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The eclectic collection of the younger Bisson, a full CSC member, houses dozens of personal and professional still and film cameras - many in a large display cabinet, others on the fireplace mantel or original tripods. Some of the small, consumer cameras came from family, friends and neighbours, but the central focus for Michel is the Crown Graphic his dad used to photograph celebrities in hometown Montreal at age 17 and, of course, the workhorse movie cameras that sustained both father and son during overlapping careers.
Today, Michel, with his own Sony HDW F900 CineAlta camcorder, is a successful DOP of commercials and corporate videos (see CSC News, February, 2005), with recent forays into independent features as director of photography. His father was a hard-nosed, old-school cameraman who loved action and adventure, not unlike his mountain-climbing, scuba-diving son.
As a teenager, Jean Bisson started out working in a Montreal photo lab all night and shooting the rich and famous during the day with his Crown Graphic. On the day before his wedding, he was laid off by the lab, but his new wife wrote letter after letter to the CBC in Jean's name seeking freelance employment as a film cameraman. Persistence eventually paid off, and Jean worked for CBC Montreal for the rest of his long career.
That career took him to stories in hot spots all over the world, including the Middle East and Vietnam, with his trusty Éclair NPR. Risk was just an unflinching part of the job. "Wherever there was conflict, he loved that stuff," Michel says.
Once, while shooting army parachute training, he asked if he could suit up for a jump and was given the thumbs up by an officer who assumed the cameraman had jump experience. He went up, jumped, got some great footage and landed, exhilarated. The commanding officer was aghast when Jean admitted he had never jumped before.
Michel remembers his father as a tough but fair teacher, who believed in the sink-or-swim method of instruction. Only 17, Michel's first job with his father on a dual-camera shoot was at a boxing match in the old Montreal Forum. He was given an Auricon Pro-600, part of the present-day collection, and told to take wide shots of the fight while Jean did tight shots with the Éclair.
"Dad set the iris and f-stop. All I had to do was keep it in frame. He showed me how to focus, but that was all. That camera is very special to me."
When Michel was about 10, Jean taught him how to use a Bell & Howell and "I shot home movies with it. Then, at 17, my father sent me out to shoot a ski race for CBC Sports. I remember bringing home $75 for that job."
Jean, an avid and skilled diver who helped design a single-stage air regulator that is still popular, taught his son how to scuba dive and shoot under water when Michel was only 11, using a 16mm Bolex in a Plexiglas housing. "He literally stuck me under water and told me to breathe out on the way up. That was my lesson. Learning with my father . . . there were no textbooks."
Michel worked with his father at Expo '67 and other news projects, both as an assistant and cameraman, and learned that the senior Bisson "always allowed you to make one mistake. The second one - you were in trouble."
Michel says all of his motion picture cameras have a story, which is told in the caption of each photo shown on these pages. They are a select few from the collection, all of which are pretty much in working order.
The first indie credit for DOP Michel Bisson csc was the killer thriller Teddy Bear, shot in 13 days in March, for producer/director Yuval Daniel and producer/lead David Sparrow. His latest project is the indie Hammerheads, written, produced and directed by Ursula Cafaro. The story revolves around the culture of street-riding bicyclists.
(Photos courtesy of Michel Bisson csc.)