Raeburn Trindall (1935-2014) was a prominent Australian cinematographer. He began his career in 1950 at Associated Film Laboratory before joining Movietone News in the camera department in 1955. He was soon elevated to being a Newsreel cinematographer and remained there till early 1961 – then went freelance as a cinematographer, often working for the TV networks, Cinesound Review, Commonwealth Film Unit and Army Public Relations.
Listen to the interview
- Raeburn Trindall
Interview with Raeburn Trindall
M Richards: Tape identification, this is tape one of an interview with Mr Raeburn Trindall at his home in Flynn. The date is nine August 2001, the interviewer is Michael Richards. Mr Trindall has had a long career as a photographer which has brought him in to contact with Old Parliament House in a couple of ways over his life.
So perhaps we can start with just talking about you — how did you get into film in the first place?
R Trindall: I had always wanted to — I don’t know why — but I had always wanted to be in film and I wanted to be a cinematographer. And at the time there was very few opportunities into the film industry.
M Richards: What time was this?
R Trindall: I’m talking about 1950 or ’49 sort of thing. And I had completed my intermediary certificate actually by the time I was 14, and I’d wanted to get in but there were no positions in the film industry and I’d been to the companies that were then operating. And everyone had said — or a lot of people had said, ‘you should go through a film laboratory first before you get in to production so that you understand what it’s all about’. And during my fourth year in high school — because I had decided to go on to do the leaving certificate — a position came up with a laboratory, Associated Film Printers, and they worked in 16mm for the home cinema — home viewing market, the forerunner of home videos — and feature films that would go to release in the cinemas which were on 35 which would then be reduced down to 16mm. And they were — which was a very large home viewing market.
M Richards: Where were you living at that time?
R Trindall: I was living at Chatswood in Sydney and so I left school at the end of fourth year and went to work at the film laboratory.
M Richards: Your family was okay about that? Leaving school at that stage?
R Trindall: Well my father was an artist and he’d started working at 10. He didn’t have a problem with it, I mean he educated himself after that and my mother hadn’t had formal education in the sense of going further than the end of school that was necessary, but it was understood and certainly it wasn’t a problem in those particular days. About leaving, I didn’t leave school early because I had completed my intermediary, which was the then standard for hiring people into the work force. You could raise to the highest ranks in the banking industry joining the bank after you’d done your intermediary. Matter of fact they came — all the big companies like that came recruiting to the schools in your last year, in your third year of high school.
M Richards: I wanted to talk to you briefly about you home environment before you go on, but can you tell me, what was it that fired up your desire to be a cinematographer?
R Trindall: I cannot give you any particular reason, as I said my father was a professional artist. He really wanted me to be an artist, I used to draw and paint when I was young, but I think I — the whole family liked movies and I think I always liked the movies and for some reason or other I just had a desire to film them. And that was my charge. I wasn’t a still photographer looking to be — I didn’t take still photographs as such until some years after I was in the film industry.
M Richards: So can we talk just a little bit about your family circle, your father’s and artist, who was he and what sort of work did he do?
R Trindall: Um my father was Lyle Trindall FRAS, he was at that particular time. He was a contemporary of Norman Lindsay — they used to compare my father’s figures with Norman Lindsay’s figure, two different style of art and painting the human figure. And my father was also a portrait artist as well. And he was the most expensive artist in Australia at that time, if someone wanted a portrait they had to pay for it and they were prepared to pay for my father to do their portrait.
M Richards: What would he charge?
R Trindall: Well I think at — in 1950 terms I think he would charge something like 300 guineas for a portrait. He was even paid 1,000 guineas for a portrait.
M Richards: Which one was that?
R Trindall: That was a portrait of Mrs McCaughey. It later became the basis of a very high profile Supreme Court case.
M Richards: How was that?
R Trindall: Mrs McCaughey — well when Princess Elizabeth, newly married to the Duke of Edinburgh, was on her way to Australia in 1952, she was keen to stay at the McCaughey residence at Kooyong — at Kooyong. I’m sure it’s pronounced Kooyong — it was a large property near Narrandera, and she was due to stay there, but of course George VI died when she was in South Africa so she never came here. And Mrs McCaughey had — this was her second portrait by my father — it was a full length painting, she’d commissioned this to put in their homestead for when Princess Elizabeth arrived.
