"I stumbled out of film school in 1977 and straight into the furnace of an artistic revolution exploding in my West London neighbourhood with the New Wave and Punk movements - unknown bands playing for peanuts in my local pubs were the likes of The Clash, The Jam, The Stranglers and Elvis Costello."
Words: Nelli Yli-Malmi and John Beecroft Images: the courtesy of John Beecroft
With David Essex and Barry Dodds - shooting a music sequence from Jeff Wayne's "War of the Worlds" - from my professional life as assistant to Director of Photography John Henshall.
Barry shot the iconic 'Bohemian Rhapsody' video for Queen and David was the original Che Guevara in 'Evita' - John Beecroft. Photograph by John Hensall.
This week we are interviewing Creative Director and Film Maker John Beecroft who in his career has worked on the set of ‘The Shining’ and ‘The Long Good Friday’, amongst filming promo videos for many of the well-known punk and alternative rock bands and artists, such as The Clash and Blondie, in the 1970’s. John's lengthy career has given him a vast understanding of the creative industry, thus, in this article he will be sharing some advice for creatives worrying about things like success, validation and making the right choices.
What was the beginning of your career like?
Prior to enrolling to film school in Surrey in the mid-1970’s, my career began in the professional theatre, where, at the age of 18, I wrote and co-produced my first commercial show before moving into work in the Repertory Theatre. That's when I began mixing with young unknown wannabes and contemporary drinking pals like Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films), Chris Timothy (James Herriot), Phil Daniels (Quadrophenia & East Enders) and Steph Cole (Open All Hours). Another fond memory of my early years was pioneering the concept of Fringe Theatre, presenting new writing from around the world at the now legendary ‘Orange Tree Theatre’ and ‘The Roundhouse’ in London.
I stumbled out of film school in 1977 and straight into the furnace of an artistic revolution exploding in my West London neighbourhood with the New Wave and Punk movements - unknown bands playing for peanuts in my local pubs were the likes of The Clash, The Jam, The Stranglers and Elvis Costello. I also worked with Kate Bush early in her career when she was only19-20 years old. I was in the Camera and Lighting crew for songs like 'The Man with the Child in his eyes', 'Wow' and 'Hammer Horror', all which you can find on YouTube. I similarly worked with Sir Paul McCartney for the single 'Goodnight Tonight' and for the full album 'Back to the Egg' with his band Wings.
'I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work on the set of such classics as ‘The Shining’ and ‘The Long Good Friday' - John Beecroft
Our readers would love to know about your experience working with some of the big names in both music and film industry and how that forwarded your career.
Within the year I began working closely with many of these “ex-booze buddies” to create video promos for their now recording-contracted work. With this musical revolution came the increasing use of video and film promos for marketing, especially with the birth of MTV. This was a prolific period for a lad just out of film school and on the same wavelength as all the young creatives.
By the end of the seventies I was offered work on feature films. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work on the set of such classics as ‘The Shining’ and ‘The Long Good Friday’ and these experiences as assistant in the camera department gave me the references to bag a plum job as cameraman with UK News Broadcaster ITN. Overall, I spent about 25 years “globetrotting” covering everything from Rain Forest depletion to the Olympic Games.
Top image with Paul McCartney: I work with Sir Paul McCartney for the single 'Goodnight Tonight' and for the full album 'Back to the Egg' with his band Wings.'
Bottom three images: 'I worked with Kate Bush early in her career when she was only19-20 years old. I was in the Camera and Lighting crew for songs like 'The Man with the Child in his eyes', 'Wow' and 'Hammer Horror', all which you can find on YouTube.
- John Beecroft. Photographs with Kate Bush by John Hensall.
"If you're going to opt out of any system and do your work not giving a damn about anyone's response - easy - just crack on with it; quite often your work will be discovered and celebrated by chance. In this mode you will feel a glow of satisfaction, being completely true to your vision."
You have now your own production company CinemArts Ltd. Tell us what is in the heart of CinemArts and its projects?
CinemArts Ltd is involved in quite a wide range of creative projects but is fundamentally a simple and traditional production company in arts and entertainment. We like to look for opportunities to put a new spin on things or explore interesting contexts for public interface with the arts and at the heart of operations (clue is in the name!) is cinema.
We develop and produce film projects and also create special live audience events for the appreciation of film in environments that are not necessarily cinema buildings, i.e. projecting the 1938 Disney "Snow White" onto a disused water tower for the local kids to watch from their bedroom windows! Two things tend to drive our activities: we see the 120 year history of the movies to be a deep treasure trove of art. We want to open that box as often as possible and marvel at the jewels inside. Cinema is the art form that embraces many others: great writing; sizzling actor performances; truly great music; visual design - everything! The way mainstream cinema exhibition has developed is great; stupendous technical quality, breathtaking big budget extravaganzas, very slick 'commericality', but in cherishing the beautiful cinema baby we've also thrown out a lot of bathwater. Thus, the CinemArts Ltd special events division frequently showcase masterpieces that were made in a different era - or in parts of the world whose movies are undiscovered. We champion short film - often showing an emerging film-maker's work as a support to a main feature - and generally we push hard to offer the public the "indie-cinema" experience with programming that includes much more retrospective and global film than most mainstream picture houses. We regularly harmonise the mood of the film with the location for the screening also. "The Bride of Frankenstein", for example, was recently the centrepiece of an immersive event in a 15th Century ruined Gothic Hospital!
