Nick Ardizzone

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Interview Date(s): 
13 May 1995
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Interview notes

BEHP 0355 S Nicholas Ardizzone synopsis

[These notes typed from Manny Yospa’s handwritten text, exactly as they appear]

Born 1939.Montgomery [?] Father artist. Stonyhurst, Oratory School. National Service, art school, 1960. Film industry. Michael Gray. Sierra Leone Embassy. Jerry Lewis cameraman. Assistant camera. New decade. Stanley Marks and freelance. Alan King. Focus Puller. 1960s Bill Brayne, Derek Lighterman. Charles Stuart. TV series. Studio experience. Operator commercials.

1970 Australia, easy going. Australian Broadcasting Commission. Government Film Unit. Freelance. Teaching at art schools. Film Australia. New Guinea independence film. Melbourne. Commercials. Sydney 1976.Britain 1978. Father died. Brother head of Film ILEA Television service. Tonight. Lecturer at London College of Printing. 1987/88 no work. Retrained as conservator of works of art. Documentary cameraman. Doctorate RSA. Improved by ACTT. Freelancers shop, secretary of shop. Australian union. Active camera section. Benefit film? TV. Secretary. Teaching. Chair of camera section 6 years. Rep for London Films division. E.C. 2 years. Merger, BECTU. Tim Potter. Function of grades. Documentaries.


Manny Yospa  0:00  
Where were you  born when and your general background

Nick Ardizzone  0:07  
I was born in 1939. in Kent. It was right at the beginning of the Second World War. I was born on September the eighth, five days after the beginning of the war. My father was an artist, by the time of the outbreak of war, a very successful artist, but he had been a territorial before the war. And he was called up slightly before the outbreak in August 1939. So my mother was on her own and I was born in the house of an uncle of mine in Kent. Then, not long after that my father evacuated us down to Montgomery on the Welsh borders, which is where I spent my early days. And then, on the cessation of hostilities, we moved back to London, where I was at school for a while. Then after that, I went through a very normal upper middle class upbringing prep school first, Stonyhurst and then later I went to the Oratory school near Reading. Then I left there in about 1953. After that, I wandered a certain amount. I went to Canada, I came back. And then I got pulled in on the last gasp of National Service. So I did my National Service. And having come out of that, I went to art school at Hornsey College of Art for two years, and then came out in drifted a certain amount. Now, in 1960, purely by accident, I fell into the film industry. I had been drinking with a friend of mine who had been at art school, who was by this time and assistant director working at Shepperton. And he

knew of a small documentary company who in the summer of nine, what was his name? Michael Grey, he was he was the assistant director. And he said that they were absolutely unable to find anybody to hold a hand lamp on on a documentary they were working on. So I was asked to go out and hold a hand basher. I remember the occasion very well it was some shindig at the Sierra Leone embassy, which ended up as an extraordinary drunken affair because instead of serving drinks and canopies, they just let bottles of whiskey out on the table. But anyway, the cameraman on that event was Jerry Lewis, who I worked with frequently after that. Now because of this thing of just going off and holding a hand lamp and I watched the assistant camera man, the focus puller working, and I thought that's something I can do. And it took many years but that's what I ended up doing. I started then being a clapper loader, I worked mostly with the New Decade, which Yes, the company was New Decade films, which was Stanley Marks and his father, his father, john. Now Stanley had been a cutter I think, British movietone News. And he was a very effective documentary maker. He employed me he employed me in those days, strictly illegally, I hadn't got a ticket. I couldn't see any way that I was ever going to get a ticket. But I had several strokes of luck and in the end, ticket came my way. Now, after moving on from New Decade, I went on and freelance here and there. And then I had the good fortune to get involved with Alan King associates with an Broadwick Street. And for them, I worked as a focus puller for about two years. After that, then I just went out into the freelance world and focused where I could get the work. This was of course at the time of the 60s boom. So I wasn't badly off the workflow quite a while. Sorry, is there any way you'd like to point me?

