Bill ButlerBill Butler

Through the lens

Legendary director of photography take on the industry

“I consider the pursuit of truth an essential ingredient to any meaningful film. That truth may hide in the author’s head, or be hard to understand, but I consider it the element most difficult and most essential to any meaningful film.”

By Athena Karsera for Cyprus Weekly

As the 12th Cyprus International Film Festival nears, a member of its VIP panel, legendary director of photography Bill Butler, talks to the Cyprus Weekly about his work in the television and film industry, including on classics such as Jaws, several of the Rocky movies, and Grease, amongst many others.

ΑΚ: You have played an instrumental role in the success of many noteworthy films over the years, including a significant number that remain points of reference. Have you found that there is a particular point in a project when you begin to realize that a good film will go on to be a great one?

BB: No I don’t. I may get excited about a sequence I’m shooting, but that doesn’t mean the end product will be great. Your best clue is the script. To be successful it then depends upon the talent of the actors, director, set designer, the photography, the editor, and a raft of talented people. If every one delivers in spades, you may make history. You do all this and then you wait for box-office returns,

ΑΚ: Is there any particular on-set experience (or indeed experiences) you have had that you would like to share with us?

BB: One experience I recall that taught me a lot happened on “The Rain People”. This was a first time feature director, Frances Ford Coppola. (I specialized in first time directors, there were twenty or more). “The Rain People” was a road picture. It began in Long Island and ended in Nebraska. Actors would show up as needed. One actor was to receive the Harley motorcycle as his salary.

When he found out the motorcycle would be used in the picture, he bailed out. Another actor was secured on short notice. As we waited for the replacement, I set up the camera on a shed with the doors open. Inside Shirley Knight was releasing baby chicks as the owner tried to stop her. As I looked through the camera the new actor stepped into frame, dressed in a patrolman’s uniform.

My heart stopped, he did nothing! He leaned against the door frame and did nothing. The actor was Bobby Duvall, the master of under play. He was perfect, as I was to learn. The things you learn from actors make you a better cinematographer.

ΑΚ: You have had significant experience in both television and films. Some believe that we are currently in the midst of something of a Golden Age of television. Do you agree?

BB: The ‘Golden Age’ of Television happened before you could put a TV camera on your shoulder.
I am considered a television pioneer. I with other electronic engineers, with high frequency or radar training, began building the first TV station in Chicago, Ill. When it was complete, we started a second one. I stayed there for fifteen years. They were the Golden Years.

I introduced the seamless background, and we discovered Sammy Davis Jr. In addition, I devised a system to televise the Sympathy Orchestra without camera rehearsal as in live performance. For that, I won my first Emmy. I was 40 years old and they were taking the vacuum tubes out of the cameras. I changed careers. I took my TV know-how to Hollywood, and changed the way movies are shot. Jaws is one example of these changes.

The Golden age of TV we are in now is more like a rocket, hang on! Dick Tracy had a TV wrist watch in comic books more than 60 years prior to our current versions. My victories are small, against a TV-cell phone you carry in your pocket today. I am 95 years old, and I find today not many can relate to the thrill and excitement I experienced in the days of the vacuum tubes.

ΑΚ: What are some of the ways, technically and philosophically, in which the film and television industry has changed since you started out?

BB: The big change in TV came with the chip. It put ten cameras on the shoulder, gave us computers that think, digital animation, and a loss of all the rules and regulations we consider good taste. I consider the pursuit of truth an essential ingredient to any meaningful film.

That truth may hide in the author’s head, or be hard to understand, but I consider it the element most difficult and most essential to any meaningful film. It is the actor’s most difficult task and must not be ignored by the camera. The advent of digital animation has robbed us of knowing what is real. To be entertained we must see a car roll, fly over ten other cars, and flip into at least 6 police cars.

Knowing this isn’t possible destroys belief in the film. With time, we will find a way to make animation that will be believable.

ΑΚ: Because of your profession and experience, do you find yourself analysing films (television shows, documentaries) you are not involved in and considering how you may have done things differently, or are you able to take a step back and take them for what they are?

