Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Jack Cardiff with Ricardo Coll (cameraman) at Pinewood Studios.

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010)

Opened: 09/10/2010 Limited

Sunset 5/LA09/10/2010 - 09/16/20107 days
Quad Cinema/NYC05/13/2011 - 05/26/201114 days
Sunset 5/LA06/03/2011 - 06/09/20117 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated


Cameraman illuminates a unique figure in British and international cinema, Jack Cardiff, a man whose life and career are inextricably interwoven with the history of cinema spanning nine decades of moving pictures' ten. The phrase "legend" is all too frequently used in Hollywood, yet Jack Cardiff's story surely proves him truly worthy of that title.

On March 25, 2001, fifty-four years after winning his first Oscar® for his stunning Technicolor cinematography on Black Narcissus, Jack Cardiff was the first Cinematographer ever presented with an Honorary Oscar® for:

"exceptional distinction in lifetime achievement; exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences; and for outstanding services to the Academy."

In this unique insight into Jack's life and work, the master himself explains how he helped elevate cinematography to an art form and made history with his groundbreaking vision and technical wizardry in A Matter Of Life And Death, The Red Shoes, The African Queen, The Vikings and many others.

Amongst many fascinating revelations and anecdotes in the film, Jack relates what it was like to work with Hollywood's greatest icons, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas and Sophia Loren.

Martin Scorsese passionately guides us through Jack's films and tells us why they have had such an influence on him. "I began to have a very strong affinity towards British Cinema, because of my recognition of Jack Cardiff's name."

Packed with stunning High Definition clips from classic movies and over twenty original interviews with the world's greatest actors, directors and technicians, Cameraman explores Jack's life and work in compelling detail, scope and intimacy. The film is not only a unique and valuable testimony to British and international cinema history; it's a humorous and informative one too -- an amazing story about an exceptional life.

Director's Statement

Unfortunately, Jack passed away in April last year but I am so glad I had the opportunity to commit his life to film while he was with us. I felt it was very important to not make a posthumous biography, as he is such a great storyteller. Many films about artists made after their death may be accurate but can be a bit soulless, literally.

Interviewees: they had to be there and be filmmakers

This film is a tightly woven tapestry of personal testimonies rich in detail and emotion that draws you into the world of those telling the story. I wanted to make sure the baton of Jack's life was passed from one filmmaker to another, mixing household names with lesser-known filmmakers.

The use of narration is ubiquitous in documentaries simply because it works and is well established. However, it can easily become a crutch to prop up films that lack in-depth research. I wanted to avoid narration and present this tour of cinema history in the first person, allowing Jack -- and those who knew and worked with him -- to tell the tale.

A complete story

Almost all documentaries of a certain scale in the UK (with rare exceptions) are made with television commissions as their primary source of funding. However, because of the level of research we wanted to undertake and the sheer number of interviewees we wished to film, television commissioners shied away, not because of the content but because the project's ambitious nature didn't fit within the usual timetable and slot requirements. They wanted the film, not the production difficulties that went with it. I am very glad that being independent allowed me to pursue and obtain all the interviews I needed to tell the whole story, a story that spans many decades of film history and obtaining films in full restored HD to be viewed in the cinema.

The film will stand not only as a testament to Jack but to all those who participated, many of whom have now sadly passed away but I am so pleased to have included then in this film.

--Craig McCall

Interview with Craig McCall

So how did this all begin? How did you first meet Jack?

About 1994 I was working for EMI directing music videos, and Jack was there to direct a version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. So we were both in the same production area, and I had a clockwork camera which he also wanted to use. He'd heard that snow had fallen in Venice and wanted to dash off and get those images before the snow melted for his film. He said the camera was perfect as it was small and discreet. I said he could use it and that's how I started chatting to him.

He made me a cup of tea, and someone said: "Do you know who he is?" and I said "No." I knew a couple of his films, I'll be honest, I didn't know them all. I asked to meet him sometime later and he told me a couple of people had wanted to make a film of his life but they failed to get them off the ground. I asked if I could do so and he agreed. I shot a pilot, and looking at the rushes the other day - the first footage of him is in June 1997.

And what happened with the pilot?