Manny Yospa  4:04  
It was just a chronological? Yes. So no names and dates and things?

Nick Ardizzone  4:12  
Yes. So So I got to settle in Kings. I worked with a very distinguished cameraman now some of them directors, particularly Bill Brain. I worked also with Derek Lightman and various others, many of them I also first came across Charles Stewart in in this time, who I assisted quite frequently. This did have for me many advantages in that it did teach me the new speedy fly on the wall type technique of filming. However, although it was very, very fashionable, I didn't find that altogether. satisfactory. It wasn't the way that at that time I saw my life going. So I did try and work around the studios. So I worked quite frequently on some of the major series of the time like the Saint Avengers department s. Randall and Hopkirk. So he got terrible frog in the throat today where I did gain where I did gain proper studio experience, indeed learned to pull focus properly. However, I had some stroke of luck about that time, and I started to operate on commercials then, then the industry went fut, you may remember that about 1968, there was some change in the foreign exchange deal with America. And the industry that had been running along very nicely, really literally collapsed overnight, when we all found ourselves out of work. So in 1970, I emigrated to Australia completely without prospects. But I got there and found that there was work to be heard was very strange, it was very different. And I found that you couldn't take highfalutin English attitudes to filming I found that. Whereas here, if you've got the lens in the mud, you might never work again, if you've got the lens in the mud in Australia, you probably just got your wrist slap. But I did have one amusing incident when I first got there of the commercial of a advertising agency, showing me some footage of a national men's all commercial and asking whether I could do as good and I had the pleasure of being able to tell them that I had in fact shot it. Anyway, after that, I went to the Australian Broadcasting commission where I worked mostly on drama, as I did do a considerable amount of documentary for them as well. Then after that, I took a temporary contract with the Australian Government Film Unit, where I shot documentaries for them for about a year that I went freelance again. And then I also this time I started teaching I was lecturing in film at the Australian National Film and Television school, and also at the National Art School in Sydney.

Then I went back to the Australian Government Film Unit, which by this time had been renamed Film Australia. And I worked there on several documentaries. But I think the culmination of that time was that I worked on the Papua New Guinea independence film in 1974, which was a joint effort between the Australian Government the Papa New Guinea government and the United Nations. Now that was an extraordinary film. And I worked with 12 crews, I think in the field on that it was a major experience. Then I left Sydney for a year and worked in Melbourne. But that wasn't really a success though I did shoot some quite reasonable commercials there. Then I returned to Sydney in 1976. Went back to working mostly commercials again. And then I moved back to Britain in 1978, during the midst of an appalling family crisis. And I came back and part of the result of that crisis was that my father died in 1979. But also in the interim, my brother had died. So it really ended me being eldest son, which before I hadn't been. So after that it was really virtually impossible for me to leave the country while my mother was still alive. So I stayed in England and then went to work for about a year as head of film at the Iliad television service. Then after that, I went and taught television technique at Canterbury College of Art for a year. Then I spent three years as a senior lecturer in film at the London College of Printing. And after that, I went freelance again and really continued freelance for well ever since. Now, everything was going extremely well I think till about 1986 8788 maybe when work just disappeared. And I saw colleagues of mine distinguished friends, people who'd worked in feature films, sitting around on the phone haven't rung for two years. And I thought that I absolutely wasn't going to allow that to happen to me. So, as I thought the only thing to do there is to retrain in something now, so I have a considerable collection of works of art, through no great dint of collection, but simply because I've been left many of them, many of them weren't in very good condition. I went off and did a two year Higher National Diploma in the conservation of works of art on paper. And that actually has stood me in very good stead since and led me on to, to doing further academic work. But I shall come back to that. I've since doing that still work quite consistently as a cameraman, mostly in documentary and commercials. And I suppose that's where you find me, the only major difference being that I am at the moment doing a doctorate at the Royal College of Art concerning my father, who was an official war artist, and my project is to make a catalogue based on a of his works during World War Two. And that's basically where you find me.

