After 16 hours at home (half of those asleep) I returned to Wales late last night. Only four days of the shoot left, including today, and we’re powering through the material at a good lick. All the sets are rigged so it’s not hard for lighting, but we still have to be careful. We rush the first take of a close-up on one of the lead actors and she doesn’t look good. I insist on another take and we take five minutes to massage the lighting and help her out. It’s totally worth it. The DP has to make the cast look good, and the fact that the pressure was on from the 1st AD is not an excuse that the producers will give two hoots about when they watch the rushes.
We do more steadicam shots going from corridor to corridor and another 360 degree shot in the chapel. There are few easy shots with Paul and that’s a great challenge to meet. This shoot has given me a lot of confidence.
Today we shot over eight minutes of screen time. We’re all very chuffed about that.
Christmas music is playing in the dining room as we eat breakfast. There is a deer feeding event featuring Father Christmas in the grounds of the castle today.
We shoot mostly in the cell and corridor again. For the first time we venture into a second corridor linked to the first. But this one has windows, so the guys put up a 6K and a 4K firing in from outside. We don’t have the space to back them off enough to match the light levels of the adjacent “candlelit” corridor. So we rig up the iris motor and I do a stop pull from about T2.8 to T5.8 as Rupert steadicams from the darker corrridor to the brighter one.
Sometimes when you set up for a scene you put in lights through the obvious windows and it just looks great straight away. Today there were a lot of scenes like that. Half the battle is getting your backlight in without the lamp being in frame. Then it’s coming in with a key that’s sidey enough to have shape. If you’re doing the kind of spinning steadicam shots Paul loves it can be very difficult not to have somewhere in the move where the lighting looks flat. Today the coverage was a little more conventional and that really helped.
In our last hour we move up to the chapel and bash out a small scene in three set-ups which all look great. The camera and lighting teams move like well-oiled machines so I can deliver the goods in record time.
We wrap five minutes early and I’m off like a shot with a runner/driver to the station. I’m heading home to Cambridge tonight for a brief but needed break from the world of this film.
A week to go. A party atmosphere is already developing. Rupert has decorated the magliners with tinsel and Xmas lights, and a box of Roses has appeared by the checks monitor.
Bex from Ren joins the crew for a couple of days as camera trainee. She covers for George in the never-ending battle to get a Teradek signal from one room to another.
I do a lot of walking up and down stairs while talking into a radio.
Rain messes with our plans. We shoot bits in the nun cell and surrounding corridors, and a scene in the chapel upstairs. This latter set we light for daylight for the first time. We have 15KW of lamps burning. Ben rigs a Joker Bug, a small 400W HMI, behind the false window, and we have larger HMIs coming in from the corridor and the loft above.
We shoot the nun cell redressed as a different room. It’s very hard to light a desk that is away from the window and the ceiling gobo. I shall ponder this problem before we shoot in there again.
I feel like crap when I wake up, but by the time we start shooting I’m merely sniffly and a bit achey.
Last night I spotted on today’s call sheet that heavy rain was forecast and a day exterior was scheduled! After I pointed this out, the scene was bumped and so we’re shooting mostly in the nun cell and corridor today. After reviewing Javier’s edits with Ben, we decided that 650s on the ceiling simulating candlelight look best with a layer of tough-spun diffusion on, as per the chapel set, so this morning we diff the 650s in the corridor set too.
The nun cell has one small window and a gobo grill in the ceiling, so the lighting options are very limited. Though sometimes less is more. We do a night scene and, for the first time, I eliminate the 2.5K HMI punching in the window, going just with the 575W HMI coming in through the ceiling gobo (with opal diffusion and steel blue gel) and a kino in the window (with steel blue). We use bounce boards to bend the light onto the actors when these sources cannot reach them.
We bump up a candle in the room with a 300W tungsten fresnel. Ben fashions a black-wrap snood for it which makes its patch of light very controllable. Max fades it up and down in sync with the candle being lit and blown out.
Later, for a different scene, the 2.5K comes back into play. It works best when the beam misses our heroine. She’s just lit by the natural bounce and the diffusion caused by the impure ‘glass’ in the window. The shaft of light, combined with the textures of the set, give the image a beautiful painterly quality.
I regret that I cannot give a more convincing impression of nighttime in the cell. I would love there to be black outside the window, but any lamp powerful enough to put sufficient light into the set also makes the window itself turn white, as if there is a bright sky outside. If the window was modern, clean, fully transparent glass that would not happen, but this is a period film. I would also love to make the candlelight appear to be a much brighter source than the ‘moonlight’ coming in from the window. But there isn’t room. We can bump up the candlelight slightly in a mid or close-up, but in a wide there’s nowhere to hide anything.
