“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” Retrospective

“I’m going to carve your heart out with a spoon!”

“Why a spoon, cousin? Why not an ax or a…?”

“Because it’s dull, you twit! It’ll hurt more!”

Alan Rickman’s scenery-chomping Sheriff of Nottingham may be widely considered the best thing in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but there is plenty more to enjoy in this classic action romp even now, 31 years on from its release.

“There was gold on the page,” claimed executive producer David Nicksay of the screenplay by Pen Densham and John Watson, which he read in early 1990. Both Fox and Tri-Star were working on their own Robin Hood movies, so Nicksay’s comparatively small company, Morgan Creek Productions, had to move fast to avoid being buried at the box office.

Director Kevin Reynolds was hired for his previous collaborations with Kevin Costner, having given the star his big break on 1988’s Fandango as well as directing part of Dances With Wolves. Following a scant ten weeks of prep, Reynolds launched into shooting Prince of Thieves against the ticking clock of the approaching winter.

The English weather was as cooperative as you might imagine, but no-one could have predicted that unusual winds would cause Heathrow to divert all its flights over the Buckinghamshire forest standing in for Sherwood, playing havoc with the sound. 

Kevin Costner – who had coincidentally been offered and turned down Fox’s Robin Hood – arrived from the Dances With Wolves editing room just three days before filming began. His very first scene required him to jump out of a rowboat on the Sussex coast and wade to shore, even as his woollen cloak soaked up half his bodyweight in water. Later he spent four days immersed in the freezing waters of Aysgarth Falls, North Yorkshire, for the sequence in which his character battles Little John.

The crew also shot in Wiltshire, Northumberland and even Carcassonne in France, but never set foot in Nottinghamshire. The film’s most derided geographical anomaly is the stop-off at Hadrian’s Wall, which somehow falls on Robin’s route from Dover to Nottingham. 

The character’s accent is also geographically challenged, partly due to a disagreement between the two Kevins about whether an English Costner would be distracting for audiences. The result is best summed up by the man himself on the DVD commentary: “Well, there’s my dumb-ass accent. It was something I wanted to do, and I wasn’t very good at it.”

Test screenings were positive but showed that Rickman’s sheriff – whose part had been beefed up by Reynolds in last-minute rewrites – was more popular than Costner’s hero. The producers insisted on redressing the balance in the edit, leading to Reynolds storming out and a 2009 director’s cut that reinstated Rickman’s extra material. (The two Kevins got over their differences in time for 1995’s Waterworld… and I’m sure they’re both very glad about that.)

Legendary cinematographer Doug Milsome ensured that Prince of Thieves’ visuals were beyond reproach. To capture sweeping views of the forest hideout he mounted a Wescam – a camera stabiliser typically used for helicopter shots – to a truss erected between the trees.

The famous arrow POV shot, hurtling through the woods, took a week to plan and execute. A static arrow was blue-screened over a travelling forest plate photographed at a stately one frame per second. Originally intended just for the trailer, the shot caused such a buzz amongst the public that it was written into the film itself.

Another highlight is the score by Michael Kamen, who based his love theme on an actual medieval tune. For the tie-in single, Bryan Adams and his keyboardist Mutt Lange took that same theme and added lyrics, turning it into the power ballad “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”. The track garnered an Oscar nomination and won a Grammy, and spent 16 weeks at the top of the UK charts, a run still unbeaten today.

The achievements of the film itself were more mixed. Alan Rickman bagged a Bafta for his spirited turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham, while Kevin Costner won a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actor, and Christian Slater was nominated for Worst Supporting Actor. The lacklustre reviews did no harm to the box office though; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was the second-highest grossing film of 1991, surpassed only by Terminator 2: Judgment Day. 