The pilot was praised but there were no takers in British broadcasting so it kind of sat around for a couple of years. But it kept coming back to me. I was looking for another project to get my teeth into, something more than my mainstream work. I then persuaded a postproduction company Smoke & Mirrors to co-produce it and we began with our money, Modus Operandi Films, and theirs.

I wanted to shoot on film, and we started with the people close to us at Pinewood, Sir John Mills, Freddie Francis, and then we carried on Stateside and started to get the other people - Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, and carried on. It took about two years to get everyone in the can, and the final one was Martin Scorsese, who was keen but the logistics of his life made it very difficult to pin him down. Once I had him, though, I felt I had everybody I needed.

Was it Jack Cardiff's name that opened those doors?

Absolutely, without question. For instance, Kirk Douglas had stopped doing interviews for a while after his stroke, but he contacted us and said he wanted to do it, which was fantastic. So there was definitely a lot of love towards Jack, whether it was actresses or production people or directors. And it's genuine. They're not interview junkies. They're doing it because they really want to do it, because they genuinely want to convey what Jack brought to their movies.

The Cameraman documentary has been a labour of love 13 years in the making. What were the major hurdles you had to overcome, and were there ever times when the difficulty of putting it together made you wonder what you'd let yourself in for?

The working title of the film was Persistence Of Vision, and the one thing you need, over and above everything else as an independent filmmaker, or anybody who's trying to achieve anything, is persistence. If you're persistent and all that brings with it, I hope you succeed, and you should succeed, you deserve to succeed.

No one would sit and say "That's fine, I'll spend the next thirteen years on one project." It's not bleeding heart but it does take a lot of sacrifices. Every weekend: the next bit of letter writing, the next bit of funding to raise, the next bit of equipment you've got to get. And it can definitely break your spirit and get you down, make you want to wrap it all up and give it somebody else. So you need to come up with a cycle, just to keep going to get it out there, and for this film it's definitely accelerated in the last year.

So the funding came through at just the right time, at a time when you weren't sure it was going to come?

Well, Jack passed away last year, April 2009, and it's a delicate thing to say but some people have suggested that it brought things to the boil. I've had an edit of the film for years, and perhaps - whether it's right or not - that did bring it to light. Last year the British Film Institute decided to do a retrospective of Jack's films at the Southbank, London in May 2010 and that gave me a marker, a deadline.

I knew come hell or high water I had to completed the film for then, in the best form I could. I took a loan against my flat and decided even if I couldn't raise another penny - I had to have something to run as part of that retrospective. I managed to get completion funding from the Lottery and a private investor. In the end, I probably got the type of budget I always wanted, so I could transfer all my film rushes on to High Definition, and acquire when possible clips from Jack's films from restored versions of his movies and finish the film properly, get it out there in a form which I think is most accessible and watchable.

Despite the negatives, the hurdles you had to overcome in making Cameraman, what were the high points that made it all worthwhile?

It sounds philosophical, but to learn every day is an incredible way to get through life, and with this project I feel like I'm rummaging around film history, opening boxes and seeing films... here's one Ava Gardner film that everyone knows, and here's another that no one knows... It's incredible. I feel I'm in a warehouse of cinema history switching on and off lights. Maybe that's an obvious metaphor but it's just fantastic, and through Jack's life I'm going backwards and forwards through decades. Shots of Marlene Dietrich in a bathtub. Stories about Orson Welles insisting they give him a mink-lined coat so he can nick it for Othello. The extremes of conditions working on The African Queen, and yet the result is just so fantastic. So for me, coming out of this, I feel warm, like I've learned a lot, and I also feel it's what I'm good at, connecting things up. I use film to connect things up, to make sense of the world. So this is what I'm about.

How did it feel to have Jack place such trust and confidence in you by giving you access to the archive, his portraits, behind the scenes footage and paintings?

I didn't know what a treasure trove Jack's archive was. When we began on the pilot I started to have an indication that he'd been very good at keeping production stills from his films, and then I started to see prints of the actress portraits he took when he asked them during the filming - Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe - and he would do private sittings with them off-set.

