Stanley W Sayer

Stanley W
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Interview Date(s): 
20 Feb 1992
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Born 1917, Highbury {London]; attended Middlesex University College; went to Regent Street Polytechnic; father wanted him to go into De Haviland aircraft as an apprentice. Keen on photography he got an introduction to Jerry Blattner who told him that there was no job at the moment but to come back in 6 months; however, Stan said he would work for nothing for 3 months and after 3 months he was taken on with a wage. After one year he applied to Technicolor for a job. He saw George Gove [?] who took him on as Assistant Camera Technician. The first film he worked on was Wings of the Morning, he didn’t remember the name of the cameraman (it was Ray Rennahan). He also talks a little about the first cameramen he worked with at Rock Studios which became Leslie Fuller Studios. He talks at some length of his wartime service with the Royal Air Force Film Unit. He was demobbed in 1946 and returned to Technicolor working on Black Narcissus; he talks about Chris Challis [BEHP Interview No 59] and Jack Cardiff. He talks about Camera Grips, who don’t get the credit they deserve. He talks about various films he worked on, and also about Vidtronics. He left Technicolor to freelance, specialising in Matte Photography and Special Effects. He talks about some documentaries he worked on; Shellarama.


He talks about underwater photography and also about Gil Waxholt [?] ; he also talks on aerial photography. He then talks about the problems of Matte photography in general, about ‘Front Projection’. He has worked with David Lean – but can’t remember the name of the film, also with ‘Mickey’ [Michael] Powell.



Stan Sayer (SS)

Laboratories, Visual Effects, Camera Operator (Technicolor)

BECTU No. 242

Interviewers: Alan Lawson (AL) Syd Wilson (SW)

20 February 1992

1 Tape

Side 1

00:00:00 – 00:10:00 Introductions; born in Highbury, Islington, 11 May 1917; attended Middlesex University College, Muswell Hill; last 2 years of education at the polytechnic on Regents Street; he moved straight into the film industry from the college; photography was a hobby from an early age; SS was introduced to Jerry Blackener at Lesley Fuller studios and worked there for three months without pay; worked in the darkroom; stayed there for a year until Technicolor came to England; met George Cave who interviewed him for a job; first job was on Wings of the Morning (first British Technicolor film); then trained by the American technicians – became a focus puller, serviced the camera, loaded the camera; early cameramen on Technicolor films were American; worked with Eric Cross and Owen Hillier at Lesley Fuller studios; worked on Thief of Bagdad as camera operator; offered his services during the war as Commissioned Officer but was too young; he joined as an ordinary photographer; trained RAF school of photography at Blackpool; SS was posted to Leeming.

00:10:00 – 00:10:50 SS was to photograph the RAF in colour with Oscar Deutsch (then chief of the Odeon circuit) and cameras were sent from Technicolor using the Technicolor monopack (the forerunner to Eastmancolor) which could only be processed at Rochester; they started a film about the work of the RAF; Oscar Deutsch died and the production was shelved.

00:10:50 – 00:24:20 RAF film unit was formed at this point; SS was sent to Takoradi, West Africa; his first job in Africa was to make a briefing film for new pilots (B&W); processing, editing and dubbing was done at the base in Cairo; Nitrate film was sometimes burnt when the German army got close to Cairo; SS had eight crashes during the war; SS talks of an injury sustained during bombing in Benghazi; SS then moved on to Italy and Corsica; Jimmy Wright had joined Technicolor and then became part of the RAF film unit, joining SS in Corsica; SS had been working on a film of the Marauders when Jimmy Wright joined and who was severely injured during a crash; SS then moved to Belgium (base in Brussels) and then Germany; SS was sent to Kiel to photograph the submarine pens which had been bombed; SS represented the RAF at the surrender in Denmark; once the RAF film unit was closed SS was sent to the air ministry as an administrator; Technicolor had SS demobbed under a B Class release.

00:24:20 – 00:30:00 At Technicolor SS went on to work on Black Narcissus; Joy Rawlins doubled for Deborah Kerr on location in Ireland; Chris Challis was camera operator for Jack Cardiff on the film; Challis moved on to work on his own project End of the River so SS took over his job on Black Narcissus; Jack Cardiff took more chances as a cameraman than most; SS found operating the Technicolor easy; not much parallax in the Technicolor camera; the camera operator in those days was part of the team; a camera operating team is more successful than sole operator; he moved on to other films as operator.