And what about the other Robin Hood films that Reynolds and co had raced to beat? Tri-star’s project never left the starting blocks, while Fox’s effort, starring Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman and exec-produced by Die Hard’s John McTiernan, went straight to television. In fact the only film to challenge Prince of Thieves for many years was the Mel Brooks comedy, Robin Hood: Men in Tights. This parody is surely the ultimate evidence of Prince of Thieves’ cultural impact.

“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” Retrospective

How Does a DP Choose Lenses?

There is a huge range of glass available to filmmakers today – everything from vintage cinema lenses from the 60s to modern stills glass made for DSLRs. How can a DP choose which is right for their production?

 

Mount

The first thing to take into account is the lens mount on your camera. If it is PL mount you will have access to a huge range of cinema lenses, some of them with decades of movie history. Other mounts such as Canon EF also provide plenty of choice, but mainly glass aimed at stills rather than cinematography. Some lenses can be mount-converted, some cameras can switch mounts, and adapters are available too, but it’s important to know upfront which lenses are going to be ruled out by your camera choice and which aren’t.

 

Spherical or Anamorphic

Test of a 30mm Cooke Xtal anamoprhic lens

Anamorphic lenses squeeze the image horizontally, to be unsqueezed in post-production. The results are a wider picture, distinctive oval bokeh (out of focus areas) and often lens flares with horizontal streaks in them. This look is very cinematic, but anamorphic lenses tend to be bigger, heavier, more expensive, need more light than and don’t focus as close as their spherical counterparts, so think carefully before you choose them.

 

Speed

The speed of a lens – i.e. its maximum aperture – is one of its most important characteristics. A fast prime lens might open to T1.4, while a zoom or anamorphic prime might only go to T4. That’s three stops’ difference, equating to eight times more light required by the T4 lens. That can have a big impact on the size and number of lights you need. The ISO you plan to shoot at will also factor into this, of course.

Also consider how deep or shallow a depth of field you want. If you’re after super-blurry backgrounds, only a fast lens will give you those (though shooting on a large-format camera will help). This brings us to…

 

Bokeh

A quick bokeh test of a Sigma Cine 50-100mm zoom lens using fairy lights

Bokeh is the appearance of out-of-focus areas in your image. It is most noticeable in small highlights such as fairy lights, which generally turn into big circles when they’re out of focus. Just how big and how smoothly circular depends on the lens and the aperture settings. Some lenses will have more geometric bokeh, octagons for example, which is a result of the shape and number of iris blades within. The bokeh may look rounder when the lens is wide open and more geometric when it is stopped down, or vice versa. It will also have a different shape at the edges of frame. What this comes down to is what look you feel is most aesthetically pleasing or appropriate for your story.

 

Lens Flares

Testing the flare of a Cooke Century 32mm

Another aesthetic choice. How much does the lens flare when light shines straight into it? What about when the light is just out of frame? Is there much veiling flare – an overall milkiness to the image? Do you like the colours and shapes of the flare? Do they feel natural or intrusive, and which is most fitting for the tone of your piece?

 

Sharpness

This is an important factor with the resolutions of cameras ever increasing. Any decent lens will be sharp at T5.6, but the more you open the iris the more you might start to see the image softening, especially when it is wide open (or conversely when it is stopped down to its minimum aperture). Check also the edges of frame, which may be less sharp than the centre, especially on a vintage or anamorphic lens. If you plan to do a lot of central framing then soft edges may not matter, or may even help to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject, but if you plan to put your subjects at the extreme sides of the frame then you should be careful what lenses you select.

 

Breathing

A lens is said to breathe when pulling the focus makes the image zoom in or out slightly. It is most noticeable with zoom lenses, some stills lenses and older glass. If you are racking back and forth between the characters in a deep two-shot, lens breathing can become very distracting.

 

Other Considerations

Other things to look out for are diffraction spikes, the star effect that happens around bright light sources, and colour rendition, which can vary slightly from lens to lens. If you expect to be physically close to your subject you should note the minimum focus distance of the lenses, which will be different for each length in the series. Also consider what focal lengths your chosen lens series contains – are there enough different lengths to cover everything you hope to shoot, especially at the shortest and longest ends of the range?