BB: I watch films and documentaries for entertainment like anyone else, unless they are not well done. If the composition is out the window and they take every cheap shot, as is often the case on TV, I find I cannot watch. It is too painful. I have spent too many hours perfecting my own ability to ignore someone that wants to reinvent the wheel.

You first study the composition of the masters. You then apply your own talent, as motion pictures change constantly. It is then that your talent becomes evident.

ΑΚ: Can you tell me a bit more about your involvement in the Cyprus festival? Have you ever been to Cyprus and/or Greece before?

BB: My daughter, Gena, is a feature film editor. She edited a film, shot in Greece, for a director of Greek descent who lives in London. I learned of the Cyprus festival through them. Romania is the closest I’ve come to being in Cyprus.

ΑΚ: Is there anything else you would like to add?

BB: I can only add my strongest encouragement, keep the love of movies alive!

George F RobersonGeorge F. Roberson

Producer, writer

Interview by Paraskevi El Magoud

PEM: Tell me a little about yourself and how you became involved with CYIFF/BIFF.

GR: I’ve known CYIFF for many years since it’s a key festival for first-time directors. I’m a film producer, writer and academic. A US American, I’m specialized in the Mediterranean and Latin American regions. Our film “Joshua Tree” (2014), by Chinese-American director Cheng Li, had its world premiere, and was award winner, at CYIFF 2014. I became aware of the Bridges Festival at the time since our film was also presented there. I’m currently splitting my time between Sao Paulo Brazil and Guatemala City.

PEM: What is the most fun aspect of judging films for a film festival?

GR: The greatest fun, and excitement, is to be among the first to see creative work selected from around the world. And most especially to see the pressing themes, ambitions, and techniques of those first-time directors. (Aside from judging, attending the festival in person is great fun – a chance to meet new people from around the world and make new life-long friends and contacts).

PEM: What is the most challenging aspect of judging films for a film festival?

GR: Making the final score sheet is always the most difficult: how to be fair and correct? Each film is already a great work, since the selection to the festival is already so difficult with so many thousands of films now being made each year around the globe. So I ask myself, what touched my heart.

PEM: Why are film festivals like CYIFF/BIFF* so important?

GR: “Celebrity” has become far too important in film festivals nowadays. The CYIFF/BIFF provides the opportunity to focus on the real deal: films and filmmakers.

PEM: How do you see your role as a member of the jury for this festival?

GR: It’s a serious thing. The filmmakers and film programmers have invested everything, so I must try to match that with all my best efforts and seriousness.

PEM: What is your impression of this festival?

GR: The festival presents top films. It is a festival given by filmmakers for filmmaker – and the winners are destined to have important futures in film.

PEM: Have you been a judge at any other film festivals?

GR: No (but I’d like to..)

PEM: How important are film festivals for independent filmmakers?

GR: Important? For independent filmmakers festivals are everything.

PEM: How did you get chosen to be a judge at the CYIFF/BIFF?

GR: When I presented our film at CYIFF 2014, I felt a very strong bond with the ideals of the Festival, and with the aesthetics of festival director Petra Terzi, so I expressed an interest to contribute to future festivals. We kept in touch over time, and later I was asked to join the jury. It is a responsibility and honor I’m delighted to undertake

PEM: How do you personally judge films?

GR: I watch each film and make written notes immediately after the film – what shone brightly? After viewing all the films, then I prepare a preliminary score sheet. Then I carefully review certain aspects of each film (using the laptop…), and then I prepare my final score sheet. Then I let it all rest for a few days, to see if something final grabs me, and I review it one last time.

PEM: How does the jury function? What does the selection process involve?

GR: I am entirely independent of other jury members.

PEM: In your opinion, what is the purpose of the CYIFF/BIFF?

GR: As with all art and artistic endeavors, the purpose is to contribute to making the world a better place (especially by transcending money and celebrity) though an open process of debate, mutual respect, openness, care, and by foregrounding creativity and films’ special and profound power.

PEM: How do you personally judge films?

