A cameraman’s variety

Chris Vile (2 North, 1974-1979) tells us about his fascinating and varied work as a cameraman

“I continue to work as a cameraman shooting documentaries for most major broadcasters. The most recent was Art, Passion & Power : The Story of the Royal Collection presented by the brilliant Andrew Graham-Dixon – shown earlier this year on BBC4.

“Part of my job as a cameraman is to make it all look easy and seamless but every project has its challenges. Often it’s extreme weather or ravenous insects but in this case it was the somewhat straight-jacketed restrictions of working in the various Royal Palaces. That said it was a pleasure and a privilege to shoot and the odd protocol restraint was more than made up for by having such intimate access to the Royal Holbeins, Leonardos and Michelangelos.

“I normally say the beauty of my job is its variety but 2017 also saw me shooting Elizabeth and Philip: Love and Duty presented by the honey-tongued Kirsty Young (on BBC1 in November for the Queen’s wedding anniversary), so clearly it’s being my regal year.

“Japan’s Northern Wilderness with Steve Backshall & Helen Glover (BBC2) took us to the north of Japan as the temperature plummeted and the first snow fell. Luckily the Japanese have snow clearing down to an art so, even when eighteen inches fell in one night, by morning the roads were clear. Apart from the great food the other Japanese tradition of soaking in an Onsen (the Japanese hot tub or spring) is just what a tired cameraman’s shoulder needs at the end of a long, cold day…and possibly a beer.

From ‘Art, Passion & Power : The Story of the Royal Collection’ – Shooting the stunning Mantegna frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi in the Ducal Palace, Mantua

“On the subject of biting insects I was recently asked to shoot a ‘human’ story for a big natural history series called Great Rivers for the BBC Natural History Unit (probably on the BBC in late 2018 or early 2019). I take my hat off to the natural history cameramen and women; they do a fantastic job in often very difficult conditions but our paths seldom cross. In this series the producer was keen to have the human stories shot by cameramen more used to framing Homo Sapiens than anything more slimy or furry. Our subject was a delightful old hippy who grew up in the Mississippi headwaters but canoed downstream, washing up just north of New Orleans from where he canoes the river as a passionate educator and environmentalist. Our base for the shoot was a mile-long sand island in the middle of the Mississippi, almost never visited as the only way to it was by canoe or boat. So when some fresh new flesh from Blighty turned up the clouds of mosquitoes thought all their Christmases had come at once. Repellent and shirts weren’t enough – only down jackets were thick enough to thwart them but in 90 degree heat and 110% humidity that was less than ideal… Mozzies 1000 – Cameraman’s Ankles 0 !

“Apart from broadcast work, I’m also currently also working on a film about Kettle’s Yard, the magical house and gallery in Cambridge. This is a bit of a passion project as I’m shooting, directing and funding it (it’s not commissioned though I hope to interest the BBC in it). I’ve always loved the place and making this film is bringing me a little bit full circle back to my arty roots (Art A Level at Cranleigh & Fine Art at Merton, Oxford). I hope to finish it in a year or so…watch this space.”

Recent Productions:

Art, Passion & Power : The Story of the Royal Collection with Andrew Graham-Dixon (BBC4)

Elizabeth and Philip : Love and Duty with Kirsty Young (BBC1)

Spying on the Royals (Channel 4)

Japan’s Northern Wilderness with Steve Backshall & Helen Glover (BBC2)

1066 : A Year to Conquer Britain with Dan Snow (BBC2)

The Sound of the Musicals with Neil Brand (BBC4)

China : Treasures of the Jade Empire (Channel 4)

Grand Designs : House of the Year (Channel 4)

Dan Cruickshank : Resurrecting History : Warsaw (BBC2)