If you’re still not sure where to start, test footage and comparison videos of different lenses can be found online, like this one I made in 2017:

Better still, ask a rental house if you can come in for a day and shoot your own tests.

See also:

How Does a DP Choose Lenses?

How a Film’s Budget Affects the Role of the DP

A Micro Cinema Camera for a micro budget, on “Above the Clouds”, fittingly kept in place by a wallet

I recently read a document – I think it was published by the BFI – that gave some definitions of the different scales of feature film productions: low-, micro- and no-budget. While admitting that there is no universal agreement on figures for these categories, the document suggested the following:

  • No budget: up to £50,000
  • Micro budget: up to £250,000
  • Low budget: up to £1,000,000

I have shot features in all three of these categories (and at least one above them, presumably ranking as a medium-budget film) so I thought it would be interesting to look at the differences between them as experienced by the director of photography. I’m going to focus mainly on the contrast between no- and low-budget, because micro-budget is often very similar to no-budget in every respect except that the cast and crew are paid.

 

Prep

The biggest difference is in pre-production. On a low budget the DP tends to get a period of paid prep time equal to the number of shooting days, so if there are five weeks of filming, you get five weeks of prep beforehand. On a no-budget film you are likely to get a single day of location recces and nothing else.

Some of the things you’d do during your low-budget prep period will have to get done in your spare time on no budget: lining up your crew, watching any reference films the director suggests, making an equipment list. You won’t be conducting any camera tests (but you probably won’t get much of a choice about the camera anyway – see below). The chances are that you will not be reading and breaking down the script as carefully. You may cobble a few images together as references, but you will not be creating an extensive mood board. You might read through a shot list which the director sends you, but you won’t be giving a great deal of advance thought to shot ideas of your own. Inevitably a no-budget project will be less of a collaboration between director and DP than a low-budget one.

Your relationship with the gaffer will also be different. On a low budget you can expect to have at least one good recce of every location with them, maybe two, and lengthy meetings where you can really hash out how each scene will be lit. On no-budget films they might never be able to attend a recce, and all you get is a Zoom call where you screen-share your location photos and talk in general terms about the look. Lighting has to be much more improvised on the day.

 

Crew

No-budget vs. medium-budget camera dept.

This brings us onto crew. Most no-budget producers plan for a single camera assistant and a one-person lighting team, and don’t really think about who is going to back up the footage. On a low budget you can expect to get a 1st AC, 2nd AC, camera trainee, data wrangler, grip, gaffer, best boy or girl, and spark, though you may have to push the line producer for one or two of these. There is usually some allowance for spark dailies too when bigger scenes are shot.

When we wrap for the day on a low-budget film, I have no problem walking straight off set because I know there is a full camera and lighting crew to take care of packing away the gear. I can spend what remains of my energy reviewing the dailies, meeting with the director and planning for upcoming scenes. On a micro-budget film I will help pack up because the small crew needs all the hands it can get, but then I probably won’t get to the other stuff. So I might not spot the things in the rushes that I could improve on, or be as well prepared for the next day as I could have been.

 

Equipment

Equipment, of course, is hugely budget-dependent. Many no-budget films are unable to hire anything at all, relying on gear owned by the director and/or DP, and other bits begged, borrowed or scrounged. Emphasis is often placed on having a decent camera, with everything else neglected – cheap lenses, no filters, few of the accessories that make the camera dept run smoothly, and very limited lighting.

Getting kit around is often very challenging for no-budget producers. Just hiring a van and finding someone to drive it are big deals when you have no money. Sending someone to a rental house in London to collect the gear – even if renting can be afforded – is a logistical headache which a low-budget production doesn’t think twice about. This is why gear owned by crew members is so attractive to no-budget producers, because they don’t have to worry about how it gets to set, or the insurance.

