there was just a still shot of the title with James Bond 007 on the screen accompanied on the soundtrack, by the 'James Bond Theme'.

I witnessed several sets under construction on "OHMSS" including the 'casino' set and Blofeld's laboratory which I think was on Pinewood's then largest stage 'E'. This same large stage had previously housed the interior of Fort Knox for 'Goldfinger'!

When we were not busy I would wander around the studio and visit the various sound stages that were shooting or had sets under construction. They were identified by the production title on the heavy sound-proof doors. Once inside the first door you were in a small enclosed space with another similar door in front of you. This ensured that no unwanted outside sounds would enter the shooting area. There was also a red warning light that came on accompanied by a bell when shooting was about to commence warning you not to attempt to enter. Also there were locks on the doors. Often I would get trapped in the small area between the two doors and would have to wait to the end of the take so I could get out!

Here is a picture of Stephen at Pinewood in the seventies with a guest he was showing around. Stephen tells me that behind him is a large shooting stage door. At one stage, this door was painted red and used as the fire station building in "Fahrenheit 451".

Pinewood had extensive grounds at the rear of the studio, known as the 'back-lot', where all the exterior sets are constructed. The most memorable sets that I recall were the the 'city of Loudon'. This was a massive set that had a large cathedral at one end and a wall and other small buildings constructed in a circular fashion all in white. This was for Ken Russell's film "The Devils". The other set was the 'Baker Street' set for Billy Wilder's "Private Life of Sherlock Holmes". Unlike many sets that are 'struck' or destroyed after the film has finished shooting, this set sat around for several years and was utilised on several Pinewood productions such as the 'Carry On's and the Hammer film "Hands of the Ripper". Eventually, due to several of Britain's severe winters. the set was torn down. Unlike Hollywood studios where the climate is more even and hot. Outdoor sets can last for decades.

The 'Baker Street' set from "Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" is seen here utilised in Carry On At Your Convenience!

In October, 1969 I moved into Theatre 5 as a 'boom assistant'. This is the area where sound effects and voice recording is done. I worked in this theatre up until early 1974. During that time I was involved with virtually every film that came through the studio, including a few 'outside' productions. One example which stands out was Sergei Bondarchuk's epic of Napoleon, "Waterloo". The majority of the sound had to be re-recorded. It took many weeks to do all the sound effects. To add to this the film was to be a stereo soundtrack so the footsteps had to be recorded in a certain fashion. First the left channel, then the centre and right. Then we would have to do footsteps that were in foreground and background, which was the case with all films. When It came to do the dialogue, the two actors that took the most time and spent many days in the theatre were Christopher Plummer and Rod Steiger.

Actors, generally, do not like voice recording sessions, which is known under various names as 'looping', 'post-synch' and 'ADR' (automated dialogue replacement). When an actor or actress is on a set they are reacting to the other actor and their dialogue is recorded. This is known as 'production sound'. Normally much of this recorded sound is salvaged and used for the final soundtrack. There are several exceptions, extraneous noises on location, or unwanted overlapping dialogue (which is usually caught by the 'production mixer' and is recorded at the end of the scene and is known as a 'wild track'). There are other reasons, which are a little more major, such as a poor performance and even more extreme where they have to replace the actor's voice altogether (known as re-voicing). The most well-known person in this area is probably Robert Rietty. Robert was the supervisor of the extensive recording of voices on "Waterloo". By then he had become well known as a voice-only artiste despite the fact he has been seen frequently in small parts in films and tv shows since the 1950's. He was very nice person to know and very easy to work with. We used him many times during the time that I worked there. I would say his female equivalent would be Nikki Van Der Zyl.

When we recorded voices I would be sitting behind a desk in the auditorium with the actors with a log of the scenes in front of me. I would also have control of the level of the original production sound that the actor would watch and listen to to learn the rhythm of the recorded dialogue, then when they signaled that they were ready, I would re-route the audio to a headphone. The actor then looked at the screen and when a cue hit the screen (known as a 'wipe'), their dialogue was recorded. There are several important factors to consider; First the actor is standing in front of a microphone, sometimes on a cold and rainy Monday morning. The scene he\she is recording could be outside on a sunny day. When an actor is outside they instinctively project their voice according to the acoustical conditions surrounding them and the distance the other person is away from them. The actor has to forget that he or she is in a theatre and adjust their voice accordingly. Some actors could do this very, but many could not. It was because of this (and various acoustic technical details) that voice recording rarely worked. We were very aware of the shortcomings of the process and the crew, myself and the mixer made a lot of effort to make the actors feel comfortable and also to educate them on the process which was new to many actors. Many actors were very cranky, and this was not the best light to see them in, but we tried to understand this and were rewarded with meeting some very famous people.

