ISC DoP Q&A SUZIE LAVELLE (a) What project are you working on now or have just recently completed?
At the moment I am prepping Dr Who for the BBC, but I have recently finished shooting blocks 2 and 3 of SILK, a legal Drama also for BBC. I took over from John Conroy ISC, who shot the first block. (Block 2 was directed by Michael Keillior and Cilla Ware directed Block 3.)
(b) What format was the project shot on? We shot SILK on the Arri Alexa, predominantly using Cooke S4s. We also carried some zoom lenses, - an Alura 45-250mm, and a couple of light-weight zooms from the Angenieux Optimo range. I love the lightweight Optimo zooms, as they are great for hand held. We shot Pro-res 4:4:4. We had an additional camera for about half of the shoot days and Tony Kay was B camera op. I operated the A camera.
(c) What challenges did the project present you with? The main challenge was to keep a ‘freshness’ to the court room scenes. I think we had about 15 days in total in the courtrooms, with a lot of dialogue to get through. You really have to balance getting good camera moves and interesting angles while minimizing the amount of takes for the cast and not letting the camera moves distract from the performance. It was a fine balance. Also the modern courtrooms we filmed in, are inherently flat dull spaces, designed so that the people in them have no distractions from what’s going on, so it often took some creative thinking and rigging to get contrast into those spaces. We shot in some amazing places, The Old Bailey, the Royal Courts of Justice, but lighting wise, we had to be really on top of how we scheduled our days as we didn’t have the resources to really ‘control’ those spaces. We mapped out how the sun would move throughout the day to get the best out of the spaces, and then just used soft boxes and Octadomes on the floor for faces. We got lucky with the weather reports and it worked well!
(d) What was the look you were going for? Generally we were going for quite a classical look, lots of dolly work, with close ups shot on fairly wide lenses (32MM/40MM). We looked at the Danish drama, Borgen, and loved the naturalistic look that was sympathetic to the faces but showed the grandeur of the spaces really well. We wanted the light to be very soft, but to fall of quickly so the world felt rich and textured. In the courtrooms, we often used a big single source far away, with frames close to the actors, and a lot of flags and cutters. In the grade we added a coolness to the shadows, which really helps give it a cinematic look. We also had a lot of night exteriors on steadicam around Temple in London. It’s a very beautiful part of the city, and for these I used couple of six lights and a couple of nine lights on cherry pickers, strategically placed so the arms were hidden, and the cobbled streets could always be back lit. I then used springballs, on batteries where possible, to move around with the steadicam and provide fill/additional backlight when needed. This approach gave the camera a lot of freedom.
(f) If Shooting digitally did you use any LUT's and if so could you describe them? We used the standard REC 709 LUT throughout. We didn’t have on set D.I.T., and the off line was not done in a post-house, so I felt that this would be the most straight forward way of controlling the off line images.