John Henley: movie actor header

I Am .....what?

I came into the acting side of the movie industry fairly late in life, although the interest in films had been there since I was a child.

One of the big family events in those pre-television days, was my father setting up an old Pathescope 9.5mm projector and showing black and white films consisting of cartoons, Charlie Chaplin and similar silent movies.

If he ever had to mend a break, which was often, I would latch onto the pieces of film consisting of several frames, which I would later try to project by shining a torch through the strip ... not very successfully I might add! The next step was getting strips of cellophane and then drawing pictures on the strips and "projecting" the pictures onto the wall or a sheet. The exciting part was the process of making these cardboard projectors combined with a torch, even if the final show wasn't as professional as I might have liked.

Like so many things in life, the journey was the exciting part and not arriving at the destination.

There was no doubt that cartoons and animation really made a big impression on me. My first job after leaving school was with Warner Bros. in London, England. I hadn't settled on a job and as I was walking up Wardour Street, which is where most of the film companies are located, I saw the Warner Bros. sign.

My immediate reaction was, "Aha, Bugs Bunny, Tweety Pie and Sylvester". I walked inside, asked to see the Personnel Manager, had a quick interview with her and was offered a job on the spot starting the following week. One of the advantages of education and being able to produce GCE 'O' and 'A' Level certificates.

In my naivete I actually thought that I would be working in a studio, but it turned out to be the distribution arm of the company which dealt with booking films for the cinemas and ensuring they got delivered.

At 20 I invested in my first cine camera - a Eumig which ran on batteries so you didn't have to keep winding the motor up every 20 seconds or so. With that in hand, plus a simple splicer for doing the cutting and editing, I starting shooting "home movies".

Prior to my getting the job at Warner Bros. my father, who understood my fascination for films, set me up with an interview and tour of Merton Park Studios in Wimbledon, which is in South-West London.

I saw the editing rooms, the huge reels of film with which they worked, the magnified eyepieces they used to watch as the frames flashed by, and the accompanying sound track which was either magnetic, akin to a very narrow piece of recording tape, or was a zig-zag line implanted in the film to provide an optical track.

The studios weren't quite as glamourous as I had hoped and I think I would have enjoyed myself there. However, the main problem, apart from the lowly salary for a beginner or apprentice, was the fact that the studios were located on the other side of London to where I lived. I would have had to take a bus and the tube train for something like a 2 hour journey in both directions. Work for 8 hours, travel for another 4 hours, and try to survive on whatever was left from my paltry wages after paying for my season ticket and lunch. I could see a serious financial imbalance here, so I had to turn down the offer.

Now that I have the opportunity to dabble in making my own films, I do at least have the luxury of using a computer and a proper editing set-up, which is a far cry from cutting film and glueing the splices together with an acetate cement that seems more suitable for the glue-sniffing brigade.



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