A fellow in the film unit (1965)
Mairaj Ali, a Colombo Plan Fellow, came to Australia in 1965 from the Karachi Marine Biological Research Station to study scientific film production. In this film he records his impressions of Melbourne and of the CSIRO Film Unit, where he spent most of his time.
[Dramatic music plays and title appears: A Fellow in the Film Unit]
[Credits: Written and directed by Mairaj Ali – a Colombo Plan Fellow studying Scientific and Educational Film Production at the CSIRO Film Unit in Australia]
[Image changes to Mr Evans]
Mr Evans: The CSIRO Film Unit was established in 1948. The purpose of the unit was to produce scientific research record and educational type films dealing with the work of the organisation in the many divisions and sections throughout CSIRO in Australia. We haven’t before made any record of how we make our films, or our facilities, but we took the occasion of a visit from Mr Mairaj Ali, from the Marine Fisheries Research Station in Pakistan, to make for him a short record of the facilities and equipment we use in our work, and in this film you’ll see Mairaj observing the various officers of the Film Unit at their job.
[Image changes to show Mairaj Ali standing on a high vantage point with a view of the Melbourne city skyline as he takes photos of the scene]
Mairaj Ali: I was granted an award for studying in Australia under the Colombo Plan, one of several schemes of international co-operation that are helping many nations to speed up their pace of development.
[Image changes to the camera panning across the cityscape]
Here, from the top of the ICI Building, I am looking out across the sprawling city of Melbourne. Melbourne is the capital city of Victoria, the smallest state on the Australian mainland. Melbourne was my home base in Australia, and most of my time was spent here. It is a modern industrial city with a population of more than two million. It is the second largest city in Australia, and for the first quarter of the Century was the site of the Federal Parliament. Melbourne is well known for its tree lined streets and modern new buildings.
[Image changes to show cars driving along roads and then the camera panning up a tall building]
[Image changes to show cars, trams and pedestrians on the city streets]
I found that Australians were friendly, informal people, people with a strong feeling that each man deserves a fair go. With this friendly attitude Australian people are showing their knowledge and technical skills to the Colombo Plan, and so they are helping to raise the standard of living amongst their neighbours in south-east Asia.
[Image changes to show crowds of people at the beach]
During the summer months the people of Melbourne find much of their relaxation out of doors in the sun, on the beaches, and in the rivers.
[Rock song plays and you can see a young man and woman talking and giggling]
[Image changes back to show crowds of people at the beach]
[Image changes to show crowds lined up along the banks of the Yarra River watching water skiing events]
Melbourne is regarded by many as the cultural centre of Australia, and is noted for its fine concerts.
[Image changes to the camera panning over crowds of people at the Myer Music Bowl]
During the summer these are held outdoors in the Music Bowl, the giant sound shell set among the trees near the riverbank.
[Image changes to show decorative floats parading by as part of Moomba celebrations]
Once each year Melbourne celebrates in a big festival called Moomba. Here there are parades and floats through the city streets, as the people get together to have fun.
[Image changes back to cars driving along the roads and city buildings]
So now we have seen something of the people and the places I visited in Melbourne, as a background to my training program. My central point of attachment was to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, whose headquarters are in these buildings in Melbourne.
[Image changes to show the outside of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation building in East Melbourne]
Here in the CSIRO Film Unit I was stationed for much of my time in Australia, and here I learned the techniques of scientific film making that will be of great benefit to me in producing rural programs for the fishing community in my country.
[Image changes to show Mairaj Ali walking through a door and sitting at a table with other men and woman]
One of the first things I did was to talk to Mr Evans, the Officer in Charge of the Film Unit, and Mr Ned Wallish, one of CSIRO Officers for international co-operation.
Mr Wallish: … that I’ve discussed with Mr Madouri of the Department of External Affairs, and it seems that, well I mean the majority of them can be covered by CSIRO, not only in the Film Unit here, but with the Fisheries and… Oceanography in Sydney, where you’ll have a fairly lengthy attachment. You will be required to go outside CSIRO for some of the attachments. We were thinking of an advertising people, Clemangers perhaps, Fisheries and Wildlife here in Melbourne, perhaps some of the television stations. I think, seeing the longest period of attachment will be with the Film Unit, Mr Evans might like to say something about how you should begin.