One of the last shots of the day is a pick-up from a Tretower scene with an off-camera fire. The FX boys, Warwick and Aaron, bring in a fishtail – a small flame bar – along with a wind machine and smoke to replicate the exterior conditions indoors.
We’re at the tree we reccied the other day, shooting a major stunt sequence. I noted on the reccie that the sun orientation was not ideal, but there was no real alternative. If it was overcast it wouldn’t matter, but we have blue skies for much of the day. The sun travels across the section of the sky we can’t shoot towards because of modern buildings in the background, so apart from the first hour or two of the day I’m forced to shoot with nasty frontlight. We use an 8’x8′ quarter silk to soften it a bit, but there’s not a lot else we can do. I got a nice lens flare shot early in the day, just before the sun went around into the no-go zone, so that keeps me happy for a while.
After lunch we shoot tight pick-ups for scenes we didn’t manage to finish at Tretower. The art department mock up a bit of set and we look at the Tretower footage on a laptop to match the lighting. It’s amazing what you can get away with on a 75 or 100mm lens.
I think I might be coming down with something. The shoot has reached the stage where the cumulative fatigue is a very real issue. I make a Lemsip when I get back to the cottage and hope I’ll feel better in the morning.
Today we are filming in the ruins of an abbey in Margam Park. The weather is incredibly changeable, with bright sunshine and heavy showers alternating.
We block and shoot the action so that the camera and actors are under a covered part of the ruins, with a roofless part in the background. This is not just a practical consideration to keep us out of the rain, or to reduce the continuity issues with the changing cloud cover, though it certainly helps with both of those things. On an aesthetic level, it means that the natural light will mostly come from the background, illuminating the actors’ down-sides, while leaving their up-sides (the sides of their faces closest to camera) darker. This gives the most shape to the faces; it’s a key principle of cinematography and it applies just as much to day exteriors as it does to an artificially lit scene. I enhance the effect by having the boys bring in some 4×4 floppy flags to really cut down the light on the camera side. A silver bounce board is used to kick a little edge-light back onto Ania’s scar make-up in her close-up.
After a late lunch we shoot pick-ups for a night exterior scene, the one from the night at Tretower when we had horrendous weather. We set up on a little patch of grass right next to the castle doors, and the art department recreates a small part of the set.
When we wrap we go for crew drinks, our first proper social event of the shoot. I talk to one of the make-up artists and am shocked to hear how much longer their days are than ours. It is very easy not to realise how hard other departments are working. Often what you see, if you’re observing from another department, is only the tip of the iceberg.
A new set today: the chapel. It has just one small window and will be dressed with lots of candles, so we need to rig 11 small tungsten units, all on dimmers, to baby plates screwed into the ceiling. Ben, Max and I arrive early to start the rigging, but it takes a long time and eats into the day. The 300 and 650W fresnels all need black-wrapping and diffing to get a soft and subtle look, and most of them are dimmed down to around 30% to make the colour of the light warmer.
Once it’s done, we have something resembling a studio lighting grid. (In fact, when Paul first sees it with all the lamps on full brightness he’s concerned the scene won’t be moody enough!) With a man or two in the loft space above the set operating the dimmers, we can pull off some pretty cool shots. These include 3 shots which take in the full 360 degrees of the room. As the steadicam moves around the room, the boys dim the lamps in turn as the camera passes in front of them, and bring them back up when the camera has passed. This does two things: 1. Eliminates camera shadows, 2. Keeps the lighting from looking flat, by creating a world in which there is always backlight and sidelight but never frontlight.
One shot finds me and the camera, on a hi hat, panning around in the centre of a circle of actors. I cover the sandbags holding the hi hat down with tinfoil to reflect some of the backlight back onto the cast. To add more bounce still, we clip a piece of card to the bottom of the matte box and cover it in foil and tough-spun.
Then we move into tighter shots. The dimmers upstairs are marked up with clock-face numbers, so when I want the light changed I just get on my walkie and ask for, say, 3 o’clock to be turned off and 9 o’clock to be cranked up a bit.
Today we shoot daylight exterior scenes in the courtyard of Margam Castle, which the art department have transformed into a 17th century village square. There are carts and barrels and braziers and market stalls selling pots, cheese, bread, pheasants, vegetables and fabrics. Sound familiar?
