Few people know it took 36yrs for the correct person to be properly credited with the birth of modern "video-assist" on our movies. VA is the in-situ/ersatz video recording of a film; "video-reference" is the same feed, unrecorded. This primary film technology is second only to the invention of VCRs, co-engineered by the same inventor: Jim Songer.
Songer and his old Video WEST partners revolutionized their whole industry in 1967 for the sake of just one movie: The Party(1968). Their film industry "revolution" is even more significant than the arrival of Pixar, transforming John Cork's DVD supplement, The Party Revolution(2004), into THE insiders' story.
Despite its length(16m), the documentary is charmingly put together. Packed to seem much longer, it introduces video-assist's heretofore unknown heroes (Songer &Ken Wales), who found each other in 1967 via (Goldwyn Productions' Engineering Dept head) Gordon Sawyer and the innovative Blake Edwards.
By the mid-1960s Blake Edwards was collaborative enough to invite technical synergies too, posing wish-lists to his young,"incredibly bright" technical assistant. Ken Wales became Associate Producer on The Party(1968) after first being Walt Disney's then Glenn Ford's wunderkind protégé.....today he's the brilliant hand behind Amazing Grace(2006).
As an IMPROVISED silent-era homage, The Party(1968) quickly evolved into a huge challenge for pre-transistor technology. John Cork's sensitive-yet-educational documentary has Songer admitting how Edwards' "framework"(sparse) screenplay--relying so much on happy accidents--while ideal, became "extremely taxing" for his technology.
He's referring to the mainly horizontal parallax problem caused by piggybacking cameras.
"Video-assist" aka "instant replay"(Songer's term) aka "instant dailies"(Edwards'), began with the somewhat unsophisticated act of attaching a TV camera to the side of the larger film camera, and Cork's smart/crisp editing of interviewees plays well against his animated graphics explaining such positioning.
Naturally Songer's piggybacking irked the film cameramen, who knew the added weight/vibration/noise would ruin the film they shot. That all had to be eliminated one-by-one, and Songer almost giggles on Revolution(2004) about his experiences getting them to cooperate.
This already represents a VAST improvement on Jerry Lewis' supposedly pioneering setup of video-cameras upon their own tripods several feet away from his film camera (creating his own NEW problem). Bruce Denny(Paramount's Technical Dept) eventually developed Lewis' Jerry-rigged contraption into a 200lb monster on dolly; but even once Lewis piggybacked too, his approach never nailed the hard physics problems. It took Songer's long tinkering with Panavision's film cameras, and the many patents he holds as a result, to solve the parallax/lighting/convenience issues.
Parallax (image POV-shift) is a well-known problem to astronomers too, but for improvisational/comic acting&directing, the walk-ons and happy accidents at frame-edge required an isomorphic recording, not merely an approximation......(such visual precision was the only way to achieve continuity, crucial for unwritten improvised scenes). Beyond that, Edwards' comedic timing required precise capturing so improvisations might be tweaked to "thrust/cut into one scene or another"(Songer)......and that's exactly how Edwards, Sellers--and to some degree, Jerry Lewis--used "video tap"(yet another term) in production.
As they made continual improvements, Songer&Wales submitted one patent application after another, resulting in Songer's (shockingly belated) Technical Achievement Oscar®(2002).
Wales, the minister's son/romantic cupid who introduced Blake to Julie Andrews (then had his father marry them) also became the technological cupid between Edwards' "instant dailies" and their engineering genius. On Revolution(2004) Wales finally reveals his flummoxed initial response to Edwards:"Well .Blake, you know the difficult I can do right away ..(but) the impossible takes just a little-bit longer!" "Difficult" as it was, Edwards' "wish" had been the second-most interesting problem in 1960s film production. Impressively, Songer helped Ampex invent VCRs too, and through Edwards, eventually adapted Panavision's proprietary technology to grant the "impossible".
Unfortunately, without massive capital, any proliferation of their unique "tool"(Mirisch) onto other productions would prove to be "a tough duality"(Wales). The team even formed their own start-up company: Video WEST(Wales/Edwards/Songer Telesystems) Inc, to rent out their single non-dedicated VA/camera.
The whole 36yr-tale is painfully relived through Cork's cleverly structured interviews with little further narration.
Walter Mirisch (the gentlest and last remaining Mirisch brother) recalls on Revolution(2004) how Blake Edwards championed VA, while Edwards confirms his own inspiration as......Jerry Lewis' set. However, this group quickly recognized that Lewis' Bellboy(1960) contraption was conceptually wrong for what the industry NEEDED....just evidently didn't want yet.
"EVERYBODY said 'it's a nice idea but it'll never be used", confirms VA-specialist Clark Higgins in 2004.
The impassioned Video WEST team gradually retell their brave story despite their company's demise. As Pixar themselves found, 1970s-1980s Hollywood labored under an intense "Fear of Computers/Video" in general, and of VA in particular:"....It adds more time", agrees Walter Mirisch.
The infamous "VA=OT"(OverTime) formula is sometimes true; actors need great self-discipline to use video-assist efficiently on set. It certainly slowed the obsessive Peter Sellers right down. Edwards recalls how contemporary directors apparently "didn't wish to corrupt the actor"(with public/objective practice), and how filmmakers thought VA would "take away from (the actor/director separation)".
Another similarity to Pixar's genesis was the "tremendous.....expenditure" that inventing VA incurred. In Pixar's case it was George Lucas suffering the start-up company's losses, whereas Video West's research was personally funded by Blake Edwards.
Tragically, it wasn't enough. The Pink Panther impresario appears towards the end with a heartbroken revelation:"I just knew it was (financially) too much for me, (so) I said--'Give it back to Panavision'.....I still have to borrow for my rent, but what the Hell"! About the time he returned the VA-modified prototype-camera to Panavision AS A GIFT TO THE INDUSTRY, Edwards suffered the double insults of depression and Chronic-Fatigue-Syndrome(CFS).
Jim Songer is himself battling for recognition despite his many patents, due to the industry's early (and Peter Bogdanovich's recent) rallying behind Jerry Lewis.
".....Songer has the strongest claim on some of the biggest steps in (Video-assist's evolution), including the steps that first created a practical, complete system for motion-picture production, but.....others made substantial contributions.....notably.....Paul.A.Roos"(Glaskowsky).
What Songer and Lewis still share, however, is Hollywood's sidelining of video-assist, reportedly "embittering" Lewis(!).(9/10)
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