I realized that all these visual elements would start to make a richer more detailed film, and that got me excited. His trust in me... it's a two-way thing. I think that by doing the pilot and showing him what I was going to do made it less abstract. But yes - it was trust, and I guess he saw a couple of earlier films I'd made and realized I took a certain path, and I was very honest about how I was dealing with things.

As well as telling Jack's story, Cameraman also gives us a history of Technicolor cinematography. Was that a subject you were already interested in, and did telling Jack's story allow you to put the two together?

It's literally impossible to tell Jack's story without running in tandem with the story of Technicolor, particularly Technicolor Europe, particularly Technicolor in the UK, and the Powell and Pressburger films - their use of colour at that time, the attention to detail they brought to it, it's a seminal block that people still rely on: it's why Martin Scorsese refers to them. It cost about a third more to make a Technicolor film, so in America it was mainly used for musicals and outdoor pictures whereas the English use of Technicolor was in a different way - not just the Powell and Pressburger films but also other films Jack shot, like Scott Of The Antarctic and Magic Box. So when these films were shown in America and other places people were drawn to them by the colour, but they were also drawn into a different world - so that's Jack's story. It's totally interwoven with the use of colour and the rise of Technicolor in Europe.

What would you like to see new audiences -- those with no prior knowledge of Jack Cardiff's work -- take away from a viewing of Cameraman?

There's a phrase Jack uses that didn't make it into the film, but the film is summed up in that phrase about how he gets his ideas onto screen "I'd call it a transference of emotion." He said. I'd like people to come away entertained and inspired and for a little piece of the way Jack made films to be transferred to them, because Jack's a model of getting on in the world, always being open-minded, and that openmindedness can keep you going.

And, similarly, what can Jack's innovations in cinematography teach filmmakers in today's digital age?

I think the film will always answer that better than I can say here verbally. The last hundred years have been celluloid-based filmmaking and when you see the credits you can see where the camera work has ended and the effects have started and editing and the music... Now, that line has become more and more blurred, not just in special effects films but a whole plethora of films. If there's a fire in the background you don't know if it was shot in camera or put in digitally. And Jack loves and says in the film, he thinks the standard of photography is much better these days: (in his day) they were encumbered by lots of difficult things, incredibly hot lights and very big cameras. I think the film says: it's your imagination. Jack tried to use his imagination as much as possible to get as much achieved for the filmmakers and the story. I think young filmmakers must keep realizing that Jack used the boxes in an innovative way back then, but whatever the new box is, it's the imagination coupled to the box.

Sadly, as mentioned earlier, Jack passed away in April 2009. What are your lasting memories/impressions of the man and the artist you came to know?

He's very funny, and he had a lot of life running through him. He did a lot and he loved a lot and he sucked every moment out of every day that he could. If he couldn't be on set he'd be painting, if he wasn't painting he'd maybe be doing a draft of a screenplay. He genuinely absorbed a lot from life and gave back quite a lot of it. He definitely fitted into that circle of life and the best end of filmmaking.

A fitting testament to someone who began work in the industry at the age of four...

When we showed it to an audience for the first time and Jack comments "I began in 1918" you hear gasps from the audience. It's almost like a voice from an archive movie. It just incomprehensible that someone who was still working in 2005 began in 1918 as a child actor. It isn't just that having survived in the industry for ninety years is inherently interesting. It's interesting because of Jack's path. He can mention Marlene Dietrich and Sylvester Stallone in the same breath and he can even go back to Will Rogers.

Did he talk very much about his feelings on directing? To most of us he's renowned as a cameraman, maybe less so as a film director...

Yes, and it's a double-edged sword. Jack directed about a dozen films; the most acclaimed by far is Sons and Lovers. It's the most solid film, was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It meant that Jack was up against Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder, and it was Hitchcock that was most perplexed because Jack was the man that shot Under Capricorn for him, and I guess Hitchcock thought directors were directors and cameramen were cameramen... I think he was just surprised. But I believe he and Jack went up to Hitchcock's Malibu house - Jack's got a lovely photograph of Hitch sitting in a deckchair at sunset. Maybe they're both sitting there consoling themselves that Billy Wilder was actually the winner that year!

Having spent 13 years, a big slice of your life, working on this film, can you actually face doing something else in the same vein, knowing it could be such a climb?