Apparently, by description it’s a magnificent homestead and it has two floors and a sweeping staircase and all sorts of things — I’ve not seen it but my parents had been there — and when Elizabeth ceased to come out to Australia, Mrs McCaughey cancelled payment of the painting — I think the other reason was that it didn’t win the Archibald Prize for that year too and I don’t think my father wanted to enter in the Archibald but she insisted and it did. So my father went to court for the payment and — it was on a verbal contract — and probably the first time ever that a verbal contract has been upheld.
M Richards: So the Supreme Court upheld…
R Trindall: Yes, yes my father won that.
M Richards: So he’s at the full height of his powers and painting and you’ve gone off to become a cinematographer?
R Trindall: Well at that time I’d probably been working for some years in a film lab.
M Richards: Can you talk about that a little bit…?
R Trindall: Yes I started by rewinding and cleaning film all day — people talk about repetitive work and later in life — tell you can’t do repetitive work for too long because you might get bored or all sorts of things. But when I started I was rewinding film, cleaning it with carbon tetrachloride eight hours a day, carbon tetrachloride as it evaporated from the film — and you needed it to evaporate before — the film and make sure you’ve got onto a roll, so your hands would get cold with the evaporation of carbon tet. And you hadn’t do it at a pace and you had to make sure you didn’t leave streaks and you didn’t do it hard enough to — that any dirt you might have picked up might scratch, so you had to keep changing you pad for cleaning and things like this. And you did that for eight hours a day, five days a week and people talk about repetitive work.
M Richards: So presumably you didn’t do that forever.
R Trindall: No I didn’t. I moved then to the printing room and — correction, I move into the processing room we worked on this processor, so you’d be in amber-dark light for about eight hours a day unless they were doing negatives and then you’d go to total darkness. And you learnt to see very well at night, you also learnt to — how to operate and feel for things in the dark, and you were able to do things and move around. And then I became in charge of the processing room and then they moved me to the printing room and I eventually became head of the printing room. So I’ve been head of two particular departments there and I don’t — I only ever used to see the sunlight in the morning when I was going to work. Otherwise the rest of my life was spent in darkness or evening. So that after five years I got a job with Movietone News — I had to wait nine months for that decision.
They said I’d get the next vacant position and nine months later I got it. And I started as the third camera assistant, very hierarchical. And the other two assistants who were above me and could boss me were actually several years younger than me because after I got into the lab I found that you really didn’t need to go through a lab to get in to production. You could go straight in and these camera assistants were 16, 17 and I was about 21 at this stage. But I started with cleaning up the darkroom and sweeping the floors and carrying the gear, and packing the car. I really know how to pack a vehicle and get all the stuff in the right corners, even today.
So then I moved up from — up the ranks of the camera assistants and I became third cameraman and second. And I never became first cameraman or chief cameraman at Movietone, but by that time, towards the time that I was there, the hierarchical system had disappeared slightly. And you didn’t have such a rigid structure of first, second, third cameraman and that sort of thing. So during my time with Movietone which was six years, I filmed some big stories. There was the bushfires of Leura and Wentworth Falls which wiped out the town of Leura in 15 minutes and — took slightly longer to burn through Wentworth Falls — and we went and covered that.
M Richards: Can we just stop there for…
Resuming the interview with Raeburn Trindall after a break to turn off a noisy heater.
We were talking about Movietone, you’re progressing up the chain of command, it’s getting a little less hierarchical but it’s still a chain of command. How did you develop professionally? Apart from working on the job — are you going to lots of movies, is there a professional society that you belong to, is there night school training?
R Trindall: A professional society was formed while I was at Movietone. The Australian Cinematographers’ Society. And I was one of the foundation members of that society, attending the inaugural meetings and it became the professional body and set the standards for cinematography. And they have an award system that after you have gained sufficient experience in whatever field of cinematography you do — be it feature films, drama, commercials or news and documentary — a group of your peers will assess your work for the lighting, and the content, and the composition — things like that. Because a cinematographer in a way is the creator of a film, the director gets a lot of credit, they claim a lot of the credit, but really they rely on the cinematographer to translate their ideas in to — on to film. Director, unless he’s filming himself, can’t lay claim to the fact of doing that and eventually a cinematographer may or may not have — will have some influence over what that image will look like. And so in 1966, I was accredited with the letters ACS after my name having by the executive and my peers believing that I had reached the standard required that they set for using those letters.
