The latest talk of the North East branch of the Royal Television Society was by David Baille, an Emmy Award winning cinematographer, as well as director, producer and photojournalist. The talk was titled Drones Or Helicopters; Truth or Lies? – Confessions of a grumpy old cameraman. After gorging myself on the complimentary breadsticks and olives, washed down by my free drink (who says being a Courier writer doesn’t have its perks?), we went up to the presentation.
After starting as a teacher and social worker, Baille worked as a photojournalist and writer for the travel section of The Cosmopolitan and The Guardian. Sparking an interest in current affairs lead to Baille spending some time in the Soviet Union, writing books and reporting for Radio BBC World Service. This job required working out a way to outsmart the KGB from taking reports they didn’t like, which he did by putting music at the beginning of tapes, so the KGB believed them to be music tapes.
Wanting to make a promo video for his insulation company, Baille lied to British Gas about being an experienced producer in order to convince them to give him money and a camera (and also perhaps a helicopter to film from). Despite knowing nothing about filmmaking, he managed to bag a job running British Gas’ award-winning crew, directing their famous presenter Brian Redhead and being in charge of their filming helicopter. This was not Dave’s initial plan.
Pretending he knew what he was doing, Baille successfully directed a few commercials and displayed on-the-spot problem solving. The Head of British Gas PR then gave him money for his own crew. Baille set up his own production company, and moved into broadcasting by finding his niche – going to places no one else will go. He filmed in the Western Sahara, Bosnia, Sudan, war in Nicaragua, and was the first person to ever film footage of the India-Pakistan war. He was able to do this using his contact – the then President Benezi Bhutto. Some years previously, when the Pakistani government refused Bhutto publicity, Baille was able to interview her. Using the techniques he learnt in Russsia, he placed footage of an interview with a British climbing team in front of the tape, and was able to feed it back to ITN. He also lied to the Pentagon that he was with the BBC in order to get footage to use for a report on biological weapons – a lie that got him into a boardroom full of high ranking officers. Beginning to make his own documentaries and direct drama, one of Baille’s first films cast a boy they found in a Scottish drama club – that boy was a then unknown James McAvoy, in his second film role.
Tiring of the stress of running an indie film company, Baille turned to being a freelance DoP. This meant dealing with production managers and directors who used words like ‘edgy’ without actually knowing what it meant. He got involved in science documentaries, including one which featured a guy with a fetish getting a scrotum inflation – footage he decided to share with everyone at the event. After this, Baille discovered that filming from a helicopter was quite comfortable, being able to work sitting down, and so moved into aerial photography, including work on David Attenborough shows.
He concluded the talk on what was, scrotum inflation aside, a really enjoyable evening. Baille was a funny and charming host, and hanging out with him and my fellow filmmakers in Tyneside Cinema after, I immediately signed up to an RTS membership. It’s free to students, gives you discounts at Cotsworld and Tyneside Cinema, among others, and keeps you up to date with events. If you have an interest in filmmaking or TV production, I’d urge you to go on the website and sign up!