Magazine article American Cinematographer

"White Rock"-A Different Kind of Olympic Games Film

Magazine article American Cinematographer

"White Rock"-A Different Kind of Olympic Games Film

Article excerpt

A calculated determination to make an Olympic Games film totally unlike any made in the past, and one that will have an intense emotional appeal, primarily to a young audience

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"WHITE ROCK" came about because Michael Samuelson and I had worked on some projects together and when he was given the option to make the 1976 Winter Olympics film, he asked if I would be interested in working on it, and, of course, I immediately was.

Through some contacts of mine we got in touch with Dentsu Advertising Ltd. and it sort of progressed from there. Over a period of time we got the money for it and then it was a matter of deciding how we were going to do it.

Michael and I had seen all the other Olympics films and only two, in our opinion, had worked. One was the Ichikawa film of 1964 which, I think, worked on a sort of technical level. It got inside sports like films hadn't before. The other one was Leni Riefenstahl's film of the 1936 Games which, I feel, worked on several levels, and which I think was ahead of its time.

Obviously, one didn't want to make the same kind of film as those. Also, we didn't have the sort of money that other Olympics films had cost. The Mexico City film was sort of financed by the Mexican government, and the Lelouch film of 1968 was largely financed by the French government. They both had an awful lot of money to spend.

But also, once you have a government behind you, you're obligated, to some extent, to make a certain kind of Olympics film. You have to show hours of opening Ceremony and hours of Closing Ceremony and all that sort of stuff, which I think is totally against a commercial film. I mean, audiences pay their money to go to the cinema to be entertained.

So we decided to treat the subject of the Winter Olympics, not as a documentary, but as a feature film. We came up with the concept of dealing with just six events - with each having its own theme and being representative of a particular sport. For example, among the Alpine sports, we've really gone all-out for the Men's Downhill - which is the glamorous, prestigious event rather than including the Ladies' Downhill, the Men's Slalom or the Men's Giant Slalom, events which the average viewer knows nothing about.

We felt it would be better to choose a relative few of the representative sports of the Winter Olympics and do them really well, as opposed to spreading our coverage. As a result, we've chosen the Men's Downhill, the 90-meter Jump, the Biathlon Relay, Ice Hockey, Figure Skating Pairs and Bobsledding. We've also given each of them a theme. For example, the Men's Downhill, speed; the 90-meter Jump, courage; the Biathlon Relay (which is cross-country), endurance; Ice Hockey, aggression; Figure Skating Pairs, artistry in sport; and Bobsledding, bullet force.

With the James Coburn involvement we have given our audience a way to experience what it feels like to do these things. Like in the Bobsledding sequence, I think we come as close as is humanly possible to letting the average non-enthusiast find out what it's like to go down the run on a 4-man Bob, a 2-man Bob and the Luge - as seen through James Coburn's eyes. If we had shown it through the eyes of the four men on the team we wouldn't have gotten the same feedback. They are professionals; they are the ultimate competitors; they don't experience fear; all they're concerned about is tenths of a second.

But James Coburn is more than just a professional actor who can learn lines. He's given us much better feedback than we would have gotten from an ordinary TV reporter, for example. He's been able to express in words what it's like to experience these things. We're very lucky, too, in that he wanted to experience them. He had no fear of going down the Bobsled run, so we were able to work with camera and. sound rigs that would enable him to literally talk as he goes down the run. …

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