Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 2 (May 1, 1939)

Highways and — … Byways — The Making of the Centennial Talkie— — “N.Z. 1840–1940”

page break

Highways and
… Byways
The Making of the Centennial Talkie—
“N.Z. 1840–1940”

Mr. H. H. Bridgman checking up for the filming of a sequence.

Mr. H. H. Bridgman checking up for the filming of a sequence.

1940—the year of the New Zealand centenary will mean many and varied things to a diversity of people. To those, however, who see behind the celebrations themselves there is this important fact: New Zealand is putting her historical house in order. A great many of the early stories of our country have been lost because no one thought it was worthwhile to write them down. Alas, with the death of many of our early settlers there perished forever stories of courage, daring and romance. It is a tribute to the pen of men like James Cowan and others that with untiring efforts they have sifted out the facts of our history and recorded so many of them.

It has been shown all too clearly in the past that the real history has been the life of the people—a history not contained in official documents and one that can, for New Zealand, often be recaptured only by hours of patient listening in all manner of places.

Some are contributing by writing, others by various forms of art, and one of the most valuable of these will be the film illustrating the growth of New Zealand which is being produced by the Government.

This month, deserting once more the highways, we follow a byway to spend a day on the film location situated a few miles out of sunny Tauranga.

The setting was chosen for its suitability for filming scenes against bush, farming or domestic backgrounds. In a patch of bush to the left of the ploughed paddock is a rough hut made of punga fern with a canvas fly over the top for a roof. This is the setting for the filming of the pioneers in their first temporary home. About fifty feet away where the bush opens out into a clearing, another home is being built in feverish haste, for this is the more permanent home of the settlers, and as the day is bright nothing must hold up the “shooting.”

On this location, it is learned that a portion of the 1840–1860 part of the film is being produced. Few people will
A serious talk about the Maoris

A serious talk about the Maoris

realise, as they sit in plush cinema seats in 1940, the hardships which really faced the pioneering camera party as they filmed the sequences in sound out in the open. Hollywood, because of the heavy expenses involved, is very reluctant to go out on location at any time and only does so when the content of the story to be filmed necessitates it. More important than the costs factor, however, are the complications faced by the sound engineers, trying to record in the open, and the camera party “shooting” in the field with constant changes of lighting and a host of other difficulties of a technical nature.
On the set at Tauranga ordinary day-light was used for the “shooting.” page break
Una, Bob, and Lewis discuss a trip to town.

Una, Bob, and Lewis discuss a trip to town.

Direct sunlight assisted by large flat silver reflectors was used. This can be readily seen from the illustration where the director, Mr. H. H. Bridgman, is checking up the alignment of one of the cameras prior to the filming of a sequence (aided by an assistant on the right) holding one of the silver reflectors.

Una Weller, who is quite well-known in Wellington elocutionary circles, is in position ready for a take outside the punga hut. She is playing the female lead for this portion of the film, and Mr. Bridgman considers her very well-suited for the part, typifying the fine stamp of woman who came to New Zealand as a pioneer. In the background can be seen the bush, and surmounting it, billowy clouds set in a clear blue sky—a setting which should be a feature of this portion of the film.

Mr. Bridgman struggles with a heavy tripod trying to set it up in the middle of a patch of fern or blackberry. Always, in the bush, an axe or a most efficient chopper was a regular part of the camera equipment, for it was necessary at times to sever thick vines or tough branches that barred the way for the “shots.”

A sequence in the script, timed to take place at night, was being rehearsed late in the afternoon. Action was all passed and Mr. Bridgman asked for the sound.

There was a sound through the headphones that suggested it wasn't all right.

“What's the trouble? Is the mike picking up the milking noises from the farm?”

The “shooting” had to proceed.

These and many more troubles have to be encountered when recording away from the sound stage. On another occasion the filming of a tree felling sequence necessitated making a rough track through the bush so that the sound truck could be taken in close enough for the microphone to record the axe blows of the felling. The sound recording mechanism is housed in a big V8 wagon which takes some skill to manoeuvre, especially on a rough bush track, but the journey in was accomplished all right. The “shooting” of this sequence was a dangerous enough job for it meant that only a wind had to spring up or some other factor cause the tree to fall the wrong way and it would have been good-bye to cameras, amplifiers, microphones and a great deal more incidental equipment of all sorts, together with an expensive sound truck. However, the scene was necessary, and, unde, the expert guidance of Mr. Rogers, the felling commenced.

Two cameras were lined up a few feet away from the foot of the tree, and another further back for a long “shot” to take the tree and follow it down as it crushed. It took about an hour or more to get the cameras and sound equipment lined up and something like ready for action. By this time the sun had moved on and another tree was shielding its direct rays from the scene of action. Mr. Bridgman wanted the offending tree out of the way. This was done.

At last the tree was about to fall, and Mr. Bridgman shouted, “It's going!” There was some mighty fast work done by the clapper operator (for synchronisation) at the foot of the tree as he did his job and beat a hasty retreat. The director calmly kept grinding the two cameras taking the close-ups of the last strokes of the axe as the tree was going over, only a few feet away from him. Unfortunately the tree was held up and slewed round by hundreds of thick vines high up so that it came down about a third of the way only. It was too late to repeat the felling with another tree that afternoon so the equipment was packed and a second attempt planned for the next day.

“Shooting” went on from ten o'clock in the morning till seven each evening, with intervals for refreshments.