On one occasion Lord Laurence Olivier came into the theatre to do some voice recording as Wellington for Robert Bolt's only directed film "Lady Caroline Lamb". Olivier was filming "Sleuth" at the time and he was only available in the evening, which was overtime for us. The production provided food for us from the cafeteria. Olivier was provided with classy salmon sandwiches from an outside caterer. When we took a break to eat, Olivier invited several of us to partake of one of his sandwiches. Nobody accepted, I was quick to realise that it was his way of breaking the ice in an attempt to make everybody comfortable. So I was the only one that accepted and I think he appreciated it.
It was very interesting to watch and listen to two talents discuss the motivation of the scene. Robert Bolt was a delightful, friendly easy person to work with and I got to know him very well and often we would bring up the discussion of David Lean. Robert was also very enthusiastic and expressive in his manner and at one point they almost crossed swords! Olivier briefly raised his classic voice and then quickly brought it under control. This was enough to make Robert realise that he had to back off slightly!

During this time I was promoted to Boom Operator and it was my job to set the microphone at the correct perspective. I had to look at the screen to firstly tell if the scene was outside or inside. We had along the walls these tall swivelling panels. One side was a hard reflective surface to reflect the sound for interiors.The other side was of a sound acoustical substance to help absorb the sound for exterior scenes.

It was during this time that Sean Connery came into the theatre to do voice recording for "Diamonds Are Forever". As the film was still shooting on the stages, we onle had Sean when he was available from the set. When he arrived he was 'in character' and was dressed in his traditional black suit, white shirt and bow tie. He was in good spirits and greeted everybody by name, except for me, as everybody else in our crew knew Sean from way back, probably before "Dr. No", possibly as far back as "Hell Drivers" in '57/8. Of the brief conversation I had with him he was very pleasant. During a break I had to show him the location of the men's bathroom! When we reached the hall we were stopped by a publicity girl who wanted a few words with him and after she left I made a remark to him that you couldn't get any peace even to go to the bathroom!

Here is a call-sheet for Diamond Are Forever, from Stephen's personal collection.

Sean came by one more time, as there was some dialogue, just a line or two, that was overlooked that needed to be recorded. Initially, they thought rather than bring Sean back, probably at great expense as he had finished on the film, they would atempted to record the lines with another actor (Robert Rietty). As talented as Robert was, he could not quite capture the quality of Sean's voice plus the fact that Robert's dialogue had to interact with Sean's. Eventually Sean returned, relaxed and refreshed, smiling at everybody, (this time including me!) and recorded the lines without a problem. At one point when we paused between recordings, I asked Sean what the status of the release of his film "The Red Tent" was. I recall he had made the film sometime ago and there was a delay in it's release. He said he didn't know. I saw him one last time, much later, in the US leaving the Beverly Hills Hotel and he smiled and nodded at me as he left, leaving me to think that he might just have recognised me!

Here's a fabulous shot, again from Stephen's private collection - This one is of John Barry recording the soundtrack to Diamonds Are Forever..... Stephen can be seen in the shot on the far right hand side!

There were many nerve-racking occasions when I would have to move the microphone on an actor during a line of dialogue where they would be speaking at a normal level and then change to a whisper. The microphone boom was the old-fashioned type made by Mole-Richardson, the newer light-weight ones used at the time were made by Fisher. I had to carefully manoeuvre the microphone close to their lips, sometimes as close as an inch. I recall that I had to do this with Sarah Miles, with her husband Robert Bolt in attendance, and I can say with much relief that I did not have an accident! This was also on "Lady Caroline Lamb". There were moments when she would raise her voice, she played a very highly-strung character in the film, and when an actress raises her voice and screams you have to be ready for it. Normally you are fore-warned. I had to extend the microphone arm and put what is known as 'edge' on the microphone which means to swivel the microphone a few degrees away from the direct line of the voice so that it can be recorded properly without distortion. On several occasions we had to work weekends and when it came around to lunch time, the studio restaurant was closed, we invariably piled into several cars and went to a local pub for lunch. On one occasion, Robert Bolt, Richard Chamberlain and our small crew all had lunch together. I sat next to Chamberlain and had a very nice conversation on how he made 'Dr. Kildare' at MGM in Culver City.

There was a lot of 'down-time' so I was able to wander for periods at a time. "The Devils" was one production that closed the stages to outsiders, including myself, as there was a lot of nudity involved. I recall that the Pinewood management weren't too happy what was rumored to be going on behind locked doors!