And that was not long after it was formed, so that is the professional standard that we got to. The thing is, yes I’d looked at a lot of movies, not so much that you were consciously trying to see — you did see what others did, and you saw — sometimes you’d see technique — but one of the things with the news reel cameramen — news reel cinematographer, he had to create — anywhere he went — he had to create a story, it had to have a start, a middle, and a finish. It had to be a self contained story that people could see and understand. Preferably with very little or no narration required. And some stories were easy to do like that and others you really had to create some sort of angle. An example was I was sent — during the 50s they didn’t have the flood mitigation work on the northern rivers which they got after the ’55 floods and particularly on the Hunter as some others — and the rivers could still rise and flood some of the major towns and they thought that Lismore was going to be flooded, inundated, so I was sent up there to cover this and we got up there and I started filming all the preparations and — it was night time, going to night time — photographed the people on the bridges looking — I photographed people doing the levy work, I photographed the fire engine — the fire brigade loading all their stuff on to the fire engine and they even had to put their dart board on it and sit down and wait, because the town hadn’t flooded, and they were all waiting for it.
The town actually didn’t flood — it flooded in some low-lying areas, but the town actually didn’t flood. But that story went out on — the waiting and anticipation of the flood that never came — I could have gone up there and literally had nothing and walked away because the town didn’t flood, but as I got up there and got the message that it may or may not I started doing all the preparation for it. And people sitting listening to a radio — television wasn’t all big in those days, and certainly they didn’t have the instantaneous coverage that they get now days, so the news would have been coming to people over the radio or some other way. And so I felt quite pleased about that story because I felt I had created it out of nothing, it was an advent story that I was able to get and it went out on the news reel — that was the other thing with a news reel, a story had to be able to hold interest nine months later, because by the time I got around — while it would hit all of Australia virtually on the same day, by the time it went on the circuit and it went to subsequent screens, suburbs, country towns, and had finished its run.
That reel would be nine months old. So while people might know of the news, they would sit down and they could watch the film, and this is why you have a lot of documentaries now going back to archival footage using news reel stories because the news reel people created stories that could be seen in total. Unlike television stories for many years, and I think they still suffer the same problem, they rely on a news reader or a presenter — whether they’re standing in situ or standing in front of a studio in Canberra to give you the guts of the story and then run some film to illustrate what it is. None of those stories — most of the stories on news these days are not a self contained story with a start, a middle, and a finish. So a — that was training for my later career when I move into direction and production, and editing, because you’re always taught when you’re filming in news — in Movietone you’re taught how to edit in your mind. Film was an expensive commodity, and when you see a story that is on the news there are so much — there is a certain amount of film that has remained on the cutting room floor to get there, so the maximum you were allowed to shoot on a story was a ratio of three to one. So for every three feet you shot, you had to be sure that one foot would make it to the screen. And that was a tight shooting schedule. And sometimes we got it even down less than that. And we used to go out and film cricket for the news reel. Now everyone is accustomed to watching ball to ball coverage and the ABC would have five cameramen shooting non-stop when TV came in — on film for the cricket coverage and they would photographed every ball, and as the camera was running out of film another one would start rolling and they’d reload and they’d go on — and they had five cameras covering this in a bank up in the stands.
Well at Movietone — I’ll give you an example, Sid Wood — the chief camera — had an uncanny knack, he would spend maybe an hour or so in the members’ bar and then he’d come up and he’d roll camera and nothing happened. He’d roll the next shot, wicket. Go down to the bar, and he’d come back and he might film a four or something else, but he would film cricket for the news reel and if — twelve to one is what they thought they might have to wear in cricket, and they would — they could edit that amount of film pretty fast but he actually got it down to five to one and later on when I went to work at, with television as head of the Sydney camera department at Channel Seven, I was sent out every day to film the cricket — it was mainly the Shield at this time — and I was only given an hour there and they had rules that you could only spend 100 feet, that’s three minutes of film, you could only shoot 100 feet maximum for any story.
