VALE – Bruce Gailey 1923-2013

L to R, Makeup: Peggy Carter, DoP: Ted Taylor ACS, Agency Producer: Bruce Hosie, Focus: David Wakeley, Actress: Ms Leslie, Director: Kay Roberts (Di Morissey’s Mum), unknown actor &, of course, Gaffer: Bruce Gailey

Respected gaffer Bruce Gailey died on 10 July 2013. He would have turned 90 in September. By trade, Bruce was a fitter and turner, prevented from enlisting during World War II as he was classified as being in an essential service.

He moved into film during the post-war boom in sponsored documentaries and commercials, working primarily as a gaffer but on some productions as a generator operator. The role of gaffer – or head of the electrical department — is one not always appreciated by those outside the film industry but as the person responsible for executing a film’s lighting plan, gaffers work very closely with their cinematographers. They must be tactful, imaginative, have a high level of technical knowledge and skill at solving problems while larger scale productions rely on their ability to motivate and lead a team. Above all, gaffers must be able to work fast and decisively, as lighting is potentially the most time-consuming element of on-set production. It is significant that Bruce Gailey was so often the gaffer of choice of some of Australia’s best cinematographers.

In 1960, Gailey joined Artransa Park Film Studios, supporting the leading cinematographers of that era such as Ross Wood, Carl Kayser, Ron Horner, George Low, John McLean, John Leake and Bren Brown. In a period in which Australian TV drama was struggling into existence, Gailey worked on two significant commercial series aimed at the international market, both with American stars and relatively big budgets: Whip Lash (1960-61) and Rip Tide (1967-69). Giving experience to film technicians and actors, the programs rated well in Australia for Channel 7, and are regarded as landmarks in the development of Australian drama production.

In 1970, Gailey was one of the first technicians to leave the security of company employment to go freelance, working most notably for Ross Wood Productions on prize-winning commercials and also on several of the low-budget commercially funded Australian features which struggled into existence just prior to the flowering of the “Australian Film Renaissance”.

In 1974, at age 51, Gailey joined the government film production unit, Film Australia, which was then entering a period of great vitality. There he worked on a large number of documentaries and with some of the up and coming young filmmakers attracted to the Film Unit as a centre of exciting production. At Film Australia he forged a relationship with future Academy Award winning cinematographer Dean Semler on the much-praised documentaries The Steam Train Passes (1974) and Saturday (1979) which Semler directed as well as shot. In 1980, Semler again chose Gailey as his gaffer for the independently produced documentary Stepping Out directed by Chris Noonan, another brilliant success.

In the early 1970s, under the leadership of Head of Production Richard Mason, Film Australia began to include feature films and telemovies in its production slate and Bruce Gailey was the gaffer. With Dean Semler as DOP he made Let the Balloon Go (1976) and A Good Thing Going (1978), and with Mick von Bornemann Cass, (1978, Dir. Chris Noonan) and Annie’s Coming Out (1984). In 1978 he had begun pre-production of Film Australia’s much anticipated feature adaptation of David Ireland’s novel The Unknown Industrial Prisoner when, in an unprecedented act of censorship, Federal Minister Bob Ellicott called a halt to production, presumably because of the film’s treatment of foreign investment and industrial relations. It was a shattering blow to all involved.

Gailey’s work as gaffer took him across Australia and to many foreign countries. One of his more interesting overseas assignments was in Papua New Guinea where he was sent in 1983 to film the impending eruption of the Rabaul volcano. This did, in fact, not happen until ten years after the film team had departed. Of course, Film Australia made good use of the footage for a film entitled Waiting for the Big Bang (1984) and in 1994 the town of Rabaul had to be relocated after being devastated by pumice and ash.

In 1986 Gailey officially left Film Australia, although he was called back as a free-lancer for about six months after that. Dedicated to the environment, Bruce finally retired to his much-loved Blue Mountains and his home in Mt Irvine where he was for many years captain of the Mt Irvine Volunteer Fire Brigade. In recent years, after moving to South West Rocks with his wife, he committed his time to bush care and bush regeneration.