I can't make another film that takes 13 years because after I finish that one I'll be a pensionable age. If it were filmmakers, there are two people: one of whom is incredibly famous, and maybe it's because I'm Scottish and I received money from his foundation money for my first film when I was 18, and that's Sean Connery. He's such a public figure, such a public face that I think there's an inspiring story there, a compelling, detailed story. I would start with a film he produced called The Offence - whether Mr Connery would agree with that or not I don't know. The other person is a hero of mine, a great filmmaker but like Jack not as well known. He's a director and a writer. He's Paul Schrader. I think there's something about Paul Schrader, what he's brought to the screen and what he continues to try and do... I think there's a story there, also to do with his childhood. As far as I know, Mr Schrader grew up without exposure to films until he was about 18. Anyway, off the top of my head, there are two. If either of those filmmakers ever read this, hopefully they won't find it offensive that I suggested I'd have the temerity to make a biography of their life.

Crew Biographies

CRAIG MCCALL (Director/Producer)

Craig McCall began his career at Bournemouth & Poole College of Art and Design where he wrote and directed a number of experimental and narrative dramas. He was the youngest recipient of a Scottish Film Council bursary for his first film Solo which he independently produced and directed and reflected his tenacity, given his age at the time (19) and the fact that the current structure of Scottish funding and support was not then in place. He graduated on his second short film Iced, made with a Fuji Film scholarship.

After graduation, he filmed and co-directed the silent travelogue documentary, Nomad, for Channel 4 Television. In 1993, he directed the award winning documentary Notes from Underground in association with the British Film Institute, which was widely praised as an innovative and informative exploration of the independent music scene in the UK and was released theatrically, supporting Reservoir Dogs in London.

Always open to innovative projects, Craig developed a niche in location-based productions, filming with small crews on lean budgets with a strong focus on production values captured in-camera, filming all over the world. His approach was vindicated when EMI commissioned his first music video in 1994. It was shot on the streets of Brooklyn with a clockwork 16mm camera, yet became the most played and one of the most successful videos on MTV that year.

Craig's independent film work runs in tandem with his established career as a director of commercials and music videos. In recent years, he has written, produced and directed two documentaries exploring the Technicolor photography on two Powell and Pressburger movies: The Colour Merchant on A Matter of Life and Death and Painting With Light on Black Narcissus. These documentaries proved to be commercial and creative successes, with worldwide distribution through The Criterion Collection (USA) and the Institute Lumiere (France) respectively. They have been screened at festivals worldwide, including: Edinburgh, Turin, Tokyo, Lodz and Venice.

RICHARD McGILL (Co-Producer)

Richard McGill is a producer with 20 years experience. He cut his teeth working for BBC television drama as a location manager and an assistant at EMI at the height of the music video boom in the '90's. In 1994, he set up Modus Operandi Films with director Craig McCall. Modus Operandi's first film Notes From Underground, made in association with the British Film Institute, was a stylized documentary examining the proliferation of underground club culture in Glasgow in the early 1990's. The film won a number of awards and was distributed theatrically backing Reservoir Dogs in cinemas. The company has since successfully operated in the fields of music video, commercials and documentary film making. The company's commercial clients include BBDO, Allianz, Reed, Jaguar, Virgin Records, EMI, and Land Rover.

Richard has produced two feature films Bodywork (Gareth Jones) and Brave (Richard Stanley.) He was also producer on two major drama documentaries for Discovery Channel/Atlantic Productions: The Mysterious Death of Cleopatra (Lisa Harney) and Columbus: Secrets From The Grave (Tom Pollock.)

Cameraman has been a long time in development and its release this year is a testament to Craig McCall's tenacity and passionate commitment to seeing the film made. Richard has been involved since the pilot film some years ago and is proud to see this definitive biography of one of British cinema's greats finally come to the public. "If something's worth doing, it's worth doing it right!" has been Richard's motto throughout the sometimes difficult gestation of this film. "My vindication and reward for this long production process will be sitting in a cinema with an audience who are fully appreciating the artistry and personality of the great Jack Cardiff -- with a big smile on my face."