So for the first two, three days I went out there and in my 100 feet of film that I had to do for Channel Seven I would get a wicket, I would get them running between wickets, I’d get a four and I’d get a bowl or something like this. But on the last day — and Ken High [?] was playing for one of the states in the Shield match — every time I turned the camera on there was nothing. I’d turn the camera off, next ball there’d be a wicket or whatever it was — I was always one ball ahead, and I had 100 feet of nothing so far as they were concerned — I mean it would have been interesting footage if you were doing something a bit longer. So I had to ring them and say ‘can I use another 100 feet? I haven’t — and they reluctantly gave me permission. So I went there and I had the long lens on and I followed a close up of the bowler running in towards me, I followed the flight of the ball out of his hand straight through Ken High’s wicket. And I reckon I had it, so I packed up and went home. And that was all done before 12 o’clock because we had to — all the news had to be gathered by 12 o’clock when I was at Seven.
M Richards: Must have had extraordinary discipline to — that sort of limitation on film…
R Trindall: Yes, the — and one of the reasons that ATN did this — their film lab had been designed by someone that wasn’t accustomed to film, and engineer that wasn’t skilled in — and he made no provision for replenishing tanks for the processing machine. So the amount of liquid they had in the main tanks that the film went through, could only process so much film before it took the chemicals out and you couldn’t run any more film through it. So we were restricted by the amount of film we could shoot a day by the amount of liquid they had in there — they didn’t have as I said replenishing tanks that recycled through and you could run continuous — like any other professional laboratory.
M Richards: So this was something that applied to Channel Seven rather than through the industry generally?
R Trindall: Oh the skill of shooting — yes you did shoot ratios, that was a skill throughout the industry — some applied it a bit more or less — but at Seven they restricted the amount of film they had from any source in the day and the other thing is, you had to finish filming by 12 o’clock so they could process it in the afternoon for the — and edit it for the evening news. So I would have filmed five stories by 12 o’clock in the day.
M Richards: Why did you go to work for Channel Seven?
R Trindall: I left — I left Movietone and started freelancing, also at that time I had started writing and having some stories published in PIX magazine, and illustrating with photographs — mainly photographs when writing the story for PIX magazine.
M Richards: What sort of stories?
R Trindall: Well there was the drought in central Queensland — they didn’t have any rain for four years, no one knew about that, hadn’t hit any of the national newspapers and I’d picked up the news from an air hostess that was flying in to central Queensland. And I told the chief — the editor — the producer about this so he sent me up to — I organised and he sent me up to cover the story, which I did. And then he sent me on a tour around Australia. ‘Oh that sounds good, now go up to Darwin and see what you can find there, and find another story from somewhere else’, but when I came back I’d taken some still pictures of that as well, and they — not my actual stills, they took clips out of my news reel — went on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald to break the story nationally same time as the news reel hit the streets.
I sold the — my negatives to PIX magazine and then it came out and the — I gave the whole story and I hadn’t written anything before this, and I gave them the whole story like I’d give the editor, who would have that there and then the narrator, the writer — Jack Dayview or someone else could — whoever wrote it would come along and turn all the information I gave them into a story to fit the film. So I handed all the information in with my photographs and when the magazine was published, the bloke that took my information and turned it into a story got the credit, and my photographs had nothing, so it seemed like he’d created this whole story. So that kind of annoyed me and thereon after I always did the story and I always got a by line for everything that I did. And then eventually PIX magazine put me on — hired me as a freelance columnist doing a series called — can you pause a moment?
M Richards: Resuming the interview after a brief pause.
R Trindall: Yes they ran the column called The Inquiring Photographer, and the editor would hand me a question to go an ask the people, do a survey of the people, and I’d take the photograph of the person I’d ask, and I’d ask the question and I’d supply their answers. And this came about when the editor saw what I did with a story prior to this. I’d done a story on a man that had indulged in self-hypnosis and he’d did it a performing art and he did the usual things like putting a nail through his tongue — that sort of thing — but the thing that made it most interesting was that he said you could throw darts at his chest, and so that there would be no appearance of collusion when I did this story I took along somebody unknown to him, a friend of mine, and my friend practised throwing darts at the dart board before he got up and here’s the man standing with his turban, and up there playing his bit of music, caravan to sort of get him into the self-hypnosis. And my friend then proceeded to throw darts into his chest.