Manny Yospa  11:23  
Because when can you tell me something about your works in Union?

Nick Ardizzone  11:32  
Even before I became a member, I was very impressed by the power and the good work that ACTT did. Yes, there were aspects of it, I thoroughly despised as I think most of us did, that there were elements of corruption, and high hand in dealing that no reasonable person could approve of. But at the same time, it did occur to me that the only way to criticise an organisation is if you join it. So after joining, which I think was in about 1962, I did decide that I would take part and I joined the famous or infamous freelance branch of in London, the freelance shop of the London Film branches that then was and it is in the nature of joining trades unions and becoming active in them that if you if you actually attend meetings, you will get given a job. So I think almost in my first almost at my first shop AGM I was appointed secretary, which absolutely appalled me because I had for all a very adequate education, some difficulty in writing, taking notes, writing things down. But I did manage to do that. And so that I think I stayed a secretary in the in the freelance  shop till I left the country in 1970. And then when in Australia, I joined the union there and I was always active in that. I was in fact for a short time in Australia, and an executive member of what was the Australian theatrical and entertainment union. Then on returning to London, I rejoined and , it was under the old dispensation of the film branch. So I rejoined the camera section. And I was after the liberated atmosphere of Australia, I was absolutely shocked at what I found. Because what I had discovered in Australia was that the the low high regard wholly artificial risk between film and television or film with holes in the side, etc, didn't exist there. And I had become thoroughly used to working on tape and film side by side. I might, for instance, be working on a drama that was being shot in a television studio multi camera, which I would light the set and they were then go out and light exteriors, which were shot on 35 mil. And this to me had become perfectly normal over eight years, returning here to find the greater good old men of feature films sitting in Judges, and saying that no such dispensation would ever be possible in this country. And that young man had only one day that one way to start them and that was starting as a clapper loader and taking 30 years. I found appalling  not because I don't think it's one of the right ways. It's because I think there are other ways that you can literally come up through the industry. And the other thing that amused me was the absolute rift between film and television. If you had had any training in television knew you were automatically regarded as useless. Now, it became my notion that this this was a hopeless, this was no way forward at all, that this would, this would lead us nowhere. What we had to do was to recognise that as a camera branch we represented absolutely anybody who used a camera professionally,

Manny Yospa  15:12  
or even just cover section.

Nick Ardizzone  15:14  
Yes, this was the the old camera section. Secretary. I was secretary for a year, but then I just attended as a as an ordinary member

Manny Yospa  15:25  
of corporate took over from booth. And

Nick Ardizzone  15:29  
then during the time I was teaching, I became slightly less active and I didn't hold office that was for a period of about three years. Then after I left that, I came back and now let me see the structure had changed slightly. But the camera section was still very much going. And as as quite often happened to me in my life, I went out to a meeting at Pinewood where there was absolutely no body willing to stand for chair. So I ended up with a job.

Manny Yospa  16:00  
Did you have camera section?