It is interesting to know that Mr. Rogers, who has helped the production so much by allowing any of his land to be used for the filming, and in many other personal ways, appears in several places in the film as a supporting actor. His treatment of all those on the location was a fine example of old New Zealand hospitality.

It was most interesting to watch Mr. Bridgman at work. Under operating difficulties such as those outlined, he succeeds in getting scenes of excellent quality, and he possesses that necessary degree of patience that brings out the best in those who are acting for him. Before each different scene he outlines the general background mood, thus supplying what is lacking in the break in sequence associated with filming work, and creating the right atmosphere for those who are to be before the camera. This is most helpful and assists in getting the right action response in as short a time as possible. For the “shooting” of the sequence depicted in another illustration, it was necessary for the clapper board to be held just beside the horse's nose and banged (for synchronisation) just before the call for action. This job fell to the writer on this occasion. I banged the board once, just for practice, and the horse reared his head suddenly, because of the noise. I heard a whisper from Mr. Rogers just behind me: “Bang the clapper board several times near the horse's head. He'll soon get used to it.”

I banged and was making great progress with the horse, but was so intent on this operation that I had not heard the cameras started and went on banging innocently. Each time I banged, Mr. Bridgman thought it was the correct one for synchronisation and waited for me to slip quickly out of the way so
Una, Bob and Mr. Rogers in a further sequence.

Una, Bob and Mr. Rogers in a further sequence.

page 36 page 37 that he could call for action. I heard the controls turned off and knew something had gone wrong.

“What went wrong then? Why didn't you move out?”

Before a scene can be filmed, the action must be rehearsed—usually many times. There are innumerable points to check up. The dialogue and action must be re-enacted just as the director visualises it in his own mind, the words must express the right emotion whether it is keen enthusiasm or tired persistence, besides being exactly as they are in the script, and the action must follow suit. The action may have to be changed and improved, for the director is visualising all the time just how things will appear on the silver screen, and everything must be clearly seen from the front.

Before rehearsals, general preparations have to be made, and, in particular, a suitable place has to be found for the microphone. This is often fixed to a special long boom with the mike suspended just over the heads of the actors, but sometimes exterior interference makes this difficult and other places have to be found. For example, in one of our illustrations with Mr. Rogers, Bob Pollard, and Una Weller, taken outside the hut, the microphone was held in the bell-topper. In this case it was the blowflies that had caused the trouble. In the top of this picture the top of the mike boom can be seen where it was originally set up.

After placing the mike, the assistant checks up with the cameraman to make sure that it will not show in the picture.

While rehearsals are going on the sound is being watched at the same time. The director and sound technician, with headphones on, watch the dials on their respective instrument panels, each of which has a built-in mike so that communication can be carried on freely between the two. To the onlooker it would appear that the volume of the voices has to be even more carefully controlled and matched by the actors than in broadcast work, and not till this is satisfactorily checked can the “take” be proceeded with. The mike is so sensitive that it often picks up the noise of the camera motor during a “take” and thus records it on the film as a distinctly extraneous sound. To overcome this the camera has to be swathed in a “blimp” which is something like a blanket with holes cut in it for access to the controls and to allow the lenses to poke their heads through.

The announcers’ studio on the mobile broadcasting unit, 5ZB. This interesting venture of the National Commercial Broadcasting Service was officially inaugurated on 4th April, and the unit is now on a tour of the North Island.

The announcers’ studio on the mobile broadcasting unit, 5ZB. This interesting venture of the National Commercial Broadcasting Service was officially inaugurated on 4th April, and the unit is now on a tour of the North Island.

Now, as the picture is recorded in the camera, and the sound on quite a separate film in the sound car, it is necessary that these two must synchronise exactly. For the matching of these two films a clapper board is used. This consists of two parts. At the top are two blocks of wood hinged together and with parallel lines painted at an angle to the surface. The bottom part of the board has sequence number and brief description of the “shot” chalked on it.

For a “take” the procedure is something like this. An assistant stands with the clapper board just in front of the actors where it will photograph exactly in focus. The camera is started by turning on an electric switch, and the director calls “Number.”

This is the cue for the assistant who bangs the clapper board and speaks quickly into the mike. “150. Close-up of Una in first hut.” He then ducks quickly out of the way.

The director then calls for “action” and the filming proceeds till the end of the scene when the call for “cut” is made. The director then consults his staff.

Bob Pollard, who is playing the male lead for this part of the film, will be well-known to many New Zealanders. He was one of the announcers of station 3ZB when it opened, and has since been promoted to a position at 2ZB. His broadcasting experience assisted him greatly.

The illustrations show four scenes from this interesting film in the making.

“Wherever you go in New Zealand,” writes Colonel Chasemore, in a popular London weekly, “you will find the tobacco of the country on sale. Even the ‘wayback’ country storekeepers keep it in stock. Its popularity is easily accounted for. Although quite moderate in price, it's really as good as it's cracked up to be.’ The tobacco plant flourishes in various parts of the Dominion, and many a man on the land finds it a profitable side-line to cultivate because the dried leaf commands a high price per ton and is in steady demand. New Zealand tobacco has won the good opinion of visiting experts, and containing but little nicotine, it is safer to smoke than perhaps any other tobacco. You can indulge ad. lib. without fear of consequences. This they tell me, is owing to the toasting of the leaf, which process appears to work wonders.” Colonel Chasemore refers to the five brands so familiar to Maorilanders: Navy Cut No. 3, Riverhead Gold, Desert Gold, Cavendish and Cut Plug No. 10.*