And I’d film it, and I’d be filming this and particularly — I did some movies but I was particularly in stills — ‘I’ll try and capture the dart in flight’, apart from the couple in his chest, and I’d have to say ‘no, do it again’, so my friend would go over and pull the darts out of his chest and come back — the amazing thing was that you’d think he’d — this person would be blood running everywhere but as he pulled it out he’d just give it a little pinch and it’d stop bleeding. Because he said this was part of what he could do under his self-hypnosis, he could control the blood and the flow — so anyway that was…
M Richards: Just going to move the microphone a little bit so that it’s just a little bit closer to where you’re sitting.
R Trindall: Okay. So he ran up with these little red dots and I know that at least once the dart went into the chap’s breastbone because my friend had a deal of trouble pulling it back out. I finally got the shot. And I took the story in to the editor of PIX magazine and he looked down and he said ‘what does a doctor say about this?’ I said ‘I’ve never asked a doctor’, he said ‘go an ask a doctor’ is what he said. Now this being about my second journalistic effort, I went out and asked a doctor these questions, and I went back thinking that it would be subbed in by the editor and I gave him question-answer format and he said to me ‘my journalists wouldn’t do this as pithily as this’, and that’s when he gave me this idea of the column of The Inquiring Photographer because it seemed that I could write concise answers to the questions, I was able to write concisely. And that was the start of it.
M Richards: So that’s obviously something to do with how you end up being more than simply a cameraman…
R Trindall: Yes.
M Richards: But actually you’re getting into production and direction, and the whole box and dice. But can you — just tell me a little bit about Channel Seven, when did you go to work for them?
R Trindall: I went to work for Channel Seven in 1962.
M Richards: And what were you doing at that stage?
R Trindall: I was employed as chief cinematographer — head of the cine. Canberra department at Channel Seven. I had a number of cinematographers under me and I had to train new people as well. And we were based in the Fairfax building in the city, rather than Channel Seven out at Epping.
M Richards: And this is a very different type of filming, as you said, from the Movietone news, telling a story — are you still doing that is that still — when you were working there?
R Trindall: Well when I joined Channel Seven there was a very good presenter, Kevin Sanders was the news reader at the time. And they would have nearly ten minutes of news, because that was paid for — fully paid for by Qantas or someone — and they only had about a minute or two of actual film, most of it was very much Kevin Sanders reading the news there, and because nearly all the journalists at that time in television, were print orientated. They’d grown up with being a print, they’d grown up in the system where they’d walk through a story and tell the press photographer with them ‘take that picture, I want it this way’, so the press photographer was really just an extension of the news — a tool — and didn’t have much say in the kind of picture that was going to appear in the paper.
He’d have to compose it, but the journalist really told him what to shoot, how to shoot it, and basically what the news or story angle was. So in essence there was really only a minute or less, and they would use probably one scene of what I’d filmed, it’d be like a moving still picture to illustrate that they had a cameraman there and this was it. But after their — I was there for a little while — the editor started to realise — that was cutting the film — that he was getting a complete story, and he wrote a minute, which I happen to have, to the news editor saying ‘we ought to run more because this story has a start, a finish, and a story and you can run complete stories’. And during my time there they actually upped the amount of film that went to air of a night. And I even had to teach — I taught some of the people, including Kevin Sanders how to do a news interview because we did a lot of airport arrivals as well, and this is where sometimes they started sending the presenter out to do an interview on …
And they started to ask some inane questions and then I said ‘look I’ll tell you how we ought to do this. You ask a general thing and I’ll bring along a wide shot to establish the scene. You ask the second question I’ll be on the moving shot. Ask them this one and I’ll be on a close up for their reaction’. And I always gave them the questions to make them react by the third time when I’d be in close up. And so we started to get some very good stuff and they started to do that. And then after about 12 months I moved on into again freelance.
M Richards: And it’s as a freelancer that you come to Canberra in the next period that I wanted to talk about, and you film in the Senate and — can we talk about that a bit?
R Trindall: Yes.
M Richards: And how that happened?
