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Image above: "Steve Downey [centre] on location in Hyde Park in 1969 for the film "Just Before Dawn", with his Director of Photography and Camera Operator
In 1967 in my last year at Art School, I became interested in photography and film making. I ran the Reading University's film society "The Pictures" and started making experimental 8mm films. I submitted these together with some film scripts as part of my application to the London Film School and was accepted on the 2-year course 1998/99. This turned out to be the best educational experience of my life. I was taught by 2 famous film directors: Wolf Rilla [Village of the Damned] and Charles Frend [Scott of the Antarctic] with further input from Don Siegal [Dirty Harry], Nicholas Ray [Rebel Without a Cause] and Stanley Donen [Singing in the Rain]. I crewed on 3 films as Editor and Director of Photography and wrote and directed 3 other films [2 features and an advert].
"SOME TIME LATER, BOSTON"
I was keen to develop my skills in cinematography, so elected to join the crew of this 1968 35mm studio film, directed by David Coupe [one of the more gifted students],as Director of Photography. With the knowledge I had gained from my wonderful teacher, Charles Frend, and with the American Cinematographer book as my constant companion, I started to draw up a lighting script to complement the the director's main script. The film was a fictional account the 24-hour preparations of a lone gunman in the assassination of President Nixon in Boston. There were therefore both day and night time sequences. For the night shots I developed a complex system of lights beyond the studio window, to replicate the feel of flashing neon signs, lighting up the gunman's face. When I collected the rushes from the film processing lab, I was asked to talk to the technician who processed the film. To my delight and surprise, he congratulated me on my film exposures, which had been bang on throughout. He said that he had not needed to make any adjustments and had rarely seen this from any film and never from a student one. When the final film was shown to the lecturers and students, I was congratulated on my cinematography skills, which had exceeded those of any other previous student.
A short 30 second colour 16mm film made by Steve Downey aged 23 years in 1969, while a student at the London Film School. The film features Maureen Downey, with voice over by Timothy Crowther. A tongue in cheek ad for disposable panties, which had been recently appeared in shops but never really "took off". The film [a solo project] was highly acclaimed as one of the best produced at the Film School and described by the then Director [Robert Dunbar] as "excellent".
Steve Downey [left] directing Tony Sheer [right] and another actor in "Dream Palace"
Steve Downey [centre] on set with Tony Sheer [left] and the Assistant Soundman
The first feature "Dream Palace" in 1969 was based on a short story by James Purdy and starred the actor, Tony Sheer. Personally I was slightly disappointed with the film as I could only see the mistakes [what film maker doesn't experience this feeling?]. I had to leave out a few scenes because I had not been aware at the time of some inconsistences in the actors' performance. [I decided to rectify this inexperience later by studying 'Directing Actors' as my thesis for the final Diploma.] However nobody else seemed to notice and the film was received with much acclaim as one of the best ever made at the Film School and was shown at 3 International Film Festivals [London, Prague and Chicago] as well as at commercial cinemas, including the famous Everyman Hampstead. My producer was Ugo Mariotti, famous for later producing the major feature film "Don't Look Now" with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.
"JUST BEFORE DAWN"
Steve Downey directing Stefan Kalipha in the feature film "Just Before Dawn", on location in my flat in Ilford.
I followed this up later in 1969 with writing and directing another short feature film "Just Before Dawn", starring the well known film and TV actor Stefan Kalipha, which again was shown at the London Film Festival and at other film venues. The film deals with the issue of racial prejudice faced by a young black man from Trinidad, working as a hotel second chef, but aspiring to be an actor. It represents a day in the life of him and his white girl fiend. Improvised dialogue was used throughout the whole film. It very much reflects its time, with the emergence of the hippy movement and 'the dawning of the age of Aquarius'. Again my producer was Ugo Mariotti.
Stefan Kalipha and Richard Pryor in "Superman 3"
MY SHORT CAREER IN THE FILM INDUSTRY
Murray Head in "Sunday Bloody Sunday" with Peter Finch
For a few months in 1970 I worked in Wardour Street as a film and sound editor on the feature film "Aphrousa", starring Murray Head and Delia Lindsay, as well as some documentaries and adverts. My cutting room was visited by the film director, John Schlesinger, who was casting for the major film "Sunday Bloody Sunday", and as a result chose Murray Head [better known then as a singer who was the first Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar] as a lead actor opposite Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson. The film "Aphrousa" went on general release across the country as the support feature to "Straw Dogs".
At this time I was offered the post of Assistant Director for the major feature film "A Day In the Death of Joe Egg", starring Alan Bates and Janet Suzman, but I turned this down because it would mean I would have to live away from my wife and young daughter for several months. I had already been offered a job with the Inner London Education Authority, and decided to take this instead. This soon led to rapid promotion and a 20-year career in media resources as a senior manager, adviser, trainer and publisher.