Nick Ardizzone  16:02  
Yes, so I was chair of camera section. And this would be in about a 8283, I should think. And for some reason, after a few initial skirmishes with the with the great and the  good, the whole thing settled down. And we all got along very well. So I think I stayed in office there for the best part of six years. Meanwhile, of course, this meant that I'd got elected on to on to higher bodies, like I was elected as a representative on the London Film Division. And then subsequently became vice chairman of that. And towards the dying days of ACTT, I was elected on to the executive and served for about two years on that. Then, at about the time of the death of Jim Connock, I was then elected chairman of the London Film division. So I was chairman of London Film division, I think for some two years, during very, very nervous times. With the with the merger, threatening and nobody knowing which way was to go, and an enormous clash of cultures, the metres?, and the ACTT cultures were very, very different. And I'm not to this day claiming that either one was necessarily right. But getting married together was was a very extraordinary process. Anyway, that marriage was eventually affected, and I was then elected as chairman of the New London production division. Now, I should say, In the mean time that in the dying days of ACTT, we had realised the very, very old Trades Union dictum that is that you won't get what you want unless you know what you want. So myself, and my sometime assistant, but also very, very faithfully, excellent secretary of the London Film division, Tim Potter settled down, and we tried to work out a blueprint for the future of the division, we didn't concern ourselves too much with national policy, we just said, if we envisage a division as being a certain way, and if we write it down, and if we do it now, we will probably get in something like that in the long run. So that's what we did, when in effect, with minor alterations. That's really what went through. But there was a side thing to this that I think is very important, and it's had implications ever since what we did was that we settled down and we wrote, what we put on our thinking caps, and we wrote down the name of every grade we could think of. And apparently, this is the first time that had ever been done. So we ended up with the definitive list or a fairly definitive list of every function, every grade that we could think of, or anybody could tell us about the works in the film industry. So it was everything from a lighting camera man to a focus puller, to cable basher, to any any arcane name. And we tried to find out what that name was and what its function was. Now, this subsequently has been very important because I think a lot of the trading initiatives that are going on at the moment, have taken that blueprint of the grades, and also it's been used very, very widely in negotiation, and is probably getting us to the point now, where, however, unwillingly, some employers are beginning to realise what the structures within the industry are and what actually people do because they don't think they ever knew before.

Manny Yospa  20:02  
He also stops with my co workers that were well made does work have to

give it to me?

Nick Ardizzone  20:14  
I was a multi skilling? Well, of course, lmulti skilling is it's something that has to come but at the same time, it's something that is not always welcome. And it's quite impossible to fight it unless you know actually yourself what you do. Because most of us when we work in life, we know what we do, but we've never been actually called upon to explain it or say what's unique.

Speaker 1  20:43  
I didn't have that trouble. Before years back in news back, everybody's knew what the grades were and what their jobs were and everything gels together perfectly.

Nick Ardizzone  20:53  

Manny Yospa  20:55  
have not been in the industry for some 15 years or so brilliant.

Nick Ardizzone  21:02  

Manny Yospa  21:03  
especially especially resumes travel.

Nick Ardizzone  21:07  
Well, it is strange that way. But it often occurred to me when I now astoundingly find that, you know, having started off in 1960, that I've noticed, and I'm the veteran and that is that five years has slipped by. But for at least 15 of those years, if not more, I've worked as the lighting camera man. And if anybody had asked me up till the time I started teaching or lighting camera man actually did I'd have had the greatest difficulty in explaining it.

Manny Yospa  21:38  
And also, jobs are different in Documentary Feature Quite so.

Nick Ardizzone  21:44  
Yes, they are. Mind you that there are certain things that go across, you will never be any good as a camera man, if you don't understand photography, there are certain basic things that that you have to know. But yes, the responsibility of a lighting cameraman in commercials or features, or even high level documentaries is quite different to the responsibilities of a man who perhaps is going out using a metre cam with the with the light stuck on the top of it. Again, I'm not saying necessarily that one does a better job than the other. But I think the breadth of knowledge needs their different functions, different families.

Manny Yospa  22:28  
What are you doing now?

Nick Ardizzone  22:31  
At the moment, in the last two years, most of my work has been involved in in shooting documentaries for Channel Four, which I enjoy well enough.

Manny Yospa  22:42  
More journalism, as opposed to journalism as

Nick Ardizzone  22:45  
it is. But I think the experience of of having been brought up as a lighting cameraman in the old mode mode does allow you to bring something to it that somebody less trained might not be able to

Manny Yospa  22:59  
do. And there was a discipline in those days to

Nick Ardizzone  23:01  
tremendous discipline.

Manny Yospa  23:03  
self discipline is whether or not you know, forced on suffer from a bad rap from yourself.

Nick Ardizzone  23:12  
I think in our time, we've all worked with good crews and we worked with bad crews or with mediocre crews, but of the good crews I remember working with the the thing that I remember so clearly is that respect was handed down and up. It was a two way trade. If you were good at your job, you were respected by your seniors and you gave them something again to love in return.