GR: I watch each film and make written notes immediately after the film – what shone brightly? After viewing all the films, then I prepare a preliminary score sheet. Then I carefully review certain aspects of each film (using the laptop…), and then I prepare my final score sheet. Then I let it all rest for a few days, to see if something final grabs me, and I review it one last time.

PEM: How does the jury function? What does the selection process involve?

GR: I am entirely independent of other jury members.

PEM: In your opinion, what is the purpose of the CYIFF/BIFF?

GR: As with all art and artistic endeavors, the purpose is to contribute to making the world a better place (especially by transcending money and celebrity) though an open process of debate, mutual respect, openness, care, and by foregrounding creativity and films’ special and profound power.

PEM: In one sentence what makes a great film?

GR: A great film leaves a mark on you, and is never forgotten; indeed, you watch it again, and again, as your life progresses and each time you find new discoveries.

PEM: What is your next project?

GR: “Jose” (feature length drama) about the struggles of a young guy with his Mother and his boyfriend – shooting on location in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

PEM: In one sentence what makes a great film?

GR: A great film leaves a mark on you, and is never forgotten; indeed, you watch it again, and again, as your life progresses and each time you find new discoveries.

PEM: What is your next project?

GR: “Jose” (feature length drama) about the struggles of a young guy with his Mother and his boyfriend – shooting on location in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

*CYIFF Cyprus International Film Festival
BIFF Bridges Peloponnesian International Film Festival

Anthony SkordiAntony Skordi

Cinema’s enduring appeal

“British Cypriot actor and 12th CYIFF juror reflects on movies and his life in the arts.”

By Athena Karsera for Cyprus Weekly

In an exclusive interview ahead of the upcoming 12th Cyprus International Film Festival, jury member and international actor Anthony Skordi revealed what he hopes to see on the screen next week, some of his future plans, and why he’s happy to be back on the island.

The festival begins in Paphos this coming week, bringing the silver screen to life between June 14 and 24. As well as screenings, there will also be a series of lectures, including lectures and workshops.

British Cypriot Skordi is a part of a prestigious panel of international judges. The VIP jury for the feature films in the Golden Aphrodite and Veteran categories also includes director of photography Bill Butler – whose work includes well-known movies such as Jaws by Steven Spielberg (1975), Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1983), Rocky IV (1985) and Grease (1978) – acclaimed producer Vivek Singhania, film director Wang Jingguang and producer and writer George F. Roberson.

Asked what he hopes to see, as a member of the jury panel at the upcoming festival, Skordi revealed: “a good plot keeps one watching; beyond that: cinematography; interpretation of material and innovative ideas; if I am kept interested in the movie”.

With a long career behind him, Skordi is also looking forward to be kept busy on the big and small screen over the coming months and years in his capacity as an actor and playwrighter.

“I am currently working on Star Wars Battlefront II and Hand of Fate 2, and I narrate the John Sinclair audio plays,” he said.

Skordi has also recently been a series regular on Prime Suspect 1973 in the UK, and guest-starred on several episodes of US sci-fi action drama series The Last Ship and action drama Shooter, airing this year.

A man of many talents, Skordi continued that: “there are talks going on for ‘Onassis, The Play’, which I wrote and performed at the Stella Adler theatre in Hollywood going to London and off Broadway”.

As well as voicing a character in an upcoming animated 3D movie, Skordi recently filmed a part in popular US crime, drama and mystery series The Blacklist, and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.

Asked what the main differences he has found between his work in films and television, and again on stage, and whether he enjoys one over the other, Skordi quipped: “theatre is a marathon and TV and film are sprints”.

He went on to elaborate: “there are major differences.

“For TV and film, namely, you have an audience of one, the camera lens. I enjoy TV and film immensely”.

Skordi was born to Greek Cypriot parents in London and has lived and worked in many places – including Hollywoord – but he still feels a great affinity to Cyprus.

“I love Cyprus with a passion – its culture, people and the immense beauty of the island. I am in Cyprus two to three times a year. It is an honour to be asked to be a part of the festival and I have enjoyed watching the movies,” he added.