On a low-budget production you will draw up your camera list maybe a couple of weeks into prep, with the assistance of the 1st AC, and the gaffer will handle the lighting list. Usually the first drafts of these lists will prove too expensive when the line producer has got the quotes back from the rental house, and you’ll have to cut a few things, but you’ll get most of what you wanted.

How a Film’s Budget Affects the Role of the DP

“Citizen Kane” Retrospective

For five decades in a row, Citizen Kane was voted the greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound’s International Critic’s Choice poll. Although pipped to the top spot by Vertigo in the latest poll, there are still plenty of filmmakers, academics and fans who consider actor-director Orson Welles’ 1941 debut the very pinnacle of cinematic accomplishment.

The spoilt son of a hotelier and a concert pianist, Orson Welles found fame in 1938 when he directed and starred in a radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds which was so convincing that thousands thought it was real and fled their homes. Not long afterwards, RKO, one of the five big studios of Hollywood’s Golden Age, offered a generous two-picture deal to the 24-year-old who had never made a film before and didn’t much want to.

12 months and two abandoned concepts later, Welles teamed with screenplay-fixer Herman J. Mankiewicz, whose past projects included The Wizard of Oz, to script the rise and fall of a powerful newspaper magnate based on William Randolph Hearst. The pair went through five drafts, making changes for creative, financial and legal reasons (hoping to avoid a lawsuit from Hearst).

The story’s fictionalised press baron, Charles Foster Kane, dies in the opening scene, but his mysterious last word – “Rosebud” – spurs a journalist to investigate his life. The journalist’s interviews with Kane’s friends and associates lead the viewer into extended flashbacks, an innovative structure for the time.

Welles himself took the title role, spending many hours in the make-up chair to portray Kane from youth to old age. Inventive, non-union make-up artist Maurice Seiderman developed new techniques to create convincing wrinkles that would not restrict the actor’s facial expressions. Sometimes Welles would be called as early as 2:30am, holding production meetings while Seiderman worked on him.

“I was just as made-up as a young man as an old man,” Welles said later, noting that he wore a prosthetic nose, face-lifting tape and a corset to satisfy both his own vanity and the demands of the studio for a handsome leading man.

The young auteur – who directed part of the film from a wheelchair after fracturing his ankle – was not easy to work with. Editor Robert Wise said: “He could one moment be guilty of a piece of behaviour that was so outrageous it would make you want to tell him to go to Hell and walk off the picture. Before you could do it he’d come up with some idea that was so brilliant that it would literally have your mouth gaping open, so you never walked. You stayed.”

Welles was keen for his film to look different from others, drawing on his experience of directing theatre. The leading DP of the time, Gregg Toland, jumped at the chance to break the rules. Influenced by German Expressionism, he was not afraid of silhouettes and bright shafts of light.

Welles cast many of his Mercury Players – a theatre repertory company he had set up himself – who he knew could handle long takes. He insisted on a large depth of field and often shot from low angles to mimic the experience of a theatre-goer, specifically someone in the front row looking up at the cast. This required many of the sets to have ceilings, unconventionally, and these were made of fabric in some cases so that the boom mic could record through them.

Special effects were used extensively to reduce set-building costs and avoid location shooting wherever possible. One example is a crane-up from a theatre’s stage to a pair of technicians watching from the flies above; the middle part of the shot is a matte painting, bridging the two live-action set pieces. In another scene, the camera travels through a neon sign on the roof of a building and down through the skylight; the rooftop is a miniature, the sign is rigged to split apart as the camera moves through it, and a flash of lightning eases the transition into the live-action set.

“We were under schedule and under budget,” Welles proudly stated in a 1982 interview. He cheated though, because he asked the studio for ten days of camera tests, citing his inexperience behind the lens, and used those ten days to start shooting the movie!

