Friday, July 18, 2014

Camera Assistant Peter Robinson talks with TV STORE ONLINE about Kubrick and the shooting of THE SHINING

2nd Asst. Cameraman Peter Robinson
slates The Grady Twins in THE SHINING (1980)

Camera Operator Peter Robinson talks with TV STORE ONLINE about working with Stanley Kubrick and the making of the 1980 film THE SHINING.

TV STORE ONLINE: How did you come to work on THE SHINING with Stanley Kubrick?

ROBINSON: Well, I was working as Second Assistant at the time and when I started work on THE SHINING they had been shooting the film for something like 12 weeks by that time. I had taken over for a gentleman named Danny Shelmerdine.

There had been a hiatus in the shooting of the film at the time I started as there had been an insurance claim filed because Jack Nicholson had gotten injured or something or other. I had been fortunate enough to know someone who had known [Director Of Photography] John Alcott, and as you know, the film industry is all about having connections. So that's how I got onto the shoot.

 TV STORE ONLINE: What was Stanley like to work for?

ROBINSON: Well, Stanley did value everyone that worked on the film, but he prized loyality as well. For that reason, Stanley would get quite nervous when someone who he wasn't exactly familiar with started to work on one of his films. Stanley would use a specific group of people that he trusted on every film that he made, and frankly, I was also surprised by the fact that someone of Stanley's stature wouldn't be comfortable working with someone new as they came to the shoot. Every chance Stanley got, he would grill me about what I knew. He would ask me if I knew what I was doing and he would ask me how I knew that the way I was loading the film into the magazines was correct. You could go onto Stanley's set being the utmost confident of your skills and training and he could just destroy you. He could say something like, "How do you know that the lens is going to remain sharp between 2 foot and 5 foot?" It was just brutal, but then after 6 weeks of that he finally became your friend. He was quite remarkable from that point-of-view.

I can remember being called in to work on off days and when you'd get there Stanley would come in and have a chat with you in the camera room before you started. He was quite wonderful to work with once you gained his trust. Those first six weeks were complete hell on that shoot, but after that, Stanley really takes you into the fold and once you're in, it sort of makes your career. 

TV STORE ONLINE: So how did long did you end up working on the film?

ROBINSON: I worked on the film for about 40 weeks. And by the end of that time Jack [ Nicholson] had already left and went back to The United States, and not long after that. I ended up leaving the shoot with [Camera Operator] Kelvin Pike and the two of us started work on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) together. Shelley [Duvall] had also left by that time as well. We had all left and Stanley and those that remained with him stayed on for many many more weeks after that, and God knows what they were shooting. (Laughing)

I remember, there was one day on EMPIRE STRIKES BACK where Kelvin and I were having a problem with something technical with the camera, and Kelvin said, "Why don't you go over and ask Stanley about it." So I went over to the soundstage where Stanley was working and asked him about our problem. He pretty much shut his production down to help me. He went over to the phone and called Arriflex in Zurich to get an answer...I mean, it was incredible. (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE: What was a day shooting on THE SHINING like?

ROBINSON: Well, it certainly wasn't typical I can say that. Usually we would finish with the actors about 5:30pm and then we'd go on to shoot all of these different camera tests. We would test the sets. For example, we'd go over to the Gold Ballroom set and we'd test shoot using various different filters on the lights. We'd shoot it empty with all kinds of different lenses as well. He wanted to test the look of the set. He wanted to get that all out of the way. That way Stanley could focus on the actors during any scene that he was shooting.

TV STORE ONLINE: As we see in Vivian Kubrick's documentary which examines the making of the film...Was Stanley really that difficult on Shelley Duvall during the shooting of the film?

ROBINSON: He was quite hard on her at the time....At the time I wondered if he was doing that because of the era in which the film was made because there was this whole macho thing going on, but in retrospect, I understand that he was pushing her so in the film because he was trying to craft a performance out of her. He wasn't a misogynist as some would believe. He lived with all women and he welcomed and adored his time with his daughter Vivian on the set of the film.  She was there making a documentary that eventually aired on the BBC I believe.

TV STORE ONLINE: What do you remember about shooting the scene in THE SHINING where Jack puts the ax through the door?

