360|365FF10 REVIEW: Backstory [2009]

“I have to light whatever face he’s wearing today”

What better way is there to tell the story of the cinematic technique called rear projection than with the father/son duo integrally involved in its success, interviewed in front of their own technology? It definitely helps that Bill Hansard Sr. and Bill Hansard Jr. possess such a humorous attitude and candid nature, keeping Mark Lewis’ documentary short Backstory as fun as it is informative. For every story about new riggings for improved car motion footage or technological innovations to even get a self-proclaimed hater of the process like Sean Connery to willingly participate in an extra day of shooting, there is an anecdotal tale of Mickey Rooney’s claustrophobia, Sly Stallone’s stubbornness, or even Bill Jr. calling his Pops out for the affair he began while on location in France.

The elder Bill relays how he got into the business, beginning at the bottom with the company his father started and eventually making it into the number one go-to business for rear projection effects. He honed his skills and knew his stuff, using new inventions like the selsyn motor to sync projector and camera shutters together, (once static plate projection became obsolete), and constantly getting into fights with grips and other crew on set that had the gall to question his expertise or do stupid things like fold a screen rather than roll it up. So precise in his materials and quality assurance, when a crew set his equipment up without him present, he’d make them take it all down, pack it up, and do it again. His son says that this attitude might not have gotten them many friends, but it did keep their presence a necessity. Bill Jr. used that to his advantage and worked on countless movies, always known on sight as the rear projection guy if not by first name.

However, through the stories that only someone involved could know—like the drowning of ducks in attempts to keep them static in a shot on an unnamed film—comes the reality of the present. With green screen and other computer techniques, the process that the Hansard name made integral to cinema has all but died. Bill Jr. has begun taken jobs screening footage for Hollywood types and Bill Sr. is biding his time until all that’s left for him to do is donate some equipment to museums and sell the rest as scrap metal. They still say that films are only as good as the footage shown behind the actors, but the cost of their process just isn’t viable anymore. It’s another aspect of cinematic history that has been left by the wayside. At least Lewis allowed them one last opportunity to do what they’ve always done best, making sure this documentary was completely shot in front of screen projections. And the guys get to have some fun, eating corndogs at the hot dog stand, driving the roofless car rig, and standing on the beach, giving themselves the opportunity to set the record straight on their livelihood and give it one final swan song.

Backstory 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
courtesy of www.marklewisstudio.com

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