00:30:00 – 00:34:40 His next films included Blanche Fury and Blue Lagoon; SS worked on a number of cinema commercials and then the Olympics in 1948; SS staged the runner passing through Athens with the flame; Castleton Knight (GB News) produced the film and was backed by J. Arthur Rank; SS was at Westminster Abbey for the coronation with Technicolor cameras; SS worked on Treasure Island (fourth unit); Technicolor camera departments almost ceased to exist, SS was sent to the electronics department (film on to tape and tape on to film for Television broadcast); SS left Technicolor.

00:34:40 – 00:38:40 SS bought a company and renamed it Joy Photographic Enterprises; at this time Eastmancolor had arrived and resulted in the demise of Technicolor operators; Eastmancolor was used for VistaVision and Technirama (VistaVision with a squeeze lens); SW states that the last Technicolor subject was Romeo and Juliet in 1952; SS remembers shooting VistaVision on location for American producers; the three-strip cameras were converted to VistaVision cameras but they also had lightweight VistaVision cameras (which were later turned to Technirama); SS turned his camera back to VistaVision for travelling matte work as it gives an extra quality which most producers no longer bother with given the extra cost and the fine grains of Eastmancolor, Fujicolor, and Agfacolor.

00:38:40 – 00:44:30 SS has moved between special effects, lighting and operating; he has more work as a travelling matte consultant; SS’s first break as a lightning cameraman was a documentary about the Vatican; SS also received a lot of credit on a film of Rembrandt shot on three-strip; Shellarama a film made for [Dimitri?] on the payroll of Shell which required a great deal of travelling and location work; SS discusses his family.

Side 2

00:00:00 – 00:06:30 Underwater photography; film for the Israeli government in Technirama; butterfly VistaVision camera (so-called because the 1000ft magazine is horizontal); a housing for the camera was made for shooting underwater by C B Gordon; the camera was impossible to tilt so it was taken back to Technicolor to be modified and given its own aqualung; his first job was to film in the Red Sea; at this time he also did some diving in the Dead Sea where he discovered a petrified forest; SS is credited for his work on aerial photography; SS describes techniques used in aerial photography; SS believed that it was important for him to specialise in one area.

00:06:30 – 00:13:45 SS worked on the very first travelling matte in the UK used for The Thief of Bagdad on three-strip Technicolor; SS is proud of his travelling matte work on the Star Wars trilogy, Return to Oz and Dune; SS had to work very closely with the director or 2nd Unit director; SS ensured that he viewed the rushes so his work would match; SS explains the techniques employed for blue screen mattes; negotiations with the director over where actors should be positioned in order for the technique to work effectively; SS did some travelling matte work on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which is wasn’t entirely satisfied with (some discussion of the labs being to blame); SS talks about the success of Star Wars.

00:13:45 – 00:23:10 Dune using front projection for the mattes using a blue max projector adapted from a Technicolor three-strip; the worm sequences and the soldier sequences were done using an enormous screen; SS talks about working with Raphaela de Launretis on the film; SS found that a hot-spot appeared in the centre of the screen and had to find a way of dulling it with optical flat and an air gun; the big screen had limitations when tracking as the line-up changes; the travelling mattes were very successful but the film wasn’t; as an operator SS worked with David Lean in Spain for a brief period; SS enjoyed working with Michael Powell on Black Narcissus and they later became friends; SS summarises his career and satisfaction with his work.




[Slightly edited from original. DS]

Stan Sayer special effects.

1946 Black Narcissus Camera Operator

1947 Blanch Fury Camera Operator

1949 Maytime in Mayfair; Treasure Island Camera Operator/Lighting

1951 Festival of Britain (3-D) Camera Operator/ Lighting with Raymond Spottiswood

1951 Captain Horatio Hornblower Camera Operator/Lighting

1956 Around the World in 80 Days Camera Operator

Preference: Features and commercials

Special Experience: Matte Photography consultant and cameraman.

Aerial, underwater, tropical and arctic photography.


As matte photography consultant on: Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back; The Return of the Jedi; Raiders of the Lost Ark; Dune; Return to Oz; Willow; The Adventures of Baron Munchausen; Slipstream; Witches Sabbath; Brazil; Legend; Spies Like Us; Hyper Sapien: People from another Star; Soulivan Street[?]; Never Ending Story II; Wils Karlsson;[?] No Cause for Alarm [?]

Woody Allen (failed project, 1990)

A Kiss before Dying; The Year of the Comet.

Other Information

Distinguished Service [Order Register] Volume XII [wartime records].

Dictionary of International Biography.

Commendation in ‘Men of Achievement’. [Biographical reference book].