Bruce died with the same graciousness with which he lived. He is survived by his wife Sue (Suzanne), children Peter, Tony and Penny, and grandchildren Abbie, Katie, Martin, Murray, Felix and Finbar. Bruce worked with both his sons on a number of film productions and his niece Lynn has also had a long career in the Australian Film industry.

Peter Levy ASC, ACS ~ Fond memories of Bruce Gailey

I have many fond memories of Bruce Gailey from my time at Film Australia. In my six years there as an assistant (1969-75) I must have done dozens of jobs with Bruce all over the country. Although the specifics of those jobs have faded from memory I will always remember Bruce’s gentle smile and seemingly endless patience and the paternal eye he kept on us ‘young Turks’. Come Friday afternoon after the bureaucrats signed out for the day (5.06pm exactly) we would load up our cars with camera equipment from the storeroom to make our own films on the weekends, Bruce would always make sure that we had whatever lights we needed or could carry.

I shot many anti-Vietnam demonstrations with Commonwealth Film Unit sun-guns. I remember too his willingness to fabricate and modify parts for our cameras in his make-shift metal-shop at the back of the lighting warehouse; in that regard, I think Michael Edols ACS with his Eclair NPR was his best customer.

With his two sons, Peter & Tony, firmly ensconced in the camp of the ‘young Tiurks’ and Bruce’s ever willingness to help and support us kids, always with his wry, wise smile, there is a single memory that comes back to me. Everybody wanted to be around the Gailey’s

Vale Bruce Gailey

Peter Levy. ASC, ACS

Peter James ACS, ASC ~ Bids farewell to Bruce Gailey

My Condolences to Sue and all the family.

I first worked with Bruce at Artransa on RIPTIDE with Karl Kayser. That was very hard work for the electrons. In the Studio the grid was full of 5K’s, 2K’s and pups, every light had barn doors doing some kind of cutting ,a wire net usually a 1/2 single or double. Half the lights got French Flags and the rest got cutters on ‘C’ stand arms. Brutes were used to create sunlight in the studio, we even used DueArc. There was no Polly. It was all ‘hard’ light. We were shooting on early Eastman colour I think ASA 100 my stop was T2.8. I remember that because I was the focus puller for Ross Nichols on the BNC Mitchell.

The lighting was a hangover from Black and White days. Very complex. Bruce had a huge job keeping track of all the lights and what they were doing and making sure the Generator and power distribution did not get overloaded.

Keeping track of the crew was another thing. The young high spirited Alan Walker (The Reverend), Johnny Morton, Roger Walker and ‘Curly Cougar’ was in the gantry. I never knew his real name. He lived up high and kept track of all the lights in the Grid. When he wasn’t working he would draw ‘cat track’ in chalk all over the planks and lights, with cat tails drawn on the Barton 5K’s as if a cat was inside the light.

When we went on locations, up river or at the end of a beach where we could not get a generator. Two Brutes came along as well as a landing barge or a huge trailer full of 24 volt truck batteries that had to be unloaded, charged and reloaded every day. A lot of very hard work, with acid burns on clotting.

After RIPTIDE I too was freelance. I again worked with Bruce and Ross Wood ACS at his Studio in Paddington and with John Leake OAM ACS doing TV Commercials. I also worked with Bruce at Film Australia, which taught so many people how to make film.

In recent years we would do Bush Regeneration work together at South West Rocks, have a sausage sizzle at Smokey Cape or bump into each other in the street on Saturday morning buying the paper. It was always a chance to talk about crew members we both knew, and remember the good times we had working on set.

I will miss you Bruce. Rest in peace at Arkoon. It is a beautiful place.

I wish I could be there to say farewell but, unfortunately, I’m overseas at present.

Peter James ACS ASC