R Trindall: Well about 1970 I got fed up with Sydney. I happened very quickly, very suddenly. I was stuck in a traffic jam in York Street, there was a diesel bus — because it was very hot I had the windows down and there was a diesel bus there beside me pumping diesel fumes right in my face. And I was in that little part of York Street facing the town hall. So instead of going left down George Street like I was originally going to, I turned right, did a U-ey, got my wife and child, said goodbye to my mother said ‘oh we’re going to Melbourne’. And we stopped in Canberra because my wife’s parents had been transferred here with government departments in 1968 and so we stopped by way on a holiday on our way through to Melbourne. I walked in to Channel Seven here, CTC, just to have a look around.
And I was talking to Bill Rainer, the assistant-general manager, and he offered me a six month contract to set up this special projects division. And not having anything to go to in Melbourne, I took the contract. And as a part of that contract we felt — certainly Bill had been thinking about it for a while, and I agreed with him that Canberra being the political heart of Australia, documentaries and particularly political ones should emanate from this town. So the first project we decided we would do would be — and I think this was rather — we hadn’t picked a subject per se, but we did suggest, we did agree — I suggested and we did agree on Frank Chamberlain as being our — the person that might be the front man if you like. Because he had a radio program at the time which was pretty straight forward and slightly controversial and hard hitting — and I had not met Frank Chamberlain, I didn’t even know what he looked like.
So when I met him he was certainly not what you would expect from a TV presenter — he certainly wasn’t a handsome man but I think he had — he knew his subject, had a good voice, because being radio all these years — and I think he had an aura, and perhaps because he wasn’t a handsome person he may have leant more credibility to what was being said. This is in hindsight, I can’t say that I really jumped up and down and worked all this out at that particular time. And in discussion, because I was also the producer, the director of this program as well as being the cinematographer, we decided that we’d go with ‘is the Senate really necessary?’ We’d ask questions and then…
M Richards: Why did you decide on that question?
R Trindall: I cannot tell you now, why we did exactly. But I think, I think it might have been a subject that might have been close to Frank’s heart. When he — he would have brought that up rather than myself or Bill Rainer, and when he explained about — I suppose because the Senate was only just starting to awaken from supposedly being the sleeping giant, and he pointed these things out and we thought ‘yes we’ll look at this’, because who knew about the Senate? No one really thought much about the Senate then, and I think a lot of people don’t think much about it now — don’t understand it enough now, even after the dismissal in ’75. So that was the program we decided we’d do. I set the production parameters in that if this was going to be a program — a weekly program — we’d have to be able to produce it in a week.
Film offered us the most freedom of production, there certainly wasn’t the small television cameras around in 1970 that there are now. We had big studio cameras and that was about it. And we didn’t want to do an in-studio type thing, sort of boring and whatever. So that was the parameters that were set, the lab — Channel Seven actually had their own laboratory so there wasn’t a problem with processing film, although I can’t remember now whether I went to negative and we printed it in another lab. I think actually we went to — went to negative and printed it in another lab because their lab was set up for reversal film and I wanted to get good quality because we couldn’t make any more than one print. And that was it. There was not a script as such, where you laid out the whole format of the film and you say ‘well we’ll do Joe Bloggs and Fred Nerks there and whatever in the last so much. And we’ve allowed a lot of them so much time’, we had an idea and certainly I had to tell Frank Chamberlain what I had in mind for how the interview would go and how — the way we would set it up. And I’d have to keep some control on Frank because he could go into in depth discussion — sometimes almost like he was sitting down having a tea with a friend and they’d chat away.
So I had to keep control from that point of view and have a running idea of it. The challenge of course was that I had not been in politics and I didn’t care much about politics before that, even though I had photographed politicians — Menzies and others at various times. I don’t think Australia generally was as conscious of politics — except maybe elections and certain things — as they might be now, where there seems to be more grind about it and it’s coming on television all the time, it’s coming in newspapers all the times — so it’s been forced on the public self-conscious more than it would have been in 1970. And there were no other weekly documentaries on television anywhere in Australia at that time. A Current Affair hadn’t released, Bob Raymond’s program basically hadn’t released, which was a precursor to A Current Affair…
M Richards: Four Corners hadn’t…?
R Trindall: Oh Four Corners yes, but we’re talking commercial. Sure the ABC was loaded with — they were probably the only one that was political and documentary and everything — and their percentage of the viewing audience was very low.
M Richards: Did you have any difficulty over access to people — you seem to have gotten hold of everyone who was anyone…?
