Les Ostinelli

Les Ostinelli (BSC Photo)
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Interview Date(s): 
5 Nov 1992
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BEHP 0266 T Les Ostinelli Transcript LES OSTINELLI Cameraman/laboratory technician/lab contact man Interviewed by Alan Lawson and Sid Wilson, on 5 November 1992 Copyright BECTU History Project SIDE 1, TAPE 1 Alan Lawson: When and where were you born Les Ostinelli: I was born in London, Euston, 1918, which makes me 74 now. My father was a waiter, came from Italy when he was 16, so I was born almost and lived for quite a long time the West End. Alan Lawson: School Les Ostinelli: I went to St Martin in the Fields School in Trafalgar Square. I left there just under 15 Alan Lawson: Just under. Les Ostinelli: Well you used to leave school at 14 in those days. That was the school leaving age. I was mid-14 because of the calendar. And I went to work more or less as an office junior. A couple of jobs and then I ended up in an office of a big transport company down by Lambeth Bridge there, the old Union part of the Vesty Empire, in the transport office there. I got interested in photography as a hobby originally. And then I don't know, I used to go to the movies , I got the movie bug obviously, I used to go two or three times a week at least in those days. I got the bug and I suppose my interest transferred to cinematography in that sense, I got very interested about it. And I thought I'd like to learn a bit more about it. I used to buy the Amateur Cine world and the other one at that time. And I got very interested and I thought well the best thing to do was probably try to join one of these cine societies of which there were a lot in those days. And aiming at the top I thought which was the best one, and the one which seemed to be winning a lot of awards and had a lot of money which meant they had a little studio and all the equipment and even a theatre with seats was the Bronsbury Cine Society. A d we had a little studio up by Kensal Rise, Bronsbury. And I used to go there 2 or 3 times a week and we used to make 16 mm, everything was 16mm black and white of course in those days, and that was very instructional really, learned quite a lot at that. And funny enough there was a fellow there, a young boy about the same age as me, who did, I think he had a relation there, anyway he got a job at Lime Grove, Gaumont British, clappers, very junior, but in the camera department. That sort of spurred me on, I thought well I must get a job like that. And then of course it all starts doesn't it. I sort of wrote to everybody in the business that I thought of, reams of letters coming out and coming in, the usual thing, sorry but we will bear you in mind, all the usual stuff. And I eventually got even one which I told Freddie about, I joked about it, I said even got one from you at British and Dominions. The usual thing, the usual working saying. And I used to buy the Kine Weekly regularly and even the Hollywood Reporter which used to be sold in London at that time, they had London edition that's right. And eventually I went up to the ACT and saw old George for the first time and they were in that office in Shaftesbury Avenue, just off the Circus, you went upstairs Alan Lawson: Piccadilly Mansions Les Ostinelli: That's right. He was up there. Well he was very kind, old George, because I was still, what, only 17 I think by then, not that he could do much, it all came down to who you knew, like relationships and things like this. And anyway I got the idea suddenly of taking an advert, I don't know why, I thought I'll put an advert in the back of the Kine Weekly and I could kick myself because I never kept half that stuff but I keep meaning to go up to the library at the British Museum and find this and get a reprint of it. I put an advert in and that's what I did. I put young keen, enthusiast, 17, wants to start in the technical side of the film, all that jazz, never expected to get anything back. Anyway I got one letter. One letter back and it was on plain paper and the only address on it, it had no company or heading or any thing but it said 22 Grosvenor St, London. Well by that time I was enough of a film buff to know that was London Films, Al ex ander Korda's office. Anyway this letter asked me to phone and make an appointment. So I got very excited about this, made and appointment and went up there. Well I met there , a t this interview Gary Schwartz. Well Gary Schwartz was building the laboratory at Denham for Korda, it all belonged to Korda anyway, the Prudential were putting up the money, he was in charge of building the lab at Denham. There is an interesting point, again which I want to follow up, Kine Weekly published in 1935, while they were building Denham Studios, they published a whole lay out of the plan of the Denham studios, stages, workshops, everything. And at the end was a laboratory. And in the laboratory space it had got on it Technicolor Laboratory. And apparently what happened is that Korda went for colour, he took a big interest in Technicolor and he was actually concerned, instrumental in forming the British company through Prudential and somebody else, anyway the story was that they were going to build, because he committed to do so many films in Technicolor he wanted the lab, the Technicolor plant to be on site at Denham. And the only thing that stopped it was that the Bucks County Council wouldn't allow the dye waste to go into the sewage system. So they had to go across to Middlesex, Middlesex allowed it and that is the only reason Technicolor Lab is where it is and Denham Labs got built. If it had all gone through, Technicolor would have been where Denham Labs is. Syd Wilson: Also, the purity of the water, they couldn't go too far, because in those days you had a million gallon reservoir at Technicolor, an underground reservoir. Les Ostinelli: They had underground wells Syd Wilson: Artesian wells. They built on that well, there was a million gallon reservoir. Les Ostinelli: But it was only that that made, those wa ter and the sewage and that made it why the thing happened. Syd Wilson: They did have another site, at Rickmonsworth, which they hung on to way, way past the war. They purchased that at the same time as they purchased xxx. Les Ostinelli: That's what happened, and that's why Denham Labs came to come into existence. Taking up that, I was given assurance that when the thing got nearer, because it was still in steel girder stages, and Denham Studios itself wasn't completely finished. And it was very funny by coincidence, in this transport company where I say I worked in the offi e there, all the lorries that used to go out taking Dewhurst meat, they used to carry meat to all the butchers, like South Wales, everywhere, when they came back they used to bring bricks and I always noticed they were going to Denham Studios. So I knew the progress of the building, because it gradually went down, the demand for the bricks, there weren't so many trucks going back there. So that gave me some sort of idea what was going on down there. Anyway this went on and I used to ring up occasionally, and eventually I got the nod to start which would have been in 1935. And when I started, all we had, there was a little gatehouse, where the lab is now, there was a little gatehouse, which was 2 up and 2 down and a staircase up the middle, and that was the headquar ters of the lab. Gary Schwartz was upstairs with his secretary and a general office and downstairs we all hung about. When I say we, there was only 7 of us. There was Gary Schwartz himself, his secretary, there was old Doug Myers the engineer, the father of the editor, but Doug Myers was a wizard engineer actually. Him, there was a guy called Westfield who was the electrical chief, there was a German, no a Hungarian chemist, there was myself and George Barker, you all know George Barker. Well George Barker was at Humphreys and he got this job, he was coming to Denham, being in charge of the control room on sensitronomy. And I started the same day as George, we both started together the same day. There was nothing to do because as I say, the building was a shell still. And I moved, because of the travelling, I moved into the digs down at Denham, and for want of more to do in the evenings, old Gary Schwartz who lived there night and day, and he had the house opposite which is no longer there, opposite the gates of the studio, and that was Gracie Fields house originally. She moved out and Gary Schwartz had it. And he lived there and we used to all end up there in the evenings. But he used to go for his parade round the labs to see how the builders were doing at night, about 6 o'clock or whatever, he would have a walk round. And I always remember he fell off one off the girders, he fell and broke his arm, it taught him a lesson really. Anyway eventually, it came on and it came on. And then the official day came up for opening Denham Studios and it was going to be officially opened by the then chief of the Prudential Insurance Company. And on this very day they decided to make a film which was shot by old 0 Bernard Brm..rn, Bernard Brown and Cave chin, two Newman Sinclairs and they were wandering round following this group, VIP group round with Korda and a few stars and the Prudential guy. And they had a motorbike guy who used to go down, follow them round, collect the film and rush it back. Well there was no where to process this so the idea was to knock up a temporary lab in the studio which was over the sound department in the long corridor. Down the bottom of the long corridor the sound department, and above that there were about 3 rooms. So we had these tanks made by Curbys, you remember Curbys in Uxbridge, they made these teak tanks and lined them. We had some wooden frames made, it was going back to the old days really, we were developing the film on frames and a big drying drum made. The only modern thing we had was a printing machine which came out of its packing case. That was a Debrie machine. That was the only thing we had up to date. That was the only way we could get over this. Syd Wilson: What was this the old Matipo Les Ostinelli: Yes, I think it's still at Denham. I always remember trying to get this up this very narrow staircase, and we had two navvies from the building site helping us and we were all struggling to get this in because it was a very narrow staircase and there was a bend in it. And this, it was not like a Bell and Howell, it was a bloody great heavy thing, trying to get this up the staircase, and I always remember, we were having a rest half way and after what seemed two minutes this guy said do you mind this is resting on my foot. Syd Wilson: They really were heavy those things Les Ostinelli: Yes. Anyway we got the film and processed it, the negative, dried it, made it up, printed it. We developed the print, rushed it round to the theatre where they're all sitting waiting to see the results of this, and when it came up it was so dark, it looked like night shots. And I always remember, they all walked across the green, to the stages , from the Old House to the stages and Paul Robeson, he disappeared, you couldn't see him because he was so dark. And on top of that, having no proper cleaning facilities, only a velvet or something, it looked as if it was snowing. And that was my first experience, not that I did anything really other than pass the buckets or something like this. But my first experience of developing