Mr Evans: Well I think that the first thing, Mairaj, for you to do would be to have a talk with Mr David Corke. I think that if you make him your sort of first reference here, David will give you a general outline of our work, and then other people like Mr Tony Evans on script writing, Mr Peter Bruce on sound recording, Miss Alice O’Donnell on editing, and Mr Perce Watson on animation – they’ll be the people you’ll be mainly concerned with. And we’re very pleased to have you here.
Mr Corke: Perhaps you could shoot a few shots to take back, you know, this might be quite an idea, if you can go around the Film Unit and see some of the equipment and take a few shots and make them into the film, something like that, without Alice and Pete on camera, or sound recording, that sort of thing.
Mairaj Ali: Quite a good idea. Yes.
Mr Evans: The difficulty is going to be to make a film of any length, or anything like that.
Mr Corke: Oh, yes. Yeah.
Mr Evans: … necessity not be very profound as it could be, in the time.
[Image changes to show Peter Bruce loading film onto the reels of a projector]
Mairaj Ali: Films are usually considered the most effective communication tool in education. For the research scientist, the Film Unit acts as an interpreter, so that his work and his findings are made known to the people who can make use of them. Here I’m being shown a film on tagging of the Australian salmon, Arripis trutta.
[Image changes to show Mairaj seated and watching a film projected on a screen]
This tagging program is helping the scientist of the Division of Fisheries and Oceanography to learn more about the movement and distribution of the species. This film is aimed at encouraging commercial and amateur fishermen, canners and processors, to return the tags from salmon catches.
[Image changes to show Tony Evans, the script writer, typing on a typewriter and then to him handwriting on paper]
The script writer in the film unit has many special problems in preparing a good film script. He bears in mind that no longer is the film confined to the far group production box in the commercial cinema, but it has broken out into homes, schools, factories, hospitals, and scientific institutions. It is also transmitted by television to reach many thousands of people at the same time. Although much of the script writing is technical, imagination still remains the most important ingredient in almost any kind of script, to make it a original masterpiece.
[Image changes to Tony sitting down next to Mairaj]
One day, during a break in the filming at the studio, the script writer talked to me about his special problems, emphasising how a good script and a good film can be a powerful instrument in teaching. Film opens the window on the world for scientists, biologists, doctors, mechanics, soldiers, and astronauts. Film can record the movement of countless instruments in our space rocket, and bring back to earth pictures of the world beneath for study by waiting scientists.
The script writing for educational films is not merely telling a story or presenting an idea in a filmic form, it is also the creation of a plan of action whereby a team of men, a director and his technicians, can bring a subject effectively to the screen. We also talked about the problems of film making in Pakistan, one of five big film making countries of the world.
[Image changes to show a set being prepared, you see studio lights and a man operating a camera]
While I was with the Film Unit they were setting up a new studio for the production of television films in agricultural subjects. This series is aimed at the farmer and will help him to understand some of the research worker’s aims and problems. The Film Unit is well set up with 16 millimetre equipment.
[Image changes to show Mairaj watching a man arranging the pieces on the set and then preparing the Arriflex camera]
Arriflex camera with sound blimps are used mainly in the studio, as they require the use of 240 volt power to drive the synchronous motors for sound recording work.
[Image changes to show Mairaj watching David Corke preparing the Eclair camera]
The Eclair camera is more portable. Silent cameras are used for sound recording work outside the studio. It is a self-blimped camera with quickly interchangeable magazines, just not quite as quiet as the studio camera, but as it is more portable it easier to use on locations. It is operated by a 12 volt battery and has an electronically governed motor which provides a synchronising pulse for the tape recorder.
[Image changes to show Mairaj watching David set up the Nagra tape recorder]
The Nagra tape recorder, which is used both in the studio and outside, is matched to all the cameras and is equipped with the synch pulse recording head. In this Film Unit, operating the camera and the sound recorder are done by all members. Each filmmaker takes on a project, and he may have to write some of the script, operate the camera, direct action, and finally edit both the picture and sound.