R Trindall: No had not difficulty with access at all. Mainly our friend Chamberlain set that up. And so I suppose his name and reputation was what carried us through initially. The introduction and how we’d do the introduction and the conclusion — we, I worked on — and then we had a slight problem — this is where I found a slight problem with Frank — is that he couldn’t read from a script. He was an ad libber, if you told him what you wanted and you’d say ‘do it in three minutes’, he’d give it to you in three minutes because he was a radio man and he’d talk very fast and it’d be ingrained in him that there had to be no dead air, so virtually you wouldn’t even pause for — consciously pause for a breath. But you couldn’t structure an opening and as such and use his as a narrator, and hand him a narration to read, because he’d stumble and everything — you’d end up virtually letting him do it live.
And so it’s probably a skill that is gone a bit now, but occasionally it’s a skill you don’t always want when you’re working in film. But I think worked. Anyway we completed the whole production in a week, and as you know from various places we filmed, there was quite a choice of situation — so it wasn’t a question of just passing it all by background of books in an office — and that included the processing of the film, looking at your work print — the editing was done in Sydney and the editor that I got turned out to be very good, but he wasn’t accustomed to working at the kind of pace that I was, which came from a news reel type of background. So in essence I had to sort of sit with him, getting him to work a bit longer and faster, and — he was good at picking up what we couldn’t — how we would cut. I had transcripts of everything that was said so I was able to go through and ‘well I think we can cut out this bit here and go straight from there to there’.
Look at the film and say ‘yes that’s a medium and a close up so that’s an easy cut’ or if we had to go to a cut away or something like that. So from that point of view I was sitting there — Frank Chamberlain wasn’t involved in any editing of the material, cutting it down to time and speed and interest. Then when I did that Bill Rainer said — just to prove we could do it and it was not a one off — ‘we’ll do a second one’, and that’s when we decided we’d do as a sort of follow on, ‘is the Governor-General necessary?’ And Sir Paul Hasluck was the Governor-General and he wouldn’t give us permission to do anything until he’d seen what we’d done before. So I screened it for him, and he said he thought it was brilliant, he thought the general public wouldn’t understand, and I said ‘I think the general public is a little more understanding than people give them credit for’, and so on the basis of what we’d done with the Senate film, he gave us permission to film him and the office of the Governor-General.
M Richards: So you went through the same process…?
R Trindall: Went through the same process, although it was only a half hour. I think they might have thought ‘well we might go for a half hour’.
M Richards: So were they screened?
R Trindall: They were screened certainly by CTC here, and they did go around the country network as it was set up in that time, but what happened was that they went down to Channel Seven and Bruce Gyngell was CEO of the Seven Network at that particular time. And he said, no he didn’t think anybody would be interested in political documentaries. And shortly after he made that momentous decision, as far as I was concerned, Bob Brayman, A Current Affair opened up and they were getting great ratings — particularly on a Sunday night with Bob Brayman screening early on a Sunday night. And he was heard to wander down the corridors of power saying ‘documentaries don’t rate’, but it was too late, he’d killed us.
M Richards: Resuming the interview with Mr Raeburn Trindall after a short coffee break.
So the series was killed, and you stayed on in Canberra with your own production company…?
R Trindall: The production company came about a little later — I wound up being offered a position with the Department Army Public Relations, as a result of the — they were impressed by the way I’d photographed the army at Duntroon in their marching and everything, and on the basis of that they offered me a position as the 2 IC to their photographic unit. And I was there a couple of years and then in ’73 when Whitlam came to power, I lost my position with the Department of Army because — excuse me — they were amalgamating all forces into one defence area and it became a political bung fight between the army, navy, and air force as to who would gain control of PR. The army — except for myself being the only civilian — the army was a uniformed branch. Navy and air force were civilian PR, so they thought it would be better if they had a full uniformed branch, so as a consequence because I was on a temporary type of employment, they released me. And that’s when I — under the circumstances — decided to start my own production company called Canberra Media Productions.
M Richards: So when you were asked to produce commercials for the Liberal party here in Canberra in 1975, was that purely a commercial job, or was that because politically you’d put yourself as well?