Manny Yospa  23:36  
Yes. So the Unity

Nick Ardizzone  23:39  

Manny Yospa  23:41  
Because film working is not a one man job, no job where everybody contributes competently?

Nick Ardizzone  23:50  
It is it Yes. The old saw about it being an art form that's run by acommittees. It is actually true, isn't it? Because I think most of the time you have a unit that's really welded together, you might as well be one person, the thing you work so perfectly. Again, you see the would these days were very much exercise the issues of training, and quite right too, because we've never had proper training in this industry. And the idea that apprenticeship is the only route I think is fallacious. There are other ways that I'm very suspicious now about the training modules that have been put in place.

Manny Yospa  24:32  
People go to schools and can come out and start at the top

Nick Ardizzone  24:35  
yes or you have the the NVQ system where what to my mind are a load of actually fairly inadequate standards are set and then people are assessed at work. But this begs the question of how the assessment is done, who the assessors are who assesses the assessors and all these things and it is kind of the wisdom And it is worrying. I know that it's all very well to be sentimental about apprentice training. But when it does work, it works absolutely the best. And I know that two thirds of my training was done in the bar after work.

Speaker 1  25:15  
I remember first must be 3040 years ago when I was secretary, it will be less than that love of camera section. We do have elaborate apprenticeship schemes, which we put forward at the AGM every year and they all passed. Yes. Recently.

Nick Ardizzone  25:36  
Yes, all these these wonderful schemes.

Manny Yospa  25:40  
Employers weren't impressed.

Nick Ardizzone  25:42  
No employees weren't impressed. And I think the the other thing I think that as an old, I mean, we all come to trade unions through different motives, I hope most of us through honourable ones, that I know that we spent 25 years in my certain experience trying to get both a pension scheme and trading scheme together they were the two things came up. And then then in the late 80s, it appeared that actt we had a both a trading scheme going in the in the form of john Burton that we had a pension scheme going in the, in the form of the abbey life scheme. And now lo and behold, five years later, we find that most of these things are in severe doubt again, so the two steps forward, one step back, we're back to normal things

Manny Yospa  26:35  
is because life is much more difficult nowadays.

Nick Ardizzone  26:37  
It is

Manny Yospa  26:38  
striking the only training is for everyone.

Nick Ardizzone  26:41  

Manny Yospa  26:46  
Actually, I didn't know to start. So Kenny, was your father? Yes. not heard of anything we know reproductions of his work? Yes. He was he is a famous painter was was very famous.

Nick Ardizzone  26:59  
Yes, he was. And

Manny Yospa  27:01  
and of course, that's his students that you could stage as in your work as a cameraman?

Nick Ardizzone  27:07  
I think it has. I think coming from an artistic background it is there is something there It doesn't mean to say necessarily necessarily that you will ever be an artist but it does mean that you understand quite a lot of the terminology

Manny Yospa  27:24  
and being brought up or surrounded. Yes, all the time is bound to seep in.

Nick Ardizzone  27:30  
And I think to that, going to college as I did first off in the in the late 50s to a very good art school, where I studied initially fine art and then later design. Although I ended up doing nothing really directly concerned with the courses I did. I had in the meantime learned things like colour, composition, movement.

Manny Yospa  27:58  
This is something which comes naturally to you. When you're a cameraman  setting up a picture you come naturally Yes, and you can see where sculptures songs are purposely very wrong.

Nick Ardizzone  28:13  
But I do I think that how we all come to photography or cinematography from different routes, but I think to some extent, I can see a difference between people who are bought up with artistic notions and people who are bought out with technical notions in their work. Anybody who's been taught too firmly about the dividing third always has his frame terribly locked off on the dividing of media sets and certain lack of fluidity in

Manny Yospa  28:45  
the sort of still photography but for films where you have to catch from film One is  set up against another one yes, and they've got to flow the only these rules don't always work out.

