CAN YOU TELL US YOUR NAME, HOW LONG YOU HAVE BEEN A CINEMATOGRAPHER ?
My name is Kate McCullough and we could say that I've officially been working as a cinematographer for the last 3 1/2 years.
DO YOU MAINLY WORK IN IRELAND, ABROAD OR BOTH ? Well I mainly work for Irish companies though my carbon print seems to be catching up on me. As I was studying for a few years in Poland I seem to end up in all quarters of Europe shooting in languages I don't even speak.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THIS PROJECT? This particular film was not through my polish contacts but was with an old friend from Dun Laoghaire (where I studied originally) Michael Lavelle. Michael asked me to shoot my first film at the school and from then on we've worked quite a bit together, ' Undressing my Mother', 'His and Hers' and more recently we've returned to director cinematographer collaboration with 'Out of the blue', ' I Hate Musicals' and ' Mummy's Little Helper', and our most recent venture "Cluck". He had pitched at Berlin Talent Campus for a scheme they were running whereby they team up directors with a production team if they liked the idea. "Mummy's Little Helper" was 1 of 5 shorts selected to go into production.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE PROJECT ? The film is about a little girl who witnesses her Mum developing a strange eating disorder. It begun more as a horror and developed into a surreal drama. It was shot in Berlin over 5 days with a full German crew, alongside the director and myself. The budget was tight enough with most of the funding coming in the form of deals with gear houses. I pushed quite strongly to have the grade done here by Eugene McCrystal who did an excellent job.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE DIRECTOR? Michael Lavelle is a very specific kind of character, he has such great energy and charisma which, no matter how many obstacles are thrown at him he manages to gather a positive push and momentum to the finish line. The language was such a tricky number directing wise but Michael just adapted and settled into it and drew out some really great performances. He's very good to collaborate with and I think the fact that he really understands the tool of cinematography provides me with a great palette to work from. We speak in the same language and this ultimately sets us up in a strong position to put our minds to the task of telling a story.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE STYLE ? The look of the film emerged quite late but what didn't change from the very beginning was the decision to go handheld. Michael wanted to have a rawness to the film which initially was going to play a bigger role-in that we would move around with the characters, give it a rough edge and an intensity of presence. But as we came across the main location I felt there was a formality to the space and decor that it seem to make more sense to settle the camera and allow the actors to move within the space. So we agreed to settle the camera but to keep it handheld. I would have liked to move the camera during certain moments but it felt too aggressive and we certainly didn't have money for grip gear let alone a grip-we were lucky to have even a data wrangler! The one thing I was keen to inject into the light was a certain uncomfortable quality to represent this worm that was growing inside the mothers body. So whenever there were 'moonlit' night scenes we would use a strong indigo blue gel, a colour that was not organic that was from a slightly science fiction Blade runner territory. The rest of the light was created with as big a light source as possible-the dark heavy wooden interiors of the family home really gobbled up the light so they were the heaviest lit scenes even more so than the night exteriors. I had an enthusiastic, energetic and mindful gaffer who showed me a trick or two with mirrors. The other big visual obstacle was of course telling the story of a woman loosing weight on screen. We used a body suit to add flesh to Beata at the beginning and then gradually removed this in degrees. Beata had a very interestingly angular face to begin with so by the time we reach the point where she's lost a severe amount of weight we accented this angularity with makeup and top light (this is particularly visible in the bathroom). We used a body double for the wider shots to sell the skin and bone look to the audience.
WHAT FORMAT DID YOU USE & WHY? We spent quite a bit of time trying to choose a format for the project. ARRI Berlin were very helpful at this point as we juggled budget with shooting style. We looked at the D21 (too big an animal for the way we needed to shoot), Alexa (at that point it was still not possible to record externally from this camera, and finally the RED MX. In the end ARRI couldn't accommodate us camera wise so we had to go elsewhere for this but they did provide us with a lovely set of rehoused COOKE S2 lenses-they really helped soften out the digital image particularly with highlights.
DID YOU TRY ANYTHING NEW ON THIS PROJECT? It's always good to try something new on each project. These lenses were definitely reacting differently to what I was used to, say in a set of ultra primes. It was a new gradation of image transmission happening there. Also we played a lot with bouncing light into mirrors-I really like the quality this gives to the light. I had previously only used mirrors to redirect the sun. And of course it was the first outing for me with the new MX sensor so I had plenty of fun with that.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN WORKLOW & POST PROCESS ? We had a data wrangler on set (most of the time, there were one or two multi-tasking moments!) We didn't have a post house in Germany on board at that point and in the end I managed to convince them to do the grade here in Ireland. So the film was cut in Berlin, Pro Res was what they were working off in the edit and then sent over the drives to Dublin and we finished it out here. We had great fun with Eugene in the grade finessing the look and discussing tape worm!
WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF THE FILM? We had difficulty right up to the first shooting day trying to gather crew together to work for nothing. I had no network there to draw on and so it was quite a gamble who might end up on the team. By the time shoot day 1 had come round I was literally just happy to have a crew. There were substitutes along the way which isn't ideal, it really could have gone horribly wrong but they were a really great group of people to work with. The other element was of course the slimming down of the mother from quite a curvaceous figure to pretty much skin and bone. I had to be very careful about choice of lens and light how this was managed, threading the fine line of showing justvenough to sell it to the audience.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON IN THE FUTURE ? I'm currently finishing out a documentary here in Ireland about the life of Nuala O' Faolain along with some commercial work. I will be beginning a feature documentary in Sweden soon ( I seem to have a knack of shooting in languages I don't understand). We had shot a short documentary just over a year ago about twins fled from Azerbaijan to Sweden and the Swedish Film Institute want to fund a feature length film now.
WHAT CINEMATOGRAPHERS HAVE INFLUENCED YOU DURING YOUR CAREER ? I always keep an keen eye on what Robbie Ryan is up to, I love how he dances with the camera. Roger Deakins consistently continues to tell stories with such ease and confidence and I look to his work for solutions when things seem to have become over complicated.
WHAT IS THE LAST FILM YOU SAW THAT YOU ADMIRED / INSPIRED YOU ? Pina, what a feast for the imagination. I mean in its expression rather than it's cinematography. The choreography stripped down human relationships in such a way that a dialogue scene in a film might never achieve.