When Citizen Kane was premiered in May 1941, William Randolph Hearst was not fooled by the script tweaks and took the title character as an unflattering portrayal of himself. While he was unable to suppress the film’s release – though not for the want of trying – a smear campaign in his publications ensured it only enjoyed moderate success and that Welles would never have the filmmaking career that such a startling debut should have sparked. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Citizen Kane received the critical acclaim which it still holds today, 81 years on.

“Citizen Kane” Retrospective

My New Online Course: “Cinematography for Drama”

My new second online cinematography course, Cinematography for Drama, is now out on Udemy. The course explains the role of a DP on set, from collaborating with the director in blocking the cast and choosing the camera angles, to lighting the scene with depth and mood.

Across the four modules of the course, I set up and shoot scenes in common contemporary locations: domestic banter in a sunny kitchen, a monologue in a dark bedroom, an awkward first date in a restaurant, and a walk-and-talk in an outdoor bar. Watch me try out different blocking and camera angles to get the most depth and interest in the frame, create movement using a slider and a gimbal, and work out the coverage needed to complete the scene. Then learn the secrets of cinematic lighting as I set up LED, tungsten and practical lights to create a look. Witness the camera rehearsals through to the final take, then sit back and watch the final edited scene. Every step of the way, I explain what I’m doing and why, as well as the alternatives you could consider for your own films.

This is a follow-up to my best-selling Udemy course Cinematic Lighting, which has over 3,600 students and a star rating of 4.5 out of 5. Here is some student feedback:

  • “Excellent. Informative and enjoyable to watch.” – 5 stars – David C.
  • “Thank you to Neil and his team for a fantastic course that gives a real insight into the thought process of a cinematographer.” – 5 stars – Dan B.
  • “Some great tips in this. Really enjoyed watching the decisions being made as and when the scenario is actually being lit, some good workarounds and nice in depth descriptions to why he’s doing what he is. Genuinely feels like your taking in some advice on set! Well worth taking the time to do this!” – 5 stars – Ed L.

You can get the new course for a special low price by using the code IREADTHEBLOG before April 2nd.

My New Online Course: “Cinematography for Drama”

Cinematography in a Virtual World

Yesterday I paid a visit to my friend Chris Bouchard, co-director of The Little Mermaid and director of the hugely popular Lord of the Rings fan film The Hunt for Gollum. Chris has been spending a lot of time working with Unreal, the gaming engine, to shape it into a filmmaking tool.

The use of Unreal Engine in LED volumes has been getting a lot of press lately. The Mandalorian famously uses this virtual production technology, filming actors against live-rendered CG backgrounds displayed on large LED walls. What Chris is working on is a little bit different. He’s taking footage shot against a conventional green screen and using Unreal to create background environments and camera movements in post-production. He’s also playing with Unreal’s MetaHumans, realistic virtual models of people. The faces of these MetaHumans can be puppeteered in real time by face-capturing an actor through a phone or webcam.

Chris showed me some of the environments and MetaHumans he has been working on, adapted from pre-built library models. While our friend Ash drove the facial expressions of the MetaHuman, I could use the mouse and keyboard to move around and find shots, changing the focal length and aperture at will. (Disconcertingly, aperture and exposure are not connected in this virtual environment. Changing the f-stop only alters the depth of field.) I also had complete control of the lighting. This meant that I could re-position the sun with a click and drag, turn God rays on and off, add haze, adjust the level of ambient sky-light, and so on.

Of course, I tended to position the sun as backlight. Adding a virtual bounce board would have been too taxing for the computer, so instead I created a “Rect Light”, a soft rectangular light source of any width and height I desired. With one of these I could get a similar look to a 12×12′ Ultrabounce.

The system is pretty intuitive and it wasn’t hard at all to pick up the basics. There are, however, a lot of settings, some of which even Chris doesn’t fully understand yet. To be a user-friendly tool, many of these settings would need to be stripped out and perhaps others like aperture and exposure should be linked together. Simple things like renaming a “Rect Light” to a soft light would help too.

