Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Still Photography

 

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

I first met Bruce Lee when we both worked on the Green Hornet TV series in the summer of 1966. Bruce was an unknown actor playing Kato alongside of Van Williams who was in the title role. I was the First Assistant Cameraman assigned to the camera crew and I had no idea of Bruce’s legendary skills when we began the show. Although the show was short-lived, it made Bruce a household name. When the show was cancelled, Bruce found it hard to get a good acting job and returned to Hong Kong to work there for Raymond Chow and his Golden Harvest Studios.

 

Bruce Lee, Raymond Chow, Dave Friedman, and Andre Morgan

While working on the Green Hornet, Bruce and I became friends and after he went to Hong Kong, we stayed in touch and I visited him several times during my many trips there. He asked me to come and work on his films there but I was always too busy with my work here to do that. During the period from 1967 to 1973, Bruce became Asia’s biggest and most famous movie star.

"Enter the Dragon" - overview of Martial Arts Tournament

In late 1972, Mort Lichter, head of the Warner Bros Still Department, contacted me about working on their upcoming film Enter The Dragon that was to be shot in Hong Kong. Mort knew that I had spent a lot of time in Hong Kong and he also knew that I had known and had worked with Bruce. It took me about three seconds to say yes to that job.

When I arrived in Hong Kong in early 1973, I learned that I was one of a very small group of American crewmembers that would be working on the film. Director Robert Clouse, Director of Photography Gil Hubbs, Producer Fred Weintraub, and Associate Producer Andre Morgan, an American living in Hong Kong and working for Raymond Chow. We were the ones who were on the set every day.

Bruce Lee, The Absolute Master

The film itself was an absolute joy to work on and Bruce was a real professional to work with. He knew everyone’s lines, knew what everyone was supposed to do and choreographed all of the fight scenes. Bruce was the real deal and could do more than what he showed in the film. He had the best control of his body of anyone that I have ever known. Bruce once told that he could kill a person ten different ways before he hit the ground and I sure as hell believed him.

We enjoyed many special moments on that film but what I most remember are the wonderful lunches that the American crew had with Bruce at the beautiful, old Repulse Bay Hotel. Sitting on their veranda and enjoying a wonderful buffet lunch while overlooking the South China Sea is something I will never forget. Bruce and I had several dinners together in Hong Kong but he didn’t like to go out very much because people who didn’t believe that he could actually do what he did in the movies would often challenge him. Bruce never accepted these challenges but one time, when challenged on the set by a very stupid extra, he did accept and the fight was over with one fast kick to that idiot’s teeth.

Bob Wall, Linda Lee, and Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee and Raymond Chow

Bruce Lee: this fight was for real

Peter Archer, Bruce Lee, and Jim Kelly

Bruce Lee and Bob Wall

Bruce Lee and Bob Wall. Bruce’s hand is cut.

Filming of the big fight scene on the grass tennis court did have one very anxious moment when Bruce’s hand was badly cut by the glass bottle held by Bob Wall who played the villainous Oharra. Seems the Chinese film industry at that time had never heard of the artificial candy glass bottles used regularly for such things in American films and they used a real glass bottle instead. Bruce needed to go to the hospital for stitches but being the professional that he was, he returned to the set later in the day.

Bruce Lee, Bolo Yeung, and Jackie Chan

A couple of interesting notes from this film are: Bolo Yeung, the muscular villain, was known as The Beast of The East and The Chinese Hercules. He was a champion weight lifter and was famous for crushing an unknown extra named Jackie Chan to death during the fight.  He did not speak English at that time but was a delightful man to work with.

Kien Shih

Kien-Shih, who played the evil Han, had been in the film industry since 1939, when he started as a makeup man. He became famous for playing movie villains and had a very long career. Although he did not speak English, he seemed to understand what we asked him to do. He was very professional on the set and a very nice man.

When we finished this film, I went to Europe to cover the Motorcycle Grand Prix circuit. While I was at Monza, Italy for the Italian Grand Prix in July 1973, a fellow photographer, who knew that I was a good friend of Bruce approached me and told that he had heard that Bruce had died. I was in complete shock since I knew that Bruce was my age and in great shape. Needless to say, later in the day this was confirmed to me and I was deeply saddened. Bruce had asked me to work on his next film but obviously that would never happen.

When I attended a private showing of the film at Warner Bros, there was a great sadness, knowing that Bruce would never see the completed film or attend the premiere of the film.

Bruce was a great guy, and I loved him and still do.

Advertisements

1923 Bell & Howell 2709B

Hello! You look at me as if to say, “Who are you and what are you?”. Well let me answer some of your questions:

I am a Bell & Howell 2709B, serial number # 653, and I was built in mid-1923. We were the standard of the industry during the most creative time of the silent film era from 1920 to 1929 and there were 1225 of us built between 1912 and 1961.