ROBINSON: You know, it was just another day for me to be honest. I think that everyone else would probably say the same thing that worked on the film as well. I do remember shooting quite a bit of stuff for the film around that bedroom set. I remember one day, we were standing around waiting for Shelley to cry and she couldn't quite get it. So she ran off for about twenty minutes and then came back and she was in a zone. Stanley was standing there and I noticed that he had looked over at [Gaffer] Lou Bogue. Stanley said to Lou, "What's the temperature of the lights?" Lou said, "Plenty, Governor." Stanley just laughed. That was pretty much the overall atmosphere of the shoot for THE SHINING.  

There was just so much film shot on THE SHINING that at a point I started getting concerned as to whether I could even keep up with the unloading and the loading of the film magazines because it was a constant cycle. Stanley went through so much film on THE SHINING.

TV STORE ONLINE: I think you guys shot 1.3 Million feet of film on THE SHINING...

ROBINSON: It was unbelievable. Once we started on any day, I would be constantly going back and forth from the set to the loading room. What people don't realize about Stanley and his crews was that he always used a small crew. It isn't like today where there is more than one camera unit on a shoot. There was just one camera team on THE SHINING and that meant that the loading and unloading was all in my hands. An example of this would be the scene with Scatman [Crothers] and the little boy, Danny [Lloyd]. It's the scene with the two of them sitting at the table together on the kitchen set... I can't remember the exactly amount of takes that we did for that scene but it was something like 130 takes. That scene went on for like 10 minutes and that was 1 roll of film I remember, so essentially I had to unload and reload the camera 130 times! It went on for like three days! The total film shot for that scene was like 130,000 feet of film! (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE: Right, and why do you think that Stanley went 130 takes for that scene?

ROBINSON: To be honest, I don't know. Scatman did have trouble often with his lines over the course of the shooting, but I thought that 130 takes was a bit much. That was Stanley though. He would go and go until he was completely satisfied with the scene. He was an absolute perfectionist. He was also looking for something in the scene. I don't know if he knew what he was looking for in the scene but apparently he found it somewhere in the end.

TV STORE ONLINE: He had a penchant on THE SHINING of shooting a scene, watching the dailies, and then going back and re-shooting it to his satisfaction...

ROBINSON: Oh Yes. We did quite a bit of re-shoots indeed. He'd see the dailies and he decided that he wasn't happy with something and then he'd want to go back and fix it. I mean, he had the power to do that. Warner Brothers certainly wasn't going to stop him from doing it.

TV STORE ONLINE: One thing people don't seem to understand about Stanley either is just how collaborative he was with his crew?

ROBINSON: Yes, he was. The end of the film was open to suggestion. He threw it open and allowed anyone to offer suggestions in regards to how he should end it.

TV STORE ONLINE: Are you referring to the ending of the move which features the camera moving in on the photo of Jack Nicholson?

ROBINSON: Right. I can't remember who suggested it now, for all I know it just may have been something that Stanley himself had come up with. But I do remember that we did that about 30 times, and it was actually done in reverse, meaning, that we started in a close-up on the photo and then moved back from it.

TV STORE ONLINE: Did you have anything to do with the shooting of the elevator of blood stuff?

ROBINSON: I did. That went on for a quite a long time and we did that near the end of the shooting. Stanley would be unhappy with the way the lights hit the blood, or he would be unhappy with how it came out of the elevator. It wasn't very enjoyable to shoot. We talked about it for months in advance before we even shot the damn thing. But that happened with everything on THE SHINING. There were days, when we didn't even know what we were going to shoot, even though there was a schedule. You would move all over the studio! You'd look at the schedule and you knew you were supposed to be on Stage 4. You'd go to Stage 4 and no one would be there and you'd wait. Then you'd get a call from the First A.D and he'd tell you that you needed to be over on Stage 6. You'd pack your gear up and head in that direction and then you'd run into someone and they would say, "We're over on Stage 9 today." So you'd start going in that direction and you'd then run into someone else that would say, "We were told to go over to Stage 4..." There were many days on THE SHINING like that. (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE: What's your favorite memory of working on THE SHINING?

ROBINSON: We all worked together for such a very long time, and it wasn't like a normal movie set where you show up and you sort of bury your head and don't interact with a lot of the other crew members. We all interacted with each other and Stanley, once he got to know you and trust you, he liked you to be on the set with him. Stanley adored his crew. In that way, it was like being part of a family unit.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung