It was one of my first films in the mid 1970s, and it had been commissioned by the CBC, a big deal in those early days. I needed a cinematographer I could count on and I had met a sweet strong man, whose work looked elegant and honest. He was Richard Stringer.
I tried to find someone who would warn me against hiring him—that’s how show biz works—but I could not find a soul who would do so. Thus began a lifelong friendship and working relationship that never saw an angry word or a smidgen of betrayal or disappointment. Even when one of us screwed up we knew wordlessly that no recriminations could measure up to the sense of remorse the other felt. Maybe this is not so unusual in life with one or two friends or colleagues, but with Richard Stringer, every friend and colleague felt the same way.
We live in a time of the geographical dispersal of some of our closest friends. We continue to love them despite distance and time. Email and the cell phone substitute for, but never quite replace, our old proximity. Thus within minutes of Richard’s death, many of us were in touch with each other, but not, regrettably, touching each other. The physical distances are a painful reality. Richard died in Victoria where he had just moved with his family.
Amongst the faraway friends who were in touch with one another was Tim Wilson, on the east coast, who recorded audio on my first film shoot with Richard. We were shooting south of Churchill on the Hudson Bay line. Ever diligent and willing, Richard trudged into snow up to his shoulders to get the shot we wanted. Later, ravenous, he refused to eat the ptarmigan stew the Metis manager of the rail crossing generously prepared for us. (Richard: “Gail, there’s the head of a bird in here: eyes, beak…you had better move it away from me quickly…”) Luckily, I had stowed cheese and crackers, just in case. Tim and I ate the stew.
Our next project together was with Richard’s dear friends Heather MacAndrew and David Springbett. (Heather was also in touch within hours of Richard’s death. These are the moments in life when the slightest gesture can help to ease pain.) Heather (producer and sound recordist) and Richard (cinematographer) and I (director) shot four films in four Asian countries on a small budget, with no previous foreign location experience and survived.
In the lower reaches of the Himalayas, where we slept in tents hauled up by sherpas, Richard had to be placed approximately half a kilometre from the campsite, in order to let the rest of us sleep. You could hear the sound of his snoring ricocheting off Mount Everest.
En route home we had an overnight in Hong Kong, and couldn’t find anywhere to sleep but in one room normally reserved for a Royal visitor. There was just one bed for the three of us, but fortunately the bed was SO big we were able to build a bridge of pillows, and couldn’t hear Richard from the other side of the bed.
Our last film together was Watching Movies and I asked Richard to invent a system whereby an interviewee would be able to look at me to respond to my questions, but would ultimately appear to be looking straight into the camera. Richard devised the “Zingerscope” (he pretended he had named it after me, but we all knew it was the “Stringerscope”) which he wrote about, brilliantly, in Canadian Cinematographer.
We managed to squeeze in a couple of episodes of 72 Hours, a television show, and I was proud that other crew members quietly mentioned that year that the work Richard and I had done together was among the best.We looked out for each other. Richard had a film in the works about his grandfather, The Bishop Who Ate His Boots , which his friends have committed to finishing. Richard was blessed with a beautiful wife and a wonderful son and more friends than he could possible have imagined. A superb human being, he is physically lost from the landscape of our daily life. But no one who has known Richard will ever forget him; he will always be part of the landscape of our imaginations.