We shoot some very cool handheld shots moving amongst the extras and the stalls, following and leading our main character. One take is a POV, and I’m pushed and pulled around by a supporting artist. Camera operating at its most immersive!
We have a short lunch because we still have a lot to do before the light goes. By 3:45pm, even on a shutter angle of almost 360 degrees (a creative choice because we’re shooting flashbacks) the light is gone. We move inside to a couple of pick-up shots in the nun cell, then wrap at 5pm. We have to vacate the castle by 5:30 because some kind of ghost-hunting tour is going on. No-one complains about an early wrap on a Saturday!
Before we leave, I go with Paul, Ben and some of the art team to look at the chapel set, which we will be shooting for the first time on Monday. There is a lot of rigging to do. I have Sunday to mull over how best to light it.
We go into the nun cell (where we shot yesterday) and turn on the lights. We are ready to shoot. This takes everyone by surprise because they’re used to waiting ages for lighting to rig in the morning. We do some more Evil Dead, 18mm lens, banking steadicam shots, with Max and Mikey waving dingles in front of our lamps again.
Just after lunch we do my favourite shot so far. It is just a profile CU of Hannah washing her face. She is silhouetted against a shaft of light from the window, and I give her a very slight edge from an LED panel on the floor as she bends over the basin. It is simple and beautiful. Much as I dislike the CRI of LED panels, the two we have in our kit have proven very useful, particularly when running distro would have been prohibitively time-consuming.
We shoot a prison cell scene. Everyone is expecting a shaft of light, including me. After all, I’ve done loads of shafts of light on this film, and a prison cell is the classic excuse for one. Unfortunately the window position is not conducive. Ben has pre-rigged a kino toplight. Everyone looking at the monitor likes how it looks. Except me. I go out into the hall to look at the ‘checks’ monitor. (We have four monitors: a large ‘checks’ monitor – usually a room or two away from the set – where art department, costume, make-up and the script supervisor can watch; a small director’s monitor which is close to the action; a tiny focus puller’s monitor which is usually clamped to the director’s monitor, or occasionally rigged on the camera; and a monitor specifically for Dave, the sound mixer.) As the actors run a rehearsal, I realise what the shot needs. I have the two Bens (gaffer and standby carpenter) screw a Dedo into the wall above the prisoner, giving a hard streak of light down onto her. This punches up the shot somehow, and I’m happy to shoot.
We move upstairs into a low-contrast set: light-coloured walls with lots of hanging white sheets. I find myself doing some of the flattest (but perhaps most flattering) lighting of my career. The sheets give lots of bounce which looks great on the ladies. It’s a happy flashback scene, so the mood fits.
After wrapping I discuss the scenes coming up on Monday with Paul and Hattie, the standby art director, because gaffer Ben will need to do some pre-rigging for them tomorrow. On a production this big it’s important to think ahead in the schedule and be prepared, because if you’re not then people will want to know the reason why.
I discover that the catering van offers porridge for breakfast. Sounds like a good idea, but eating a sausage bap while reading the day’s scenes is slow, and the porridge is cold by the time I get to it.
We are in the nun cell and the corridor outside it all day. We send back some of our HMIs and the rental house gives us more tungsten units in return. We rig 650W fresnels above all of the candles in the corridor. Dimmed down to 50% and black-wrapped to prevent spill, they shine nice shafts of orange light down the walls. Sadly we don’t have time to wire the distro so they can all be flickered, but it works ok. It’s very handy to have a standby chippy who can put up the battens we need to rig lights like this.
The most exhausting thing about this shoot is all the questions. I have eight people under me (1st AC, 2nd AC, camera trainee, grip, gaffer, best boy and two sparks) and at least two of these have questions after most rehearsals, plus queries and discussions with the art department and of course with Paul, the director. Frequently two or more people ask me a question at the same time. What lens do you want on? Are we on the steadicam? Can we do the next scene in one single developing shot? Do you want these candles lit? Where do you want the 4K pre-rigged for the next scene? Where is it safe to put the monitor?
After eating lunch I decide to find a quiet corner to lie down for the remainder of the break. Immediately the production manager comes over and asks me to go with Paul and Tom, the locations manager, to reccie a tree just up the road for a scene next week. I grab a second helping of dessert (Treacle Sponge Bastard) as consolation and try to juggle it with my mug of tea as I follow the others to this tree.
At night, when we get back to the cottage, we watch Javi’s 40 minute edit of the film so far. It looks and sounds awesome.