R Trindall: No it was purely commercial, because if the Labor party had come along and offered me the dollars I would have made commercials for the Labor party, but not that I would necessarily have agreed with them, but if you’re working as a professional you work within the parameters. There’s nothing that Labor was doing, as I said even if I might disagree with, there was nothing they were doing that I was so adamantly opposed to that I’d be sacrificing principles to do any work for them.
M Richards: So tell us about making those commercials.
R Trindall: Okay, I was asked. John Knight was doing most of the organising for this, from memory. He seemed to be the leader of the group, and John Knight, John Haslem and I think Hird made up the other member, I seem to have that in the back of my mind somewhere, but I may be very wrong at this time. But they came and they wanted to the usual type of political commercial — talking about this sort of thing or that sort of thing — when I say that, local — and it seemed to be petty — and I said to John Knight, look this is different to any other election that you’re going for, this is a constitutional thing and Whitlam is challenging the fact that he was — couldn’t be dismissed by the Governor-General, and in researching and dealing with — doing the ‘is the Governor-General necessary?’ Documentary, we’d asked a hypothetical question of Sir Paul Hasluck, if a governor-general could dismiss a prime minister in power?
And Hasluck categorically said ‘yes’. We didn’t envision when we put the hypothetical to Sir Paul, we didn’t envisage what actually would happen in real life. But certainly Sir Paul knew of it, and I believe Whitlam knew of the powers of the Governor-General, he also knew the powers of the Senate. And I said to them ‘you should fight this on constitutional lines, that — and not go for what might be in any other election be the normal type of commercial election — you know kissing kids and running around with babies and things’, and they followed that line actually. And from memory they had three out of four people elected to government in that particular election, which was a total turn around for the Liberal party in Canberra.
M Richards: And so they came back to you in subsequent elections?
R Trindall: Yes. And the last commercial I made for the Liberal party, I made for John Haslem and I believe it was in about 1980. Any way unfortunately for John, he lost the election but I don’t think it was due to the commercial, I think it was just the ACT settling back into a Labor and getting a status quo.
M Richards: So you’ve lived through one of the big changes in film making in this country and the reporting and news stories, it’s the biggest change that’s happened so far as film is concerned and television is concerned — have you got any thoughts about how political reporting works today? Do you think it’s better than, or worse than?
R Trindall: I feel that political reporting as I see it on television, talking about a film reporting of, in this instance — is very superficial. I keep looking at the news and I see that, say the chief minister he speaks on injecting rooms, and you see a particular type of background, then he’ll speak on buses, and a later part of the news you see the same background. And I think they’re very lazy, the cameraman is lazy, I think the interviewer is lazy — he stands there and asks three or four questions, very much as you’d like, they’re not putting any stress or strain on them by asking them any questions that they’ve got to think about. They’re probably even pre-vetted beforehand, and it’s the same image coming out all the time, there’s no — the cameraman could even shift his position for the next one, so it looks like an entirely different story, not ‘oh here are three questions’ and they cut them up and put them in three different parts in the interview, and then they look to another station and they’re virtually on the same thing, shooting over each other’s shoulders.
In the days that only Cinesound and Movietone were around, there was competition, there was an innate challenge that you did not put out the same story as the other person, even when you were there, even when you were forced into a situation of having to shoot side by side. For instance — during the days before Johnston came to Australia, they would rope off the area for a cameraman to photograph royalty or prime ministers, or anyone, you would be assigned a position way over somewhere and you would have a variety of long focussed lenses to do this. And you then kept so many feet away from them when you were filming, but today of course they can shove a camera in their face and move around, but no one is really out trying to get a different angle or a different story, if someone shoots a low shot with a camera down low, everyone sticks their camera down low — no one seems to think differently, there’d be no wide shot to establish that there’s a media scrum around the politician being interviewed to set a scene as to why you wind up with this. In shooting some — in shooting riots or demonstrations you really get someone that will do a wide shot to show the scope of what this is about, they think it’s great if the camera is in there being jostled, but you only see two or three faces and that’s hardly the story, there might only be two or three doing the jostling the rest of the mob is sitting around ‘saying oh, ah’, but you don’t see that. And so I don’t know that even with the greater technology we have that they are utilising the skills that one had to use in the past. And I think this is reflected in lots of professions.
M Richards: That seems like a very good place to finish and…
[End of transcript.]
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