John C. Foster: Messin’ With Old Thunder

April 11, 2016
John C. Foster csc - Photo credit: The Foster Family & Canadian Cinematohrapher (

John C. Foster, csc, July 13th, 1927 – September 30th, 2012

I was very fortunate to have received an email in 2007 from NFB legend, John C. Foster, csc, while I was still working at Library & Archives Canada. He was inquiring about making contact with former Canadian Army Combat Cameraman, Sgt. (retired) Norman Quick…

Email received from John C. Foster, csc;

January 21, 2007 –

Dear Dale:
I was pleased to read in the current CSC Mag that Norm is still this side of heaven and I would like to get in touch with him for a number of reasons.
Could you please give me an address and phone number by return e-mail… I owe a lot of my early career to his father, old C.J., and for a short period I was an assistant cameraman supporting Chuck’s efforts to adapt into the peacetime film industry.

Ever Onward!

John C. Foster

P.S. You can see my NFB cinematography screen credits on the IMDB on the web… The rest of the resume reads like the history of the British Empire so I won’t burden you with it at this time.

Friday, 9th February, 2007 –

I still do a little shooting also. I consider myself to be the keystone of the birth of the cinema verite medium when I was still at the NFB, (I resigned in 1959 after 16 years of public service), Michel Brault and George Dufault (spelling?) were among my assistants in their early years in the camera department, and they were able to take some of the concepts and attitudes behind verite, that were very unpopular in the NFB camera department, to Paris a few years later and fully develop them, even before a new NFB generation did the Paul Anka thing, and that in turn spawned Pennabaker and the Maselles Brothers in America and a whole new movement in documentary filming. Anyways, as I started out to say, I still love to shoot happenings and events as long as I can edit my own footage. And still do both!

About John C. Foster, csc

Mr. Foster joined the staff of the National Film Board’s engineering department in March of 1943, and later transferred to the camera department where he began as the only assistant cameraman.

He was seconded to a major Hollywood feature film crew for training in studio production techniques, and became one of the NFB’s leading cinematographers, a director­ cameraman, and later field producer before resigning to enter the independent production industry in Toronto in 1959.

Mr. Foster’s “Foscine Ltd.” was based in Toronto, one of four independent production companies in the city at that time, and quickly became a major source of production services, and ‘packaged’ documentary programs to Canadian and U.S. networks with location contracts stretching from the Far East, to Europe and South America. Clients included the CBC, CTV, ABC, CBS, and PBS networks.

Always a technical innovator, Foster designed and built the industry’s first dedicated purpose, shoulder mounted, double-system camera unit, and took shot-gun microphones out of the studio and into documentary use, and also introduced ‘Nagra’ sound recorders to the North American production industry.

Mr. Foster was a contract for hire in the start-up teams of more television projects than perhaps anyone else in the industry. He functioned as technical director on the NFB’s “Talent Showcase”, a major thrust into live entertainment filming using three 35mm cameras in 1950.

With Bernard Devlin, Foster designed and filmed the NFB’s entry into television production with “On The Spot”, introducing television star Fred Davis to the industry. He was an original on the NFB’s “Comparisons” series. Later in and out of Toronto, he was on the originating teams of CBC’s “Close Up”, “Horizons”, “Compass”, “Explorations”, “Weekend”, “Midweek”, “Inquiry”, “Telescope”, and “The Fifth Estate”.

In America he serviced the first documentaries for National Educational Television (NET) through WGBH in Boston. Several one hour investigative shows out of Columbus Circle, progressed through seasons of servicing National Public Affairs Center for Television shows out of Washington, D.C. Mr. Foster launched film inclusions for “Bill Moyer’s Journal”, and is one of the very few to sell packaged material to CBS’ “60 Minutes”.

John Foster was a 1952 war correspondent in Korea, and managed to emerge from his booking into Saigon with Moyer’s unscathed.

He covered every Democratic Convention in the U.S. from Harry Truman’s last to McGovern’s first..

Foscine Toronto Ltd., operated successfully and profitably into the late 70’s when Foster ceased operations for personal reasons. In particular, Foscine’s program packages for CBC-TV were distinguished by their high audience ratings: The one-hour documentary on the passenger train journey from Halifax to Vancouver sat right up there with “Hockey Night In Canada” with an 18 rating on its first network run and an 18.5 in its re-run five months later.

Two half-hour “Gallery” series shows delivered by Foscine to CBC; a profile of a small town, Woodstock, N.B., seen through the eyes of the local radio station entitled, “Are You Listening – (you out there)”; and the story of a family in Baltimore, paid to demolish huge buildings with explosives, entitled “The Master Blasters”; These tripled the audiences of the weeks that bracketed them in the series.

“Are You Listening” eventually had five network runs before going to the archive shelves. These audience successes were a confirmation of the unique appeal of Foster’s production techniques in garnering large audiences with documentary shows.

Read more about John C. Foster in the The Canadian Society of Cinematographers Magazine article, “In Memoriam: John C. Foster, CSC”, please click HERE

Canadian Cinematographer Magazine Issue December 2012:
In Memoriam John C. Foster, csc.