Les talks about his career but in so doing refers to lab equipment, optical printers, and the various cameras and their magazines, so there is quite a high level of technical content. His army call up is covered and how that led to Army film work in Egypt. Studios mentioned include Denham and he talks about Humphreys laboratories. There is also quite a lot about colour film (Dufay, Eastmancolot and Techicolor). He explains the role of a "contact man" and latterly the many cuts and reorganisations at Technicolor as the accountants take over from the film people.DS 2018.

A Career in the Industry: Les Ostinelli. [author unknown]

Les Ostinelli, born 1918, started work at Denham Studios in 1935. As a trainee he was assigned to the Optical Effects Department, following on, in time, to the Camera Dept., up until the war, during which he served for 5 years as an Army cameraman.

After the war and some freelance work, he joined MGM Studios as a cinematographer in the Special Effects Dept., for seven years.

In 1976 Les Ostinelli was made a Fellow of the British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society for his unexcelled appreciation of the Artistic and Technical Requirements of Feature Film Cameramen, and in 1981 received the Lenham Award for excellence from the Guild of British Camera Technicians and is currently [1992] a vice-president of the British Society of Cinematographers.

Throughout his career, Les Ostinelli has been associated with many feature films including, most recently – Gandhi, Yentl, Passage to India, Superman, Greystoke, The Emerald Forest, Legend, and the [then] unreleased Labyrinth and The Mission.

He has represented a number of major processing laboratories, gaining a unique reputation for his ability to effect liaison between Producers, Directors and Cameramen.

In 1984 Les Ostinelli retired, at the age of 66, from full active duty with Technicolor Ltd., where he had been Technical Director for 11 years.

However he [was] still taking selective consultancy assignments in all matters relating to film production, in addition to his commitments on behalf of the Rank Film Laboratories.