Our cameras had many great innovations:

  • We were the first motion picture camera system to be built with a body machined from cast aluminum.
  • We were the first to have a rack over system that allowed for precise viewing and for critical focus.
  • We were the first with a four lens turret and we were the first to have register pins that held the film completely steady and in a precise position.
  • Our design was so good that we remained in production, almost unchanged, from 1912 to 1961.  I was sold to the Metro Company in mid-1923 and was used on several of the company’s biggest films that starred Ramon Narravo, Rudolph Valentino, Aileen Pringle, and Blanche Sweet before the organization was merged with the Goldwyn Company and the Mayer Company to become MGM in April 1924. While at MGM I worked on two of the greatest, most famous, and most successful of all of the silent films, Ben Hur and The Big Parade in 1925.

    Ben Hur (1925) - Chariot race

    Myself, and the tripod I stand on, were used for the filming of the legendary chariot race that was staged in an arena built in Culver City at the corner of what is now Venice and La Cienega Boulevard and in front of a huge crowd of 125,000 spectators. This became one of the most dangerous and exciting sequences ever put on film and still holds up today some 85 years after it was filmed with 43 cameras, the most cameras ever used on any sequence in the long history of the film industry.

    As the silent era passed into history, I was sold to Malcolm Film Laboratories in New York City. There I was used for making title cards and dialogue cards in English that were used for foreign movies being released and shown here in the US and that is where I ended my career. Even after 87 years I am still fully operational as long as you use the crank. My very rare 87 year-old Bell & Howell motor (on the rear of the camera) has not been used in many years and is still wired in the 1920’s technology and therefore I would never allow it to be plugged in. The lenses are of the same era and have not been used in years and therefore I suspect they are no longer reliable.

    Bell & Howell 2709B with original hand crank

    Some of my accessories (side finder and matte box) say Mitchell on them. The reason for this is that when the Mitchell Standard Camera came on line in 1920 many of its accessories were better then the ones produced by Bell & Howell. Since the accessories were interchangeable, many cameramen updated their cameras with these parts. My very rare Akeley Tripod and gyro head were state of the art during the 1920’s and were in huge demand by most of the cameramen of that era.

    It is possible that some of us may still be in use today in animation studios around the world since we were used very successfully in much of that process for many years. A camera like this is extremely rare now since most of us have been cut up or converted to other uses.

    My owner has been told that there maybe no more then 100-150 of us left in original condition in the world. Several well known experts have also said that I maybe the only B&H camera left in the world today with the original Bell & Howell motor attached.

    Please look at me but do not touch me since I am now 87 years old. I am a wonderful piece of the incredible history of the motion picture industry and I have worked with legends so please respect that.

    My owner, Dave Friedman, will be happy to answer any of your questions.

    I’ve often been asked what a still photographer does on the set. The answer is that we are hired to document the filming of a production from start to finish. Of course, this includes recording what is going on in front of the camera but also what goes on behind it.

    As part of our job, we also do set, stills, and makeup stills that are very important to the continuity of the film. Our work is used for all of the film’s marketing and advertising campaigns that will include posters, magazines, newspapers, billboards, books, and merchandise.

    Rambo II

    Rambo II

    For me, the best thing about the job was that you are “a committee of one”, and very few people know what you are really doing there. Much of the cooperation and friendship that I have gotten over the years comes from the acting talent that has received the 11×14 prints that I give them early on in the production. You would be amazed at how much that helps.

    Day of the Locust

    Day of the Locust

    For the most part, I always felt I had the best job on the set specially when I worked with Steve McQueen and Sylvester Stallone where I had full control over what I did and who saw it. It was a great job as long as you were completely prepared and paid attention to what was going on around you.

    Being a still photographer was one of the most challenging of my many life experiences, as I never knew what tomorrow would bring.

    Dave Friedman

    For me the greatest challenge about photography is getting the shot that no one else can, or will, get. Whether it is motor racing, motion picture still photography, or shooting classical ballet performances, the challenge has always there for me. During the 1960’s and early 1970’s most of us had the freedom to roam at will around the inside or the outside of a racing circuit and capture the action close up. We were also able to roam through the pit and paddock area and we were able to visit with the different teams and drivers. We knew everyone on a first name basis and, more importantly, they all knew us.

    1969 - Parnelli Jones (15) and Mark Donohue (6)

    Racing cars, 1969

    Sadly, those days are gone forever. I loved to capture the action on the track but I knew that much of what went on behind the scenes, and in the pits, was very important also. So much of the drama of motor racing was played out in the pits, particularly at night. I loved shooting at night because it was a tremendous challenge to capture the mood of the pit action with the film and equipment that we had available to us at that time. Everything had to be shot with available, or sometimes unavailable, light since flash photography was absolutely prohibited in the night pits during that period.

    Spartacus

    Spartacus, 2005

    The photographing of classical ballet performances has become my newest and biggest challenge. Since I am working on performances where the theatrical lighting is completely beyond my control, I have a different type of challenge. How do I stop the dancers when they are in the air and there is almost no light with which to photograph them? The answer is that, as we say in the film business, you “push the envelope”. You throw away the book and you improvise on every aspect of your knowledge to get the shot, because getting the shot is what you are there to do. The results are often spectacular and the incredible dancers, costumes, sets, and moods are captured forever.

    I have often been asked when I will retire. The answer to that question is: NEVER. There are far too many wonderful challenges out there for me to conquer and I will never be able to stop shooting until the art of photography challenges me no more.