Cameraman tales: Poacher turned gamekeeper
After the parting of British Movietone News and United Press in 1963, it became necessary for United Press International Newsfilm, UPIN, to take on some staff cameramen who would operate 16mm film cameras. Because United Press did not wish to deal with the film union of the day, The Association of Cine, Television and Allied Technicians, ACTT, they asked Movietone to be the de facto employers of the cameramen.
UPIN took on a cameraman who became known for breaking union rules in a mad haste to make a name for himself. He would take out a sound camera to an assignment and travel without either a soundman or a lighting man. He would do both jobs himself. He was known among the opposition for his late arrival at locations and then setting himself up at the inconvenience of those who had arrived earlier. The early arrivals were obliged to make room for him.
He had joined the union and soon he became an active member. He was known to report anyone who stepped over the union line to his friends at union headquarters.
What do they say about converts ?
One day, I got a visit in my office from an ACTT official who accused me of using “cheap” freelance cameramen instead of ITN staff cameramen.
I pointed out to him that first, I was not able to use ITN cameramen because ITN could not guarantee that I could have use of an individual cameraman for more than two days at a time. For practical purposes this was more likely to be one day at a time. This was because of their shift patterns. Many of my jobs required a crew to work for anything from two days up to six weeks. In any case, I might not even have been charged for an ITN cameraman’s services since he was a staff cameraman.
The allowances and overtime for ITN crews working overseas were so outrageous that no one could afford them, not even ITN.
Then, I pointed out to the gentleman from, ACTT, they were news cameramen and I used documentary cameramen. This was not a slight on their competence, they worked in different ways that were not always conducive to the successful outcome of a documentary film. Indeed, most of the cameramen I used were also experienced newsreel cameramen, but they had also converted to the discipline of documentary work.
One example of the difference between a news cameraman and a documentary cameraman is that the former would check his camera gate every day, while the latter would check his camera gate after every shot. This he would do unless circumstances prevented him.
In the United Kingdom, I used the likes of John Abbott, a seasoned freelance documentary cameraman, Norman Fisher, Chief cameraman with Movietonews and Ron E. Collins from the same company. About that time, I was engaging Tony Mander whose credentials were unparalleled in the field of television drama and documentary.
Overseas, I worked with Vittorio Della Valle and Paul Badin, both formerly of Fox-Movietone in Rome and Paris respectively. In Africa, Sir Mohinder Dhillon of Africapix. In Cairo, I worked with Osman Mahmoud Osman, honoured by Kodak for his services to film.
Especially overseas, where possible, I would use established production houses on the basis that, if they could survive on the income from film production, they were unlikely to let me down.
Finally, I gave the ACTT man the example of the arrangement that I had made with the crews to be working on One Day Cricket series. I had four crews, all members of ACTT.
The Daily rate for a cameraman at that time was £15. I knew that my crews would be working from 11am to 7pm each day, virtually uninterrupted, so I paid them double.
There were three match days with spare days in between which might be taken up for re-arranged matches called off due to rain. As a result, I paid the crew for those days as well because, if a match was postponed to the following day, I did not want my crews taking up jobs for someone else on those days and then have to find replacements at the last moment.
So instead of paying the cameramen £45 each for the job, I paid them £150, this for five days work in 1970.
He seemed totally disappointed that he was unable to nail me. He had obviously been given a yarn about my behaviour.
At this stage, I should point out that the “organisers” at union headquarters in Soho Square had little or no previous experience in the film industry. They were professional union stewards. It was always my belief that they were hell-bent on destroying the British film industry.
I knew where he had got his information. Only our third man could have come up with a story like that.
A week later, I met him in Television House. I said to him “Get your facts right before you report me to the union and find yourself something worthwhile to do”. I added that “Hell will freeze over before I would consider using you as a cameraman”.
I was a member of the same union from 1964 to the early nineties, but when I needed their help, it was not forthcoming.
Additional link: You can’t touch me, I’m part of the union
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