On 18th November 2017, Mark Milsome was killed on a film set in Ghana whilst operating a camera for a stunt that went tragically wrong. On Sunday 4th February 2018, two hundred and fifty members of the British film and television industry joined friends and family to honour Mark at BAFTA, London.
What followed was a tribute to a man who touched everyone he met, from junior school to film school and beyond, as he embarked on a career that saw him contribute to some of the most creatively respected and commercially successful film and television projects of the past 35 years, from “Four Weddings and a Funeral” to “Game Of Thrones”.
Speakers included established actors, directors, cinematographers, writers and close friends who described a man unique in the industry and unique in their lives. Mark maintained a balance of technical excellence with a delicate human touch. Working under extreme pressure, he maintained a calm and positive influence that inspired those around him. He was described as an explosion of intelligence, humour, love and grace. Being with Mark was said to be like ‘magic time’. His character, presence and kindness made him a favourite with technicians behind the camera and with actors in front of it.
Mark was born on 23rd May 1963, in St Mary Abbots Hospital, Kensington, near his family home in Barnes, London. HIs mother Debbie was a model and his father Doug an aspiring camera technician who would later become Stanley Kubrick’s cinematographer.
Mark was present on film sets from a young age thanks to his father. In 1966 he was photographed on set with an ice cream in Sicily for “Modesty Blaise”, starring Dirk Bogarde and Terence Stamp. In 1972, aged nine, Mark moved with his family to Tremore, Waterford in Ireland, where his father was the focus puller on Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”.
Occasionally, if quizzed, Mark would proudly talk of his father’s latest film project and was clearly in awe of the craft of Stanley Kubrick’s films, but he never boasted of his industry connections and there was no certainty that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. He considered that to be someone else’s world, someone else’s achievement.
A bright child, he achieved a place at Dr. Challoner’s Grammar School for Boys in Buckinghamshire. Here he thrived and his choice of ‘A’ level art fuelled a passion for images, art and film that would soon lead to a fine arts course in High Wycombe, where he was further exposed to photography and developed a keen interest in Cartier-Bresson and early documentary street photographers. He started to explore the idea of a good picture and develop a sense of telling stories with images. An early ambition was to become a wildlife photographer.
He secured a place at Newport Film School, Wales in 1984 which, having been established by renowned documentary pioneer John Grierson in 1966, was promoted as a documentary film course, but by 1983 was fast adopting a reputation for drama. Mark was a popular member of the film school and his lighting and operating were much in demand. He lit as many projects as he could; always striving for the best shot, he would strap himself into a wheel chair to create a dolly track or sweat under the weight of a camera through the night to perfect a hand held shot.
Mark invited his many friends over for ‘video nights’, when they would watch films until sunrise. Favourites included “Alien” and “Blade Runner”, which he would play ‘on a loop’. As others around him would drift in and out of sleep, Mark would be totally engrossed in every scene, every cut.
In 1986 he left film school and, keen to make his own way in the industry without pulling any favours as the son of an established cinematographer, he signed up to a three year course with ‘Jobfit’. Mark was fondly remembered as a complete technician with an incredible work ethic, a strong sense of decency and an infectious sense of humour. He was soon working on the James Bond film “The Living Daylights” and he never looked back.
Mark was never interested in the big-name jobs that would look impressive on his CV; he was passionate about projects of substance, full of heart, emotion and humour, work that he felt might make a difference in people’s lives, make an impact and be remembered.
He once bailed on “Star Wars – Phantom Menace” in favour of working on “Little Voice”, written and directed by Mark Herman, and worked with Herman again on “Brassed Off”, “Purely Belter” and “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”.
For those who were not fortunate enough to meet Mark or spend time with him, his nature is perhaps best demonstrated by his discovery and mentoring of Harry Bowers.
Harry, having just finished college, was working in a pub in Hay-on-Wye where Mark happened to be on location, working on the drama “Dandelion Dead”. They got talking in the pub and Mark discovered that Harry had an interest in film and camera. As was typical of Mark, he immediately gave Harry the opportunity to work with the crew as a camera trainee. Having initiated Harry’s career in the industry, Mark felt a responsibility to help him and mentored Harry for the next 24 years. They became great friends and worked on over 40 projects together. Harry is today a successful 1st AC and admits that without Mark, he may never have broken into the film industry.
Mark’s love for film and for his career had always taken priority in his life and for many years, he was so busy that he had little time to consider any other relationship. But on 2nd June 2003, he passed Andra Levinson on a staircase at a party. Sparks flew, but eighteen months would pass before they went on their first date and a further six months before their second date. After that, they were inseparable. In December 2005, when Andra was six months pregnant with their daughter Alice, they eloped to Sweden and spent their honeymoon at the Ice Hotel in the Arctic Circle. Never far from a film crew, Mark and Andra were featured at the hotel in a television documentary for National Geographic.
After Alice was born on 11th April 2006, Mark wanted to be with his girls as much as possible. He was a doting dad but on the occasions when work took him away from home, Andra and Alice would try to visit him. Alice became used to hanging out at Panavision with Mark and their beloved dogs, Huxley and Scooby.
In early 2009 Mark met with agents PrinceStone. Mark talked beyond the scheduled meeting, demonstrating his passion and enthusiasm for the industry, reciting hilarious anecdotes throughout the whole morning.
Visiting Mark on set, he always impressed with his natural warmth and the respect he showed everyone, from the executive producers to the runners. He could diffuse a tense situation with a perfectly timed joke or solve a problematic shot with an inspired technical suggestion. Never one to complain, his agent remembers that after a particularly exhausting, cold and wet day spent filming up to his waist in a lake, Mark – in typical understated style – declared it a ‘hot toddy day’!
Mark was a supporter of the traditional camera training route, from ‘tea to DP’, and having started at the bottom, working his way up from trainee loader to AC, from focus to operator, he announced his intention in 2017 become a lighting cameraman full time. He lit only a handful of projects including “Bang” in 2017, receiving the level of praise he so richly deserved, before he was taken from us in November 2017 without fulfilling his ambition and destiny to become a great cinematographer.
Looking back at Mark’s list of credits, you could be mistaken for thinking he was drawn to projects that reflected his own sense of humour, compassion, sense of adventure and intelligence. They include:
Four Weddings and a Funeral, Brassed Off, Little Voice, Finding Neverland, The Constant Gardener, Miss Potter, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Saving Private Ryan, Mrs Henderson Presents, The History Boys, Quantum Of Solace, Nowhere Boy, My Week with Marilyn, Sherlock, Downton Abbey, The Theory Of Everything and Game Of Thrones.
Mark found the confidence to be himself on set, to be clear and honest without feeling the need to gain anyone’s favour or to take part in political power games. In many ways, he should never have succeeded in the industry, for he had no ego, no temper, never raised his voice and had no sense of self-importance. Pretty rare in the modern world, almost unprecedented in the film and television industry.
He had no overriding ambition to storm to the top of his career before his time. All he wanted was to do his very best on every job, every day, for the cinematographer, the actors, the production, the director.
The fact that Mark was so loved, so admired, respected and cherished made others at the BAFTA memorial in February 2018 question whether the industry should take note of his unique strengths and qualities. As Harry Bowers ended his speech, he voiced a thought that was on everyone’s mind: perhaps we should all reflect on who we are, how we behave in our lives and in our work, and perhaps we should all make an effort to simply #BeMoreMark.