Born in England, Steve Locker-Lampson spent seven years at legendary Kiwi production house Pacific films, and later became one of New Zealand’s pioneer aerial cameramen. Locker-Lampson was the son of late politician Oliver Locker-Lampson, who commanded an armoured car squadron in WWI Russia.
Steve Locker-Lampson completed his education at nautical college, then followed his older brother into the merchant navy. After four years at sea he tried to get a job at BBC television, but was told he needed a university education. Instead he tried film, winning a union card after 11 months in a dead end laboratory job, checking film for damage.
He began working in the camera department thanks to a friend who directed commercials. Soon he was helping shoot a varied diet of Government films, commercials, and newsreels.
Locker-Lampson had visited New Zealand as a sailor, and in late 1964 emigrated there to be with his Kiwi partner. Having written to the NZ Broadcasting Corporation in advance, he arrived thinking a job offer was on the cards, only to discover it was not the case. In desperation, he opened the Wellington phone book to find just two film companies listed. Locker-Lampson had noticed Pacific Films cameraman Michael Seresin filming his ship as it came in to port. Three days after landing, Locker-Lampson was invited to head Pacific’s camera section by John O’Shea.
In England, union rules demanded a four-person camera crew. Promotion to the "demi-God" like position of cameraman could take many years. The non-unionised scene in New Zealand meant less separation of roles; Locker-Lampson often worked with only one assistant, and swept the floors and helped with set building as well.
During his seven “chaotic, innovative, stimulating and wonderful” years at Pacific Films the company’s staff more than doubled, and Locker-Lampson mentored cameramen Graeme Cowley, Rory O'Shea and Waka Attewell. Locker-Lampson’s work crossed the gamut, from newsreels (the Wahine disaster), rugby games, and commercials, to pioneering TV doco Getting Together. He kicked off with one of his toughest and longest-running jobs, a series of films chronicling the building of the Manapouri power station. Most were made for Mobil Oil. Access to the site sometimes required Locker-Lampson and his assistant to carry heavy equipment through 500 metres of thick mud.
Locker-Lampson learnt to dive and race sports cars, and soon developed a reputation for the tougher jobs: shots that involved helicopters, fast-moving vehicles, oceans and the occasional submarine.
By 1971 Locker-Lampson had taken the decision to go freelance, though he continued to shoot many Pacific projects. His first aerial job was a late 60s doco on Auckland’s Atlantic 100 power boat race. But he really began to establish a name in the mid-70s, after impressive work for Pacific director Tony Williams using a new vibrationless helicopter camera mount. The first was for a film on American singer Kenny Rogers: The Sound of Music-style scene featured Mary Arnold singing on a snowy mountainside (in reality a bearded deer shooter in a dress, since a week’s bad weather meant Arnold was no longer available).
After filming this scene and some spectacular aerial zooms for yacht film The Hum, Locker-Lampson and the Skymount were rented out as one package.
Having worked as a production manager/cameraman for Tony Williams, Locker-Lampson began to expand into organisational roles. Williams' Rally doco had proven his logistical baptism by fire, sorting food, digs and transport for more than 14 roving cameramen, many new to the game.
Locker-Lampson’s organisational and aerial skills both came to the fore on Williams' debut feature Solo. Featuring many flying sequences, and a pilot as one of the main characters, Solo was partly inspired by Locker-Lampson's diving buddy Peter Clulow’s memories of being a firewatch pilot. Locker-Lampson was an assistant director, and also handled the film’s aerial photography, filming some stunning scenes of a Tiger Moth over the Southern Alps (worries that cold temperatures could stop the Tiger's engine thankfully failed to eventuate).
Much of Locker-Lampson’s work was for commercials, and he spent seven years working alongside friend Waka Attewell at Attewell's company Valhalla Films. He even appeared hanging from a mountain in a Reidrubber advertisement, a rare adventure he did not enjoy. Elsewhere, Locker-Lampson claimed to have been fired at least once for protesting against the 'devil may care' safety attitudes employed on many commercials.
Locker-Lampson reluctantly agreed to work as first assistant director on the challenging shoot for Pacific Films movie Pictures, followed by Smash Palace and comedy Carry Me Back. The later two were both shot by his close friend, ex-Pacific Films cameraman Graeme Cowley. Carry Me Back also saw Locker-Lampson helping out with some near-miss stunt driving.
Cowley would call on Locker-Lampson to oversee the move to new Auckland offices for equipment company Film Facilities, and he stayed on to look after the premises (many years before, the company had made its first temporary home in his Wellington house).
He also published a number of books about Kiwi shipwrecks. Steve Locker-Lampson passed away on 5 October 2012.
Steve Locker-Lampson, Wooden Potatoes (Unpublished, 2008)
Stephen Locker-Lampson 6/12/1937 – 5/10/2012
Warrick 'Waka' Attewell writes about the passing of his friend Steve Locker-Lampson. An abbreviated version of this piece was published in the November 2012 edition of Onfilm.
In 1972 I was the new guy straight out of school. Pacific Films was definitely the place to be if you wanted to make movies. NZBC and NFU didn't look like an option, the independent John O'Shea made movies and so did the independent folks he employed. The first day I saw Steve Locker-Lampson, tall handsome and with that confident booming voice, he was asking the receptionist if he could have a meeting with John... no come to think of it, he was telling the receptionist that he was going to have a meeting with John and the way he said it implied (always politely) that she was going to organise it... NOW!
He may even have thrown his hair back and lit a cigarette.
A man larger than life, dashing adventurer, racing car driver, underwater and aerial cameraman, historian and writer... and beneath all the gruffness a gentle soul. He brought discipline and craft skills to Pacific Films' camera department. An Englishman from the aristocracy – Steve led by example. (His dad was a war hero and British MP – Oliver Locker-Lampson).
Steve escaped the stuffiness of Britain in the Merchant Navy and arrived in New Zealand with hope and possibilities abound – he grew to love this country and would tell you as often as he could – he went on to inspired and mentor the likes of Michael Seresin, Graeme Cowley and Rory O'Shea, then after 9 or so years on the Pacific payroll he abandoned that security and became one of New Zealand's earliest freelancers; risky business - it seemed that the next pay-check wasn't the motivation to stay somewhere when choosing the new and untried. I came along around about that time.
Steve and I liked each other from the get go. He took me diving, I took him climbing... he always promised that I could have a go in one of those single-seater racing cars, though they were usually recently crashed or in bits. But I got close enough when I finally bought the Jaguar XJS. Steve was one of the first around to kick its tyres. He worked at my studio for the next seven years. Valhalla was a better place because of him. We struck the deal with the devil on a number of occasions and in one desperate moment (influenced by the lack of cash-flow) Steve appeared in front of the lens in a TV commercial for tyres – 'You can bet your life on them (pause) – I do!' – Steve was brilliant and brave in his performance and he and Anna drank decent wine for a few weeks.
A gentleman and a gentle person. A gifted man that suffered from life's cruel fate and fears born of a young man sent off to Naval college at an age far too young by a father who knew no better. Steve an eccentric and driven man. A colleague, business partner and very much a friend. Deeply missed. RIP Steve.