Very often at lunchtime I would go to the bar for a drink and would take a short-cut through the Restaurant, and often recognise actors and actresses' faces as I passed through. The bar was likewise filled with actors, directors and producers. On one occasion I went out into the gardens, accessible through the doors of the bar, and ahead of me leaning against a rail was Oliver Reed 'in character' as Father Grandier in "The Devils". What gave me courage I'll never know, probably my youth, but I went over and introduced myself. He looked up when I spoke and when I mentioned that we had had previously met at the Odeon, Elephant and Castle in 1967 he retorted "I remember you" in a somewhat cold voice! Next, I brought up the subject of Ken Russell's last film "The Music Lovers" which was yet to be released and was rumoured to be having problems with the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) that might affect it's release. At that point, Oliver growled back "Why Shouldn't It!" I did not know how to respond but recall that I said that I hoped it would. I thanked him for his time and left. Much later after the film had finished shooting I passed him coming out of the theatre, head shaved, and he was in a very jolly mood. He smiled and said a very warm hello. I watched him leave and, arm in arm with Ken Russell, they did a high-step dance as they approached Theatre 7!

I also went on the sets of "Carry On At Your Convenience" and "Up the Jungle" which was always fun to watch the professionals at work. It was interesting to watch how director Gerald Thomas behaved with the cast. He behaved like a father to them. After all, many members of the cast had worked together for thirteen to fourteen years since "Carry on Sergeant" in 1958, and were like a family. If one of the cast mis-behaved, which happened while I was there, he would discipline them like a teacher would a pupil.

One interesting experience I had at Pinewood was the day I projected the editor's color work print of "The Chairman" (Gregory Peck & Anne Heywood) for composer Jerry Goldmith. My first sight of him was when I was looking through the portglass into the auditorium. All of a sudden a smiling face appeared right in front of me, it was Jerry. The rear row of seats are right up against the back wall and when you stand up you can literally look through the portglass directly into the projection room. After the screening I went outside and introduced myself. I also asked him what the chances were of attending the scoring sessions. Fortunately for me he said yes! I think the recording sessions had just started and were to continue through the following few weekends at Shepperton Studios. So I made my way over to Shepperton, which was a tough place to get to when you don't have a car. This was my first time attending a scoring session (February '69) and it was a thrilling experience. At the end of the day I asked Jerry if I could bring my parents the next weekend and he agreed.
This was the time when they recorded the main title and some of the visitors attending were J. Lee Thomson and another person who closely resembled Hugo Friedhofer (I never did find out if it was him!) At breaks we would go outside and have tea and scones and chat with the musicians. My Father had a conversation with the pianist. When we went back inside the pianist started playing Rachmaninov. This was my Father's favorite composer, his name must have come up in their conversation. At the end of the day my parents and I went up to the podium to speak to Jerry. I introduced my parents to him and thanked him for allowing us to attend. We also met Joel, Jerry's son, who was just a young kid back then. Some days later I met the music editor, Thelma Orr. She used to be a continuity girl years before. She very kindly gave me a souvenir of the occasion, a quarter inch tape of some of the cues in mono.
Yet again, another facinating chapter. A very big thank you to Stephen for taking the time and trouble to write down his memories for us to read. Part two of the Pinewood years is coming soon, don't miss it!


Mondo said...

Incredible - what a role call of heavy-hitters, and probably the key time to be working on the Bond films. Love the John Barry photo.

Kolley Kibber said...

Larry Olivier gave him one of his sarnies!! LARRY!!

Heff said...

VERY cool post, man !

Piley said...

Amazing stuff isn't it Mondo, I love to read this kind of account. Big Bond fan myself, so particularly keen to see those bits. And how about Carry On At Your Convenience having Baker Street in it?!

ISBW - Yup, great insight isn't it? I can just picture the scene!

Why thank you kindly Mr Heff!


Anonymous said...

Facinating stuff. Kinda makes my working life look a bit humdrum (which sadly I new it was).


Martin said...

yet another fascinating account of Stephen's life in the film industry. I can't imagine I shall be looking back at my career with the same degree of fondness that Stephen must do.

Piley said...

Warble - yes I can vouch that your working life has indeed, mostly been humdrum ;-) (ugh)

Ta Martin, keep em peeled for the other part of the Pinewood years next month.


phsend said...

I love the Oliver Reed story, I can just imagine the awkwardness Stephen felt but its nice Ollie was much friendlier the next time!

Piley said...

Yeah, you can almost picture the whole scene can't you! Classic stuff.

I've relayed this before somewhere, but I once wrote to Ollie for a signed picture and he very quickly replied with a personalised photo signed in gold ink. It still remains one of my most favourite signatures in the collection.


phsend said...

Piley,I wrote to Ollie asking for an autograph too. He said he would only send me one if I promised to wrestle naked with him in front of an open fire.

Piley said...

oh well I did that too, I just didn't want to mention that here... doh!