So I said to Friese-Greene*…

ALMOST FORTY YEARS AGO, I JOINED BRISTOL CINE SOCIETY at a time when Super 8 was ‘King’ for the average film maker, full sync sound was a luxury to be dreamed of… and I had hair.

Club productions were a grand affair, shot on 16mm film by an elite group who had expensive kit and knew how to use it.

In 1974 I became a crew member, but not one of the elite. For the first time, I was allowed to hold a reflector for ‘Mother’s Day’. I can still remember it vividly as the scene involved a dustbin that contained rotting food.

The late 1980’s brought both the introduction of portable video recording equipment for amateur use and a change of name for the club to reflect the shift from film to video. BFVS was reborn!


From the early 1990’s all club productions were shot on video. Ah, whatever became of Super VHS and Betamax? Video changed the way club productions were made. Instead of a budget being spent mainly on film stock, now our limited funds could go on things that showed on the screen such as location and costume hire.

Fast forward thirty eight years from my duties as number one reflector holder and I have just spent the second of two long days in the crypt of St Paul’s Church in Bristol, working on the lighting for a 2012 club production, ‘Into the Light’ and the technology has changed again. Everything was shot in High Definition on a digital single lens reflex camera.

Members today, they don’t know they’re born. Now it’s all CGI, 16:9 High Def with full surround sound and computer editing. In my day you were lucky if Kodak didn’t scratch your silent 8mm film when they processed it!

The technology may have changed but one thing hasn’t. You still need members to drive it.

In a wave of nostalgia I looked back through a battered cardboard box full of old photos taken behind the scenes on various productions and asked myself the question ‘Is there anything to be gained from being involved with club productions?’

The bureaucracy of getting funds to make something is a lot tighter than it was, with considerations of what positive returns to the club can be gained and business plans to be written. There again, I suppose when you are dealing with members’ money you have to be cautious. If we constantly spend on vanity projects and substandard material the well would soon run dry.

We make our films in a professional manner, so why shouldn’t the finances for those films be treated the same way? Could this attitude prevent members from coming up with ideas for possible club films? I don’t think so. If you have a passion and really want to see an idea of yours up on the screen I think you will still fight to get it made. It has always been like that with both amateurs and professionals.

When it comes to the practicalities of crewing a club production and learning the discipline and skills that are used in making a film, what better way than helping out on cold windswept locations, night shoots (they certainly separate the men from the boys) and strange places like dark church crypts?

Back to my original question regarding getting involved with club productions, ‘Is there anything to be gained?’

As amateur film makers we do things out of choice for no financial reward. For myself I choose to be involved with friends I have known for many years and newer club members who are keen to learn, on worthwhile projects like ‘Into the Light’ that truly combine both technology and art.  I would still say it is good to be involved and when the opportunity arises grab it …

… and yes, above all, it is and always should be enormous fun!

Bob Bennett

September 2012

* William Friese-Greene was born in Bristol in 1855, a pioneer in, and credited by some as the inventor of cinematography.