Previous projects include cutting two episodes of the BBC's hit series 'Cranford' and, just for the contrast, horror feature 'The Task', directed by Simon Fellows. He was also Assembly Editor through the shoot of John Madden's feature 'Killshot'. He now lives with his wife and two daughters in Crouch End, London.

CHRIS DICKENS (Associate Director)

Chris Dickens ACE graduated from the Bournemouth Film School in 1990 and began his filmmaking career as a film and linear editing assistant in television documentaries at Channel 4 and the BBC. During this time he began to cut comedies and later he crossed over to cutting dramas.

While working on the TV series Spaced, Dickens developed a relationship with writer-director Edgar Wright and went on to edit his first feature film, the cult hit Shaun of the Dead. Other features edited by Chris Dickens include Gone, Hot Fuzz, Goal, The Dream Begins and The Seed of Chucky, but he is best known for his work on Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire.

Chris has received several award wins and nominations, most recently the Academy Award® for Film Editing, BAFTA Award for Best Editing, and the American Cinema Editors Award for Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic), all for his work on Slumdog Millionaire. He is currently cutting Paul, for director Greg Mottola.

JAMES WELLAND (Cinematographer)

London based Director of Photography JAMES WELLAND graduated with an MA in Political Studies from the St Andrews University in 1984 and with an MA in Film from The Royal College of Art in 1989. Early work as a cinematographer included music videos, documentaries and the feature films Wittgenstein for Derek Jarman, Three Steps To Heaven for Constantine Giannaris, and Divorcing Jack for David Caffrey. Since then work has alternated between television drama, commercials and feature films; the latter including The Last Minute for Stephen Norrington, Beautiful Creatures for Bill Eagles, Undertaking Betty for Nick Hurran, Casablanca Driver for Maurice Barthelemy, Palais Royal! for Valerie Lemercier, and Magicians for Andrew O'Connor. Projects in the last year have mainly been for television, and include Hancock And Joan for Richard Laxton, Spooks and Mistresses for Peter Hoar, and The Fixer for Sam Miller. Member of the Guild of British Camera Technicians and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

BOB WILLIAMS (Cinematographer)

Thirty years' experience in film and commercials has taken BOB WILLIAMS from New York to New Zealand and Vietnam to Vancouver, in fact to every continent on Earth. Since he abandoned his first point-and-shoot camera for movie equipment he has seldom been far from a live set. As a DoP with an arts background he combines creative ingenuity with the know how to handle budgets of all sizes. His travels have equipped him to value different cultures and understand their role in the movie and advertising worlds.

Work in all formats and an armoury of the best equipment -- which now includes the ingenious high-definition RED camera -- have brought him innumerable accolades including Best Cinematography at the L.A. Film Festival and a nomination for Best Picture at the BAFTAs.


Mark began his career aged 16 at Morgan Recording Studio in London before signing a major recording contract with EMI in 1984. After writing the music for his first TV commercial in 1985 he realized his true passion lay in sound-to-picture composition and he founded The Music Sculptors studio in 1988. Since then he has become one of the most successful composers of his generation with credits ranging from some of the UK's finest documentary series, including Who Do You Think You Are, Cutting Edge and Not Forgotten, to the prime time TV dramas Where The Heart Is, A&E and Superstorm. On a lighter note Mark has also written the scores for the Working Title rom coms Double Bill and Come Together and the BAFTA award winning animation First Snow of Winter, along with over 100 episodes of animation and children's programming including Tractor Tom and Hedz. During his career he has also recorded many of the leading names in the music industry including David Bowie, Sir Elton John, Iron Maiden, Bono, The Cure, Dr John, Madness, Black Sabbath, Courtney Pine, Tom Jones, The London Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Philharmonic, The English Chamber Orchestra and recorded and produced the massive BBC single Perfect Day.

MILES GLYN (Art Director)

Miles Glyn trained as a fine artist and worked in the film industry in many Art Department roles, currently he is a freelance 3D Artist working in Soho's post production houses, bringing his 'real world' filmmaking experience to the ever expanding world of digital film making. During his free time he can be found creating stop motion puppets and films, taking great pleasure in the hands on rough and ready imperfection of it all.

Working on this project was massively inspiring and left me with a passion for Technicolor, the art and craft of film lighting, the work of Jack Cardiff and the films of Powell and Pressburger.

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