WHAT PROJECT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON OR WHAT IS THE LAST PROJECT YOU DID ?
I just shot a project for ITV called INJUSTICE. It’s a five parter, that’s five one hour episodes.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE PROJECT ?
It was written by Anthony Horowitz who would be known for writing the Strombreaker books and for a series last year called Collision. Greenlit produced it, that’s Jill Green and Eve Gutierrez.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE DIRECTOR?
It was directed by Colm McCarthy. He and I have done a lot together over the last ten years. We started off doing ultra low budget stuff and music videos for tiny amounts. We progressed through shorts and into TV drama. We work together whenever we can.
I did get very nervous at one point as I was getting very little feedback from him about the look of things. I had to ask him was he happy with the work because we weren’t really talking much about it. He just said that if he’s not complaining then he’s happy. It was nice to realize that he just trusted me to do a good job and was letting me get on with it.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE STYLE ?
I don’t like being too dogmatic about shooting with a schema in mind. It can wind up being limiting. But there were a few things to keep in mind. A lot of the film takes place either in flashbacks or as stories characters tell one another. So we wanted these sections to be different form the straight narrative and we wanted them to be different from one another. We didn’t want them to be so different though that people would get distracted or start thinking that they had blinked and slipped into a commercial break.
For a lot of the flashback materiel we used swing and tilt lenses. I used them on my last drama and on a couple of jobs the year before so I was thinking it was time to walk away from them but Colm really wanted them and they seemed like the right tool to tell the story. Once you put them on the camera they are pretty seductive and going back to regular lenses can feel boring. We used them for night exteriors and they really add a great flavor to the wide shots but you do need to pump in extra light.
I think they served us well on this film.
There are a few key events that the whole series turns on and one of them happens in a dark house in the middle of the country side on a rainy night. Realistically it should have been pitch black. We could have left the lenscap on and it would faithfully represent the truth but as ever there’s a bit of a balancing act there between the truth and storytelling. We debated the darkness of those scenes all the way to the end of the grade.
There are also a few differences in how we photographed different characters with Charlie Creed Miles’s scenes always being handheld. I think we managed to do it without being too obvious. I’m always afraid of the audience going – a shakey camera, I now what that means… Once it becomes obvious you’ve blown the narrative.
We also used the anamorphic blue streak filters. I was a little skeptical about them at first. Rodrigo proposed them so we shot a test and they really did work for us. They literally just add those streaks that you get with anamorphic lenses. You really need a super hot highlight to make them work so they don’t pick up on every shiny bald spot. Again they worked for us to differentiate particular strands of the story. They were pretty expensive but they were worth the cost.
WHAT FORMAT DID YOU USE & WHY ?
We shot on the Red MX. I find the Red cameras very easy and straightforward and more importantly the pictures out of them are beautiful. They aren’t as popular in England as they are in Ireland and there was a bit of nervousness about them and a few grumbles but I remember saying to someone that if they were good enough for David Fincher they were good enough for us.
I know everyone is going on about the Alexa right now and I’ve seen the tests which look gorgeous but I asked a few colourists who I really rate about their views comparing the Red and the Alexa. Interestingly enough they both said that they felt the difference was tiny but that they felt the Red probably has a bit more room to work with.
I find it funny that a lot of the Alexa marketing and chatter is revolving around how like a film camera it is. I don’t care if it looks like a banana or a hubcap or fried agg or how familiar the buttons are. What matters are the picture, which from what I can see are lovely.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR PREFERENCE OF LENSES ?
We used the Cooke S4 lenses. I’m a big fan. I think the only ones I’ve used that are as good as the Cookes are the Primos. I think it has to do with the big elements. When something is out of focus on a lens with big glass it is different to how it feels with lenses where things are more compact like the Zeiss Ultraprimes. It’s not that it affects the depth of field, it’s more to do with how the out of focus stuff feels. I could be imagining that but that’s how it feels to me.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE STYLE AND TYPE LIGHTING ON THIS PROJECT ?
