A Producer's View of the 1976 Winter Olympics Shoot

By Samuelson, Michael | American Cinematographer, April 1976 | Go to article overview

A Producer's View of the 1976 Winter Olympics Shoot


Samuelson, Michael, American Cinematographer


After filming of the Mexico City and Munich Summer Olympics, plus several World Cup matches, the Winter Olympics at Innsbruck was a relatively small operation, but in certain ways more challenging

At the time that Denver pulled out of the Winter Olympics and the Games were awarded to Innsbruck - that was almost four years ago - I was obviously very pleased, because that put the Games into my sort of territory. I went to see Dr. Karl Heinz Klee, secretaryGeneral of the Innsbruck Organizing Committee and asked what the situation would be in regard to filming the event. I suppose it was about six trips later that they agreed I could have the rights, provided that I could find a sponsor to finance the production. Fortunately, the Shueisha Publishing Company of Japan came forward, and here we are today making the film.

It really was, I think, quite a brave thing on the part of the Organizing Committee, because there were a lot of Austrian companies that would have liked to make the film - and I'm sure they would have made a good film but I like to think that the Organizing Committee was hoping to get something a bit special.

In approaching the filming of the Olympic Games these days, I think one has to look at television, which is now so good, and ask: "What can we do that they can't?" Frankly, there's very little, and it's terribly important that we don't produce just another television show. We can't do it as well as they do it because we don't have the money that they have, for one thing. Also, they have five or six hours a day of screen time, whereas we have a total of 90 minutes to cover 15 days. The result is that we have to be very selective and we have to work out ways and means of doing it in such a way as to make it different from television.

David Wolper's film of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich ("VISIONS OF EIGHT") was certainly very different from television, but I felt that it was not a box office success because there was very little about the sports in any of the sequences - and we must remember that we are making a sports film. The 1968 Olympic Games film shot in Mexico City was too much like television cut down to size. They tried to put 20 sports into one two-hour film and it was just too much. The photography in that picture was brilliant and everybody did a marvelous job, but the film had not that much to offer that television had not already shown. So, in our film, we have attempted to show the sports in a way that the public hasn't already seen.

I think you have to look at your audience and ask: "What sort of film would they like to see?" We've attempted to produce a theatrical sports film. The audience is mainly a young audience, so the music in the film will be of tremendous importance. The British rock band, YES, is creating an original score, and quite a bit of the time we will be cutting our pictures to fit their music, rather than the music to fit the pictures.

James Coburn has been with us filming for 16 days, and he does what I describe as a sort of "Walter Mitty" turn in which he does what you and I, who are frustrated sportsmen, would like to do - such as having a go in the ice hockey goal keeper's net, with an Olympic team firing pucks at you. He goes down the Bobsled run and tries his luck on skis and he does it very, very well. I think he does an excellent job of describing a'nd explaining the problems of the various sports.

Another element that sets our film apart is the fact we are shooting it in Panavision anamorphic - the Big Time of film formats. This is the first Olympics film ever to be filmed in Panavision anamorphic. Besides giving us literally wider scope in the portrayal of the various sports, this expansive format does full justice to the beauty of the Austrian alps.

As far as personnel are concerned, we are using a much smaller crew here because Tony Maylam, the director, knows exactly what he wants. We're not attempting to do what television does - which is to film everything. …

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