The Current Issue
Nikon Owner Issue 7
Mark Tillie: Nikon in Brollywood
MARK TILLIE is a highly respected stills photographer. He has worked on some of the most acclaimed movies, Gosford Park1, The Wings of the Dove2, Mrs. Brown3, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain4 and Shine5, to name but a few, and has witnessed some extraordinary screen performances. His life might well have taken a different turn. As a teenager, he briefly contemplated training as a cameraman for the BBC. His initiation as a stills photographer in his first film was an ‘ordeal by fire’; he had never been on a set before. Yet now, with a wide range of very fine photographic accomplishments behind him, he seems to have found his métier and feels he is indeed very fortunate to have chosen this profession.
Over a quiet Sunday lunch he explains the reality of shooting stills on a movie set and tells Editor Gray Levett how he got into the glossy world of filmmaking.
Gray: How did you originally get interested in photography?
Mark Tillie: I first became intere-sted in photography at school where we had a good photography teacher and darkroom facilities, and it was there I decided to pursue a career in photography. On leaving school I enrolled in night classes at the London College of Printing and during the day worked as an assistant photographer and built up my portfolio. When I was ready to go freelance I decided to focus on editorial photography. My first real client was Tatler magazine who commissioned me to take portraits, the first of which was actress Lyndsay Duncan.
Gray: What was your first camera?
Mark Tillie: It was a Zenith E6 and it cost £14.00. It was a good camera, but I also borrowed a friend’s Nikkormat, which was altogether much better, so when I could afford it, I bought a Nikon FM.
Gray: How did you become a stills photographer?
Mark Tillie: When I met Iain Softley he was directing pop videos and television films while writing a script called Backbeat7 about the early life of The Beatles. I was always passionate about films and when Iain came to direct Backbeat as a feature film he asked me to be the stills photographer.
Backbeat was an interesting project because, in addition to the stills photography, I was asked to re-create some of Astrid Kircherr’s8 famous photographs of the early Beatles for use as props in the film. This involved a lot of trial and error in trying to capture the spirit of her work, and it was helpful to meet Astrid at that time.
Gray: For the benefit of people who aren’t familiar with the term, what is a stills photographer?
Mark Tillie: On most feature films a stills photographer is employed by the production for the duration of the shoot. His main brief is to take photographs for use in the marketing and publicity campaigns to sell the film. It is a common misconception that film stills are taken from the actual film. If stills are taken from the movie footage the quality is rarely good enough to use in publicity except as a last resort.
Gray: How many rolls of film do you get through in one day?
Mark Tillie: It varies enormously. On a busy day I might shoot about twenty rolls, on a quiet day about five.