Well the lighting was tough because Colm always likes to shoot with two cameras. I remember on Murphy’s Law he insisted on two cameras inside a car that Jimmy Nesbitt was driving. So we wound up with five of us all squashed around Jimmy Nesbitt. But that’s what he likes.
So we had a few scenes where he wanted to shoot shots that really were tough to shoot simultaneously. We had a scene in the Old Bailey where we did a wide crabbing shot on a 25mm and at the same time he asked for a close up on a 135mm about 120º off the line of the A-camera and as ever we were under awful time pressure… So a lot of the lighting felt to me like I was just fighting to not embarrass myself. It really was a case of seeing where something could be tucked in out of shot.
I’m a big fan of using two cameras but sitting in the grade I saw a few scenes where in retrospect we might have been better off shooting with one. The lighting was compromised and on some scenes we shooting on glassy rooms and spending a lot of time just fighting reflections. We might have saved time by going with one camera. I guess that’s how you learn.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN WORKLOW & POST PROCESS ?
I’m the wrong person to ask about this. I hand off the drive, get given rushes in the evening and don’t really think about where all that data is sitting until we are grading.
The grade is really the only bit of post where I’m involved. We did the grade in Deluxe 142 in London. We had a fabulous colourist called Jet Omoshebi. There were a few scenes I was worried about that she really managed to pull together smoothly. She also brought great taste. For me the colourist is a key part of the camera crew. You want someone who’s tastes you trust.
She works on a Nucoda Filmmaster. I’m kind of a fan of the Baselight system but Jet really knows how to make the Nucoda perform.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CREW.
I didn’t get to bring anyone over from Ireland so I was working mostly with new people. Pulling focus on the B-camera with me I had Tony Kay, who I’ve done a few jobs with before and he’s really great- no lens to long, no actor to wobbly, he ate up everything.
On the A-camera we had Rodrigo Guttierez operating. He did a terrific job and was wonderful fun to work with. He had Dan Shoring focusing with him. Our loader Emma Edwards was also great, it was a great crew all around.
It was tough going back to having an operator. For the last few years I’ve wound up operating myself because the budgets have not stretched to include an operator. So handing that role over to somebody else again was hard. It’s not a lack of trust, it’s more that the I’m used to lighting with the camera stuck to me. When you operate yourself you can do things like iris pulls without having to choreograph people or stick on a motor. Or sometimes after a few takes you notice an actor’s movements evolving in a particular way and all you need to do is whisper to your focus puller about a change and you’re off. So putting someone else in that spot feels odd. But Rodrigo was so easy to work with and contributed so much that after a day or two I felt completely at ease.
I chose Andy McBrearty to gaffer the job. He came highly recommended by Robbie Ryan (ISC) amongst others and lived up to all the things I’d heard about him. It was the one of the biggest jobs I’ve done and he and his best boy Jonno Yates took great care of me. Again Andy has great taste so it was an inspiring collaboration.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON IN THE FUTURE ?
Right now I’m shooting commercials and other short projects and reading scripts, waiting for something interesting. There are a few maybes. I just shot a film for Darren Thornton which I think will be very good.
WHAT CINEMATOGRAPHERS HAVE INFLUENCED YOU DURING YOUR CAREER ?
James Mather and Robbie Ryan mostly. Then the work of Roger Deakins, Robert Richardson and Janusz Kaminski keep on coming back to me.
Robert Franks photography is always something I look at when I’m starting a new job too.
WHAT IS THE LAST FILM YOU SAW THAT YOU ADMIRED / INSPIRED YOU ?
I’ve seen two films lately that really excited me. One was One Hundred Mornings, photographed by Suzie Lavelle. I think the film is exceptional and I think her work is incredible, it reminds me of Andrew Wyeth paintings.
I also saw a Russian film called “How I Ended Last Summer”. It had me gripped from beginning to end. It’s very simple. Interestingly the camera barely moves during the film but it’s still far more powerful than a lot of flashier stuff.
I also just watched an incredible film called Le Quattro Volte. It is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. I think it’s one of the greatest films I’ll see in my lifetime- but then when I was four years old, I thought the same thing about Star Wars…