The system raises an interesting creative question. Do you make the image look like real life, or like a movie, or as perfect as possible? We DPs might like to think our physically filmed images are realistic, but that’s not always the case; a cinematic night exterior bears little resemblance to genuinely being outdoors at night, for example. It is interesting that games designers, like the one below (who actually uses a couple of images from my blog as references around 3:58), are far more interested in replicating the artificial lighting of movies than going for something more naturalistic.

As physical cinematographers we are also restricted by the limitations of time, equipment and the laws of physics. Freed from these shackles, we could create “perfect” images, but is that really a good idea? The Hobbit‘s endless sunset and sunrise scenes show how tedious and unbelievable “perfection” can get.

There is no denying that the technology is incredibly impressive, and constantly improving. Ash had brought along his Playstation 5 and we watched The Matrix Awakens, a semi-interactive film using real-time rendering. Genuine footage of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss is intercut with MetaHumans and an incredibly detailed city which you can explore. If you dig into the menu you can also adjust some camera settings and take photos. I’ll leave you with a few that I captured as I roamed the streets of this cyber-metropolis.

Cinematography in a Virtual World

Slit-scan and the Legacy of Douglas Trumbull

Award-winning visual effects artist Douglas Trumbull died recently, leaving behind a body of memorable work including the slit-scan “Stargate” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. But what is slit-scan and where else has it been used?

Slit-scan has its origins in still photography of the 1800s. A mask with a slit in it would be placed in front of the photographic plate, and the slit would be moved during the exposure. It was like a deliberate version of the rolling shutter effect of a digital sensor, where different lines of the image are offset slightly in time. 

The technique could be used to capture a panorama onto a curved plate by having the lens (with a slit behind it) rotate in the centre of the curve. Later it was adapted into strip photography, a method used to capture photo-finishes at horse races. This time the slit would be stationary and the film would move behind it. The result would be an image in which the horizontal axis represented not a spatial dimension but a temporal one.

Such a collision of time and space was exactly what Stanley Kubrick required for the Stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when astronaut Dr David Bowman is treated to a mind-warping journey by the alien monolith.

Douglas Trumbull, then only 25, had already been working on the film for a couple of years, first producing graphics for the monitors in the spacecraft (all done with physical photography), then detailing and shooting miniatures like the moon bus, creating planets by projecting painted slides onto plexiglass hemispheres, and so on, eventually earning a “special photographic effects supervisor” credit.

“The story called for something that represented this transit into another dimension,” Trumbull said of the Stargate in a 2011 interview with ABC, “something that would be completely abstract, not something you could aim a camera at in the real world. 

“I had been exposed to some things like time-lapse photography and what is called ‘streak photography’,” he continued, referring to long exposures which turn a point light source into a streak on film.

This germ of an idea developed into a large and elaborate machine that took five minutes to shoot a single frame. 

The camera was mounted on a special tracking dolly driven by a worm gear to ensure slow, precise movement. While exposing a single frame it would creep towards a large black mask with a 4ft-high slit in it. Behind the slit was a piece of backlit artwork mounted on a carriage that could move perpendicularly to the camera. This artwork – an abstract painting or a photo blow-up of flowers or coral – slid slowly to the right or left as the camera tracked towards it. Remember, this was all just to capture one frame.

The resulting image showed a wall of patterned light stretching into the distance – a wall generated by that slit streaking across the frame.

For each new frame of film the process was repeated with the artwork starting in a slightly different position. Then the whole strip of film was exposed a second time with the camera adjusted so that the slit now produced a second wall on the other side of frame, creating a tunnel.

The Stargate sequence was unlike anything audiences had seen before, and one of the many people inspired by it was the BBC’s Bernard Lodge, who was responsible for creating Doctor Who’s title sequences at the time. For early versions he had used a ‘howl-around’ technique, pointing a camera at a monitor showing its own output, but when a new look was requested in 1973 he decided to employ slit-scan.