The production side of the company is essentially a formalised expression of my own fortunate experiences in the arts and media communications over the past 40 years. The production team consists myself plus a core team of trusty collaborators from the freelance world who come together on a project by project basis. We respond to client film and video needs in much the same way as a PR or Advertising Agency does, priding ourselves on delivering effective film and video material to suit the brief. This could be anything from a 30 second commercial for new brand of fruit-juice to a short film on the history of the bicycle. Alongside the "bread and butter " - commercially expedient work - there are personal artistic projects brewing simultaneously at all times, such as screenplay developments and TV pilots.
One of our current excitements is working with musicians to create brand new live accompaniments for films from the bygone silent era of cinema! This is quintessential CinemArts Ltd territory; facilitating the revival of amazing work from cinema history which nobody has seen for decades - and adding completely new contemporary artistic expression to bring the whole thing alive again for the public. Our first presentation will be an early unknown Hitchcock silent - mouthwatering for all! The likely launch for this unique season will be within the new 'CinemArts Cafe' screening concept: small intimate screenings in cool coffee houses, bars and art spaces. Judging by the trial we ran for this at the fabulous Bison Coffee House just before Covid-19 struck, we are on track to create another popular way of experiencing the Art that is Cinema.
Considering the length of your career and the variety of it, what advice would you give to young creatives now, worrying about things like success, validation and making the right choices?
I guess we have to assume that Covid-19 will eventually become managed and social distancing will not be necessary. Without this hope it's currently difficult to picture creative futures.
Whatever happens, there are a couple of principles I think will hold true. Firstly, how are you going to measure your "success" as an artistic person? Will you uncompromisingly express your talent, skill and unique gifts purely for your own fulfilment and happiness as an artist in your field? Or will you only feel "successful" if you have been recognised widely by established commercial structures? In short, are you in it for the money and the applause? If you're blissfully happy creating work that baffles the public and your peers, and you might have to operate in total obscurity, is that "success" enough for you? Or do you need to be part of a community of artistic recognition? Once you've answered these questions of yourself, the advice I would give might be a bit clearer.
If you're going to opt out of any system and do your work not giving a damn about anyone's response - easy - just crack on with it; quite often your work will be discovered and celebrated by chance (hopefully not after your time!). In this mode you will feel a glow of satisfaction, being completely true to your vision .
On the other hand, if you want to reach the maximum mass audience for your work, you have a big job to do alongside the art you create. Solid knowledge of the systems and the powers that be - you need this even if you intend to smash and overturn those systems, like the New Wave and Punk movements in which I found myself accidentally immersed .
You don't need to "sell out" or become a commercial mercenary, though. One of the most effective opening lines I used to say when pitching creative ideas to clients in an advertising agency was 'OK folks , sorry if this concept is a little difficult to explain because nobody has ever done anything like this before!' Their ears always immediately pricked up with full attention. People holding the purse strings to pay you to create don't want telling you'll create something like Guernica or something a bit Picasso-esque! You've got it! Their entire job description is to be responsible for commissioning ORIGINALITY! The big advice point here is, trust in your own originality and only bend it ever so slightly to fit the mentality of the people who have the cash. This only works when you have fully understood that mentality. As an example for this mentality would be the revolutionary kids of the late 1970's who set up their own record labels because EMI, Decca and Polydor wouldn't sign them. They took up publishing Punk magazines on a shoestring - but, very importantly, they still copied the way the mass media already worked, breaking the Sex Pistols via mainstream TV. They knew the nature of what they were attacking.
In a nutshell - if you are determined to demolish the old and create the new, you'd better know the brickwork of the old or it may just fall down and crush you. The world is extremely different now, but despite the liberations of the Internet it is still run by the establishment. I do not deny the fact that it's a great publicity channel, but for musicians, for example, it's the live concert ticket sales that power the music industry; there's not much financial reward to be gained from downloads. Can you make your art live for an audience? Theatre and live performance obviously can (post-Covid) but what about other arts? Think laterally - it's always time for a Revolution or a Renaissance.
Image: 'Experiences as assistant in the camera department gave me the references to bag a plum job as cameraman with UK News Broadcaster ITN. Overall, I spent about 25 years “globetrotting” covering everything from Rain Forest depletion to the Olympic Games.' - John Beecroft
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