Nick Ardizzone  28:58  
No. But I'm really glad that I was brought up in the in the old way and I'm glad that I worked with big crews where you had a lighting camera man and operator focus puller, sometimes two clapper boys if there was a lot to be grabbed and loaded in a typical way. Yes. Yes. The central loader to I've worked woth  central loaders, which is which is many grip skills because much of the gear we use is so  enormous

Manny Yospa  29:28  
unit seemed large. And when it comes to location, see hundreds of people yes, everyone gels together into one unit in a single unitary thing

Nick Ardizzone  29:38  
yes, he most remarkably and where

Manny Yospa  29:41  
the whole is greater than the level of the house. Yes,

Nick Ardizzone  29:44  
very much so. And certainly when you get great movements in this world, extraordinary extraordinary levels of cooperation with our various

Manny Yospa  29:54  
groups, although the lowest grade of created as  labourers

Nick Ardizzone  30:00  
Yes. Let's say now I'm glad to say because of course, people are going to appreciate how, how important the grips function is not only in terms of the shot, but also in terms of safety

Manny Yospa  30:12  
of the crew. Those are camera man in the back of the camera.

Nick Ardizzone  30:18  
There's some of that goes on to is there. I do remember an anecdote of Harry Hart. I think it was taking a shot on  Southampton station, and he was using an Arri and a blimp. an old Arri 2 two and a blimp with 1000 foot mags, that was the old thousand And somebody asked him just to track in and he demanded a shoulder pod and a pair of rollerskates.

Manny Yospa  30:50  
If his knees didn't buckle, anything else you can think of?

Nick Ardizzone  30:58  
Not immediately, no. I would obviously have over 30 however many years it is, well, it's got many stories and many, many, many memories. But I think really, the most heartening thing I remember about my time in the industry is the people who trained me and had faith in me, I needed from, from Jerry Lewis onwards, who was a well known operator in his day in his later lifeas a cameraman  And then, later in my working with people like Bill Brain and Charles Stewart. Also, I spent several years working with Terry Gould, who is a very, very excellent documentary cameraman later production manager, who taught me an enormous amount about my craft.

Manny Yospa  31:40  
But because I found that even when the fed from the movie first entered the studio was a completely novice the generosity Yes, of the of the technicians. That helped you out told you this, and they told you that told you what not to do what not? Yes. And that. And your benefit was obviously in their minds.

Nick Ardizzone  32:06  

Manny Yospa  32:08  
I hope I did the same to people under me. Yes,

Nick Ardizzone  32:12  
I hope I have to. I think the I think the most important single lesson that probably we both learned from the people who bought us up so well was approach it's your approach to your work. The vital thing is just how you set about things.

Manny Yospa  32:30  
Yes, it's the self respecting respecting the job.

Nick Ardizzone  32:34  

Manny Yospa  32:34  
that's right. This is really good. And we said, if we just said we say what do you think of the future industry?

Nick Ardizzone  32:49  
I think there is a future for the industry. I think probably our future lies in Europe. If there's anything I criticise, many of my colleagues for its retrospectivity we tend to look back to the great old days, we don't look forward. This is probably excusable, considering how horrific The present is, though, if the European Union works, and it's very early days to see whether it's going to work. And if we give a lead, where it's necessary and hitch to coattails where it's necessary, if Above all, industrially, I think we take examples from the French, we probably have hope of a very, very vibrant European film industry that you can be sure the Americans will try and wreck us in the meantime, it's not going to be an easy business.

Manny Yospa  33:42  
is because the things that we're filming is to be absolutely honest, and don't try and do cheap, you know. Audience catching things or take me back to the .......

Nick Ardizzone  34:00  
No, it's always been my feeling that you should actually decide what level you're going to take a film  at the beginning and stick to it and don't either cheat and get halfway through or go grandiose halfway through you to remember to

Manny Yospa  34:15  
be consistent. Yep. Okay. Very good. All right. Good.



Son of Edward Ardizzone