Lodge used circles, diamonds and even the silhouette of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor rather than a straight slit, creating tunnels of corresponding shapes. Instead of artwork he used stressed polythene bags shot through polarising filters to create abstract textures. The sequence was updated to incorporate Tom Baker when he took over the lead role the following year, and lasted until the end of the decade.

An adaptation of slit-scan was used in another sci-fi classic, Star Trek: The Next Generation, where it was used to show the Enterprise-D elongating as it goes to warp. This time a slit of light was projected onto the miniature ship, scanning across it as the camera pulled back and a single frame was exposed. “It appears to stretch, like a rubber band expanding and then catching back up to itself,” visual effects supervisor Robert Legato told American Cinematographer. “This process can only be used for a couple of shots, though; it’s very expensive.”

Thanks to CGI, such shots are now quick, cheap and easy, but the iconic images produced by the painstaking analogue techniques of artists like Douglas Trumbull will live on for many years to come.

Slit-scan and the Legacy of Douglas Trumbull

7 Awesome Female DPs

For International Women’s Day in 2017 I wrote about “seven female DPs you didn’t know you’ve been watching”. Since then I’m happy to say that both the number and visibility of women behind the camera seem to have improved, though there’s still a long way to go before equality is achieved. So here, on the eve of this year’s IWD, are seven more female DPs whose work has caught my eye.

 

Natasha Braier, ASC, ADF

Braier is best known for Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon. On this film she began to develop a unique technique she calls “lens painting”, whereby she creates a custom filter for every shot by applying a range of substances (presumably onto an optical flat). “I have a whole set of five suitcases with different materials, different powders and liquids and glitters, things like that,” she said in a 2020 interview. Braier’s other features include Amazon Original Honey Boy, and she’s currently shooting the pilot of American Gigolo for Paramount. Her awards include several for commercials and three for Neon Demon, and she was number 15 on The Playlist’s “50 Best and Most Exciting Cinematographers Working Today”.

 

Catherine Goldschmidt

Born in California, raised in New Jersey and now based in London, Goldschmidt studied cinematography at the American Film Institute. Her credits include episodes of Doctor WhoA Discovery of Witches and new Amazon series Chloe, as well as the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon. She has provided additional photography for the features Hope Gap (shot by another female DP to watch, Anna Valdez Hanks) and Spider-Man: Far from Home, while her short-form work includes the Qibi comedy series Dummy starring Anna Kendrick (impressively framed simultaneously for 16:9 and 9:16 aspect ratios). Goldschmidt founded the female DPs’ collective Illuminatrix along with Vanessa Whyte.

 

Magdalena Gorka, ASC, PSC

Gorka is a graduate of the Polish National Film School. I remember seeing her on a panel at Camerimage in 2017. She talked about how getting the look right in camera was important to her, because she worked on low-budget productions and she didn’t always have control in post. These days she’s shooting Star Trek: Strange New Worlds so presumably the budgets have gone up a bit (though who knows about the control). She also lensed the entire second season of Netflix Euro-thriller Into the Night, several episodes of underdog superhero saga Doom Patrol, feature films including Bridesmaids and Paranormal Activity 3, and music promos for Katy Perry and Elton John. Gorka was recently welcomed into the American Society of Cinematographers.

 

Kate Reid, BSC

With a background in art and a year at the University of California under her belt, Reid studied cinematography at NFTS. After graduating she worked as a camera assistant under such DPs as Balazs Bolygo, BSC, HSC and Newton Thomas Sigel, ASC before rising to the rank herself. Her early work included documentaries like Years of Living Dangerously and award-winning shorts like Nazi Boots. She now shoots a lot of high-end TV, including episodes of Game of Thrones, action thriller Hanna, detective drama Marcella, and upcoming dark comedy The Baby from HBO. She was nominated for an ASC Award this year for “Hanged”, her episode of Josh Whedon’s sci-fi show The Nevers.

