The Best of My Stuff
His name is Chuck. At the NAB Show, he sees my name tag.
“Wait ’til I tell my wife that I met you. We loooove your stuff. Our favorite story is ‘Dead in Denver.’”
“Thanks,but I didn’t write that. Perhaps you mean ‘Death of A Filmmaker?’”
“No, you’re dead in Denver. I’m sure. It’s our all-time favorite. Do you have a favorite?”
“Let’s find a place to sit down and I’ll tell you my favorite…”
It’s 1976, we’re on an early train to Port Talbot, Wales, where British Steel has its enormous steelworks.
I’m making a 25-minute corporate film for Acrow Engineering with the catchy title, “The Steel Stockholder’s Strongest Supporter.”
I need an opening sequence. It’s a 15-second shot of Michael Barratt, a well known TV presenter, standing in front of a cauldron pouring molten steel. He’ll say something like, “This is where it all starts…”
Who needs a tripod? Not me. I can shoulder-hold without a quiver. Who needs lights? Not us. Hey, there will be plenty of factory lights. So, no lights.
I have a small Éclair ACL 16mm camera with one fixed 12mm lens, just fine for to-camera pieces. Tricia has a Sony ECM77 lavalier mic and a tiny Nagra SN recorder.
Tea and Biscuits
We taxi from the railway station. Michael has driven there and we meet up in the British Steel PR office. The PR man is delighted to chat with a celebrity like Michael. We have morning tea. “When is the crew going to arrive?”
“We’re all here,” I reply.
“Where’s your equipment?”
“Here’s the camera and Tricia has the tape recorder in her pocket.”
“But you will need lights. Last week we had the BBC here and they had three trucks with lights and generators. It’s dark in there.”
Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
He takes us inside the foundry and he’s right; just pitch blackness. I have screwed up.
I find a good spot for Michael where I can see the steel being poured. His face is in silhouette. I am panicking. The PR man senses my pain and smiles. I hate him.
I see a collection of cardboard boxes, even a newspaper. The guardian angel of filmmakers is with me.
I stack up the boxes between Michael and the camera. Tricia runs the tape recorder. I watch the cauldron as it moves into place.
I borrow a lighter from the PR man. Light the newspaper. It catches fire. The boxes start to burn. The cauldron is about to tip, molten iron about to pour. Roll film.
Flames Are Growing Higher
“Here at British Steel is where our story starts.” Michael is now behind a wall of fire. The distant cauldron is pouring. Sparks are flying. “The molten steel behind me will find its way into the buildings and bridges of tomorrow.” The flames get lower. His face is lit by a red flicker. “But will this precious asset be stored properly or will it be left to rust on the ground?” Crump. The boxes collapse. The fire dies out.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” gasps the British Steel man.
On the return trip to London, the three of us are killing ourselves with laughter.
“If this doesn’t come out, we can never go back.”
Firelight Becomes You
The film comes back from the lab and it’s perfect. The flames and firelight are amazing; who needs three lighting trucks?
Michael tells everyone. My exploits go viral. In ’76, I’m known as the guy who lit the fire at British Steel.
“That, Chuck, is the best of my stuff.”
“Wow, great story. You were so cool. How did you lose it?”