Last year cinematographer Mark Milsome was tragically killed while filming in Ghana which threw his wife, daughter and much of the British film industry into mourning. The man who was behind the camera for countless classics, including Game of Thrones and The Theory of Everything, inspired love, laughter and respect, and today a charitable foundation in his name hopes to spread some of his enormous goodwill. Fiona Golfar finds out more.
“The day after my husband’s death, something amazing started to happen,” Andra Milsome is on the phone to me from Croatia, where she’s finally taken some time out to mark the first anniversary of her husband’s death. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions since cinematographer Mark Milsome was killed suddenly while filming a stunt scene for the acclaimed BBC/Netflix production Black Earth Rising in Ghana last year. His untimely and shocking death left Andra and their 12-year-old daughter Alice devastated, but then to their amazement there was an unprecedented response from the industry he loved so much. “From nowhere my phone was bombarded with messages,” says Andra. “I was being sent images of clapperboards with tributes to Mark written on them from film production crews all around the world. From Ridley Scott to Stephen Frears, every time a scene was called and the clapperboard would snap shut, everyone would send a message of love to Mark.”
A creative consultant and yoga teacher, Andra has always been known among her friends for her abundance of positivity, but in such devastating circumstances she can hardly have been expected to see any silver lining. And yet the outpouring of love on the clapperboards was only to gain momentum. After Mark’s memorial at BAFTA, attended by more than 600 people, Andra felt inspired to set up a new foundation along with some of his great friends, first assistant camera Harry Bowers, writer/director Kirk Jones and producer Alexandra Stone. “The thing we realised is that Mark had a special quality that generated all this goodwill which easily matched his considerable technical skill. People were always happy to have him around, and somehow that makes it so important to remember him,” says Andra.
That special quality was a part of what made him so good at being a part of a team, crucial to the smooth running of a film. Not everyone can do it. It requires being a contributor, to be part of the fabric of something and often to loyally and unquestioningly follow a leader. To have enough personality but not too much ego – these are qualities that Mark Milsome had in spades.
“Sometimes a director who hadn’t worked with him before might wonder on the first day of shooting why things had come to a standstill when Mark arrived,” says Bowers, who had been mentored by Mark in the early stages of his career some 20 years ago. “Who was this man making everyone laugh? But people were as important to him as the work.”
At a time when the film industry has never had so much negative press about some of its more dubious characters at the top of the tree, it is lovely to see actors like Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones wearing T-shirts in Milsome’s honour on set (he worked with them on the 2014 biopic The Theory of Everything). The actor Hugh Bonneville remembers him with fondness and respect: “When discussing a shot with a director and seeing it come together, he would wrinkle his nose, nod his head as vigorously as a woodpecker and you’d hear a gurgling satisfied ‘yeaaah’ emerge from somewhere within that big, wide grin. I find it impossible to think of him without smiling, just as I find it impossible to think he’s no longer lining up the shot.”
Mark behind the camera on the set of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch. Credit: Robert Viglasky, Hartswood Films
The four friends came up with the idea of forming a charity to help mentor young people who may not have the advantages of education or contacts to come into the industry and learn from the bottom up. It ties in well with Mark’s own tentative steps into the world of film. His father, Doug Milsome, was a well-known cinematographer best known for working with Stanley Kubrick, but Mark did not want to rely on nepotism for access to the film industry. After studying fine art and documentary film-making as a teenager, which sparked his love of drama, he joined Jobfit in 1986 which helped him to secure jobs across the industry from working as a trainee loader to eventually becoming a lighting cameraman. Over the course of his career Mark went on to work on some of the most loved British productions, from Four Weddings and a Funeral, Brassed Off, Finding Neverland, The Constant Gardener, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The History Boys, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Game of Thrones and many more.
Starting a charitable foundation is no easy endeavor, as Milsome, Bowers, Jones and Stone are learning. Currently looking for support within the film industry, either financially or with placements and education, to begin with the charity is joining up with the Guild of British Camera Technicians, which runs six-day paying courses for applicants from any age or background. From this course six of the applicants are selected for apprenticeships by a group of technicians from within the industry. Unlike many industries which look at academic achievement, these mentors are looking at personality and the ability to fit in. The intention is for the charity to be able to sponsor two people a year, one of each sex – there is still a predominance of white middle-class males on crews – and help them get a start in the film industry.
Hugh Bonneville leads the cast and crew of Downton Abbey in support of Black-T-Week. Credit: Japp Buitendijk/Carnival Films.
To raise awareness, they have designed a black T-shirt in Mark’s memory, and are inviting cast and crew from the film and television world to honour him by wearing it during the week of 18 to 24 November. As Bowers says, “Every film set needs a Mark: someone who releases the tension when times are fraught; someone who can lift your spirits on a night shoot at 2am in the rain; someone who inspires and nurtures new colleagues; someone who approaches every job, whether it be Sex Lives of the Potato Men or Quantum of Solace with the same sense of professionalism and pride, and remembers what a privilege it is to make a film; and, of course, someone who can also see the funny side. Let’s all Be More Mark.”
To support Black-T-Week and join the likes of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, send photographs wearing the Black T-Shirt to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram tagged with #Black-T-Week #MarkMilsomeFoundation #BeMoreMark
Wildsmith Skin donates £500 to the charitable causes featured in The Wildsmith Papers. To find out more about the Mark Milsome Foundation, please visit https://markmilsomefoundation.com