 

Nanu Segal, BSC

It was while Segal was studying chemistry at university that she became an avid cinema-goer and began to consider a career in this industry. “It seemed to offer the perfect combination of technical intrigue and artistry,” she told Primetime. She subsequently attended film school and learnt from the likes of Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC and Sue Gibson, BSC. Segal has shot the features Marvelous and the Black Hole, Old Boys, The Levelling and An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. Her shorts include Bit by Bit, For Love and All of this Unreal Time. She contributed second unit photography to Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

 

Ari Wegner, ACS

Wegner attended a Melbourne film school where she made shorts with fellow students in her spare time. She has shot commercials for brands like Apple, and TV series like The Girlfriend Experience for Starz. In 2017 she won a BIFA for period drama Lady MacBeth (gaffered by one of my regular collaborators, Ben Millar). Last month she became the first woman to win a BSC Award for Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film, for Montana-set drama The Power of the Dog. This, and the many other cinematography awards the film has scooped, are the just reward for Wegner’s unprecedented year of prep with director Jane Campion. The pair took inspiration from another impressive and talented woman, turn-of-the-20th-century Montana photographer Evelyn Cameron.

 

Zoë White, ACS

White has shot 12 episodes of the multi-award-winning Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, garnering Primetime Emmy and ASC Award nominations for her episode “Holly”. There’s many ways to translate the way you want something to feel,” she said in a 2019 interview about the series, “and there’s a lot of gut instinct that comes with deciding what it is that you think is most effective for a particular moment.” White also shot the pilot for Netflix drama Hit and Run, and two episodes of Westworld plus aerial photography for two more. Her indie work includes short psychological thriller The Push (winner of Best Cinematography at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2016) and coming-of-age drama Princess Cydney. 

7 Awesome Female DPs

Corridors and Kitchens

I’ve been shooting films for Rick Goldsmith and his company Catcher Media for over 20 years now. “That’s longer than I’ve been alive,” said the make-up artist on U & Me, Catcher’s latest, when I told her. Ouch.

Like most of the films I’ve done with Rick, U & ME is a drama for schools, about healthy relationships. These projects are as much about giving young people a chance to be involved in the making of a film as they are about the finished product. This means that we have to be pretty light on our feet as a crew – always a good challenge.

One of the main scenes was in the corridor of a school, or “academy” as they all seem to be called now (have we established yet that I’m old?). Rick had picked a corridor that was relatively quiet, though it was still impossible to film when kids were moving between lessons. It had a nice double-door fire exit at the end with diffuse glass. Any corridor/tunnel benefits from having light at the end of it. That’s not a metaphor; light in the deep background is a staple of cinematography, and this light kicked nicely off the shiny floor as well. Whenever framing permitted, I beefed up the light from the doors with one of Rick’s Neewer NL-200As, circular LED fixtures.

For the key light there was a convenient window above the hero lockers. The window looked into an office which – even more conveniently – was empty. In here I put an open-face tungsten 2K pointing at the ceiling. This turned the ceiling into a soft source that spilled through the window. I added another Neewer panel when I needed a bit more exposure.

I also wanted to control the existing overhead lights in the corridor. They couldn’t be turned off – I don’t think there were even any switches – so I flagged the ones I didn’t like using black wrap and a blackout curtain hung from the drop ceiling. I taped diffusion over another light, one that I didn’t want to kill completely.

It looked nice and moody in the end.

A brighter scene was shot in the kitchen of an AirBnB that doubled as accommodation for us crew. Here I used the 2K outside the window to fire in a hot streak of sunlight that spilt across the worktops, the actor’s clothes and the cupboards (bouncing back onto her face when she looked towards them).

The 2K would have been too hard to light her face with. Instead I fired one of the Neewers into the corner next to the window, creating a soft source for her key. The only other thing I did was to add another Neewer bouncing into the ceiling behind camera for later scenes, when the natural light outside was falling off and it was starting to look too contrasty inside.

It might not have been rocket science, but it was quite satisfying to get an interesting look out of ordinary locations and limited kit.

Corridors and Kitchens