In Conversation with Mike Molloy

My job title is the same as it has been for all my working life: Freelance Director of Photography.

I started work at Cinesound newsreel as a floor sweeper on St Patrick’s Day 1958. That led to stints on the optical printer, doing animation and shooting titles for the Cinesound Review newsreel. I assisted on newsreel, commercials and documentaries (Cinesound did everything). When I was assigned to cover a test match I was given one 400 foot roll of film and required to get at least one wicket! Afterwards when the newsreel soundtrack was being recorded I would do the sound effect of the ball hitting the bat. A pencil tapping an empty small cardboard box worked best.

The next step was shooting news and later commercials, in black & white! Soon after that I went freelance.

In 1967 all my mates where in London so off I went. I first worked as a camera operator having the wonderful opportunity to work with Director Nic Roeg on PERFORMANCE and WALKABOUT and Stanly Kubrick on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and BARRY LYNDON.

Of course I then starting lighting and my lifelong career as a DOP started. I spent 29 years in England, shot 20 feature films and many, many TV commercials in London and all over the world. Italy was a favorite place to shoot for many years. Broken Hill and the Mundi Mundi plain was the setting for the award winning XXXX Beer commercials for the UK and Phoenix Arizona for the surreal Benson and Hedges “Swimming Pool” spot, New Guinea and Thailand for Camel cigarettes to name but a few.

Australia was always home so I returned in 1996 and am fortunate to be still shooting commercials and in my spare time taking stills in black & white the old way with my 5”x7” view camera.

What inspired you to become a DOP?

I didn’t plan to be a DOP I wanted to be a stills photographer from the age of 12. There was no position for a photographic apprentice going (I wanted to be Max Dupain’s assistant but he already had one) so I wound up at Cinesound.

How did you get your first break?

My first real break was meeting Nic Roeg, he taught me so much. Nic was a DOP before he started directing (FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, FARENHEIT 451) also directed and photographed PERFORMANCE and WALKABOUT. Nic was an intellectual, very well read and also very funny. He was a master at setting up zoom shots that also had the camera tracking so the zoom was disguised in the track.

What advice about the do's and don'ts would you give to an aspiring DOP?

Keep it simple, the more lights you use the more shadows you create. Look at film noir movies, The Big Sleep, Kiss Me Deadly, Touch of Evil, Key Largo to name but a few. Look at the work of the great black and white photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson, Ansell Adams, Richard Avedon, Michael Kenna. Look at the lighting and the composition. These photographers and films inspired me, if only I could do work like that.

What has been one of the highlights of your career?

Highlights of my career are being with the Aussie soldiers in Vietnam, the near impossible job of getting the F0.7 lens used for the candlelit scenes in BARRY LYNDON scaled for focus, working with Nic Roeg shooting Mick Jagger, Anita Palenberg and Michelle Breton under the blankets making love, me under the sheet with a 16mm Bolex camera!

Shooting Otto Premingers last movie. A tremendous highlight in 2013 was being inducted into the Australian Cinematographers Society Hall of Fame! Kubrick of course, it was like going to school and being paid for it.

And sitting in the preview theatre watching rushes (in the good old days of film)- the lights go up and the director turns to me and says “Looks great Mike”.

visit – Mike Molloy

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