[Image changes to show Perce Watson laying a transparent sheet onto a large animation stand]
Most of the films which the CSIRO Film Unit make have sections of animation in them to explain the more difficult aspects of research work, and to show those things that cannot be seen or photographed in the conventional way. All artwork and animation is of course very time consuming, and with a single frame camera it sometimes takes weeks to prepare and photograph something that appears for only a few seconds on the screen. The services of the Film Unit’s animation department are in constant demand by the filmmakers of the Unit.
[Image changes to show Mairaj and Perce discussing something on a large piece of paper]
Here the artist is being asked about some point of animation in a new film. The artists are always kept advised of any changes in the script, and they are consulted at all stages during the preparation of the artwork. This work requires a great deal of care and patience. All of it must be carefully planned to the last frame.
[Image changes to show Aileen Weinberg preparing some sketches and then to show Mairaj watching Alice O’Donnell operate the motorised editing machine]
The Film Unit has motorised editing machines, like this one, and they are all nearly always in use because editing takes up a large proportion of the time spent on making any film. The work print is cut to match the script, and the soundtrack is also edited to synchronise with the picture.
Here I am watching the editing of a film on CSIRO’s new radio telescope. The black and white work print is being matched to the magnetic soundtrack.
[The camera zooms in on Alice preparing the film and you see her splicing lengths of the sound track]
The final film will be in colour, and tells the story of the research work going on with this giant instrument, as well as giving some details of its construction.
[Image changes to the completed film playing on the small screen of the editing machine]
After editing comes the final sound recording and mixing stages.
[Image changes to David Corke setting up the film projector and sound tracks]
Here the narration, sound effects, and music tracks are run together and mixed onto a single roll of magnetic film.
[Image changes to show Peter Bruce seated with headphones operating the sound mixing desk]
The sound mixer controls the volume of each track and makes the adjustments at the right moment, as he watches the film. Almost the last stage in film production is the matching of the black and white work print to the originals in colour.
[Image changes to show Peter seated and working with numerous reels of film]
The work print and each roll of the original printing film is wound through a synchroniser to keep the picture matched after each splice. Each splice must be well made, as it will have to stand up to many years of service.
[Image changes to show a movie camera mounted on a stand above a microscope]
One very interesting aspect of scientific film making is cinemicrography, and the Film Unit is well equipped for this work. The movie camera is mounted on a very rigid stand above a high quality research microscope. Here I’m being shown the equipment by Mr Evans, the Film Unit Chief, before it is set up for a job. An electronic interval timer switches on the microscope light first, then the camera, and can make exposures over a wide range of intervals. With this equipment the Film Unit has produced some excellent results in recent years.
[Image changes to show a Peter Bruce taking a light meter reading in a laboratory before getting behind the film camera]
On a number of occasions I went out with a cameraman/director to film shots in laboratories and in the fields. Here I am watching the filming of an experimental high-speed wool line process which has been developed by CSIRO.
[Image changes to show a lady preparing the film reel for viewing]
Copies of the films which the CSIRO Film Unit makes are sent all over the world to scientific and government institutions. After the new prints have been checked they are rewound before being sent to their destination. Some of the films produced here have won high praise in local and overseas film festivals.
[Image changes to show a woman seated at desk typing on a type writer]
All of the creative work which goes on in a film unit like this one also depends on the hard work of those who check the new prints and type the scripts.
[Image changes to show Mairaj seated at a table flicking through a book]
So now, with many things seen and experienced, I sit thinking of the time spent in Australia under the Colombo Plan, and the valuable training it has given me in the production of educational and scientific films. Now I am looking forward to going back to my country, Pakistan, but I will take with me a lasting impression of the friendship of CSIRO and its Film Unit, and the hospitality of the people of Australia.
[Image changes back to show crowds of people walking through the city and cars and trams on the roads]
[Camera zooms out and pans over the cityscape]
[Music plays and credits roll: Editing David Corke. Sound, Peter Bruce. Titles Aileen Weinberg. Photography Daivd Corke and Mairaj Ali]
[Title appears: The End]