“Hamlet”: Week 5 & Pick-ups

Day 24 – 3/5/21

“Frailty thy name is woman” (the opinions of Shakespeare do not represent those of the blogger)

A bitty day, starting with our only day exteriors. Call time was 7am and it was a bank holiday, so that pedestrians and traffic were at a minimum on the street outside the theatre. We got through the shots pretty quickly as they were all handheld, mostly on the same lens and had no dialogue. To give the prologue a slightly different feel to the rest of the film, I’m trying to shoot it stopped down a little, generally T4 outside (though going as far as T11 when the sun came out and our combined .9 and .6 NDs weren’t enough), and using no haze inside. Max operated the camcorder to get a couple of POV shots from the oval office and the roof, and then switched to the second XT to capture a shot of Ben on the roof holding the camcorder.

Gaffer Ben and his team had all booked social events for today (as we had meant to wrap on Saturday) so we had a new gaffer for the day, Tristan Hutchinson, assisted by a spark daily called Nathan. They were faced with unfamiliar material and the kit being scattered all over the theatre, but they delivered the goods.

At the stage door we used a Fomex and a dodgy Litemat 2L to push extra daylight through the windows, having killed all the practicals. In Jonathan’s dressing room we used two Fomexes, one of them pushing through a 4×4 frame of half diffusion to simulate a window source.

Matching a scene on the stage to day 7 involved a Rifa and some theatrical lighting, while the reverse brought the kaleiodscope glasses into play for the first time in weeks, once again refracting the chandelier to beautiful effect. After a corridor shot we did a  pick-up in Hamlet’s dressing room, matching the wide from the start of day 23 but now shooting away from the window. Tristan had the nice idea to bring in two floppy flags either side of camera to vignette the flat daylight and give the image some shape.

Finally we shot a dialogue scene in the goods lift. For this, as planned with Ben, we simply skirted the existing practical in the ceiling to keep it off the walls and give us a moody top-light. A small poly on the floor to give a hint of something in the eyes was the only thing keeping it from full-on Godfatherness. The scene dock – a small part of which was visible when the lift doors opened – was lit with a dimmed, bounced 5K and a 650W which was intended to rake the outside of the doors. However, we ran out of time and weren’t able to shoot the outside of the doors or any singles, wrapping with just the master shot in the can.

 

Day 25 – 4/5/21

“To be or not to be”

The morning’s work was a major scene in Claudius’s dressing room. It was set at night, so Ben and co tented the area outside the window, which was already partly enclosed by an external staircase. Poor Ian had an uncomfortable time sprawled on a crash mat outside the dressing room window as Hamlet spies on the king and considers murdering him. We first shot from outside, using another bulkhead to motivate the lighting, but in reality Ian’s key was a Fomex with unbleached muslin on it. Inside we had another Fomex above Claudius’s head in addition to two dim table lamps and two candles. When the camera came inside we added an Astera on the floor to give a little separation between Claudius and the background window where Hamlet is dimly visible. It was a very windy day and it was impossible to stop some daylight from creeping in around the black-out, but we got away with this as moonlight which played nicely on the diffused panes of the window. For Claudius’s single we got the most out of his dressing table’s triple mirror, surrounding him with his own reflections (and those of the candles) without getting the camera in!

Next we moved to an even smaller dressing room which is Ian McKellen’s in the prologue, before he transforms into Hamlet. With the help of the art department and I think some of the theatre crew too, Ben’s team had built a surround for the mirror containing about 12 tungsten bulbs, all hooked individually to dimmer racks under the table, which Ben and Bruce were then able to control via DMX from the next room. As Ian looks into the mirror, the lights flash in random patterns, faster and faster until they all come on in one dazzling climax. We shot a wide on the 25mm, then switched to the 100mm and the kaleidoscope glasses (as I knew from the waltz scene that this focal length worked well with the glasses). We also shot a clean pass, and one with the prism too. Both the prism and kaleidoscope were handheld. Since we had some significant scenes to shoot after lunch, I didn’t feel like I could take as long with this scene as I wanted. I would love to have tried other focal lengths, and worked harder to find angles of the prism and kaleidoscope that created multiple images of Ian, which is what the script really called for.

After lunch we shot the play’s most famous scene, something about swings and marrows I think? Ian and Sean had long decided that they wanted it to play like a conversation, not a soliloquy, with Hamlet pouring out his thoughts to Horatio before the latter shaves the former’s head. I decided in rehearsals to shoot it extremely simply, as two handheld over-the-shoulder shots. “Where’s the light?” asked Ian as we were about to shoot, looking around the empty room. Ben and co had once again set up the ultra-bounce outside the window, using the 2.5K HMI this time as the 6K had proven overkill last time. For Horatio’s reverse we added a matt silver bounce to wrap the window light slightly, but still left him mainly backlit.

Finally we shot the other side of Ian’s transition into Hamlet. Sean had come up with quite a different concept to what I had imagined, where Hamlet’s face isn’t properly seen, and instead of zooming out from his image in the mirror to reveal the room, we follow handheld behind him as he moves around the space. This gave us some fun and games with reflections in the room’s other mirrors, but after a few takes we got it in the can successfully. The sparks flickered the practicals for a couple of seconds at the top of the shot to provide a little bridge from the start of the transition. Other than that it was the same window light as the previous scene.

And then we were wrapped. Officially that is. In reality we have a couple of scenes and some odd pick-up shots still to shoot, which I believe we will do in June when the play has opened. I had a great time on this shoot. It was certainly stressful, and I struggled to sleep most nights worrying about the next day’s call sheet, but the cast and crew are the loveliest I’ve ever worked with on a paid gig. I learnt a lot and I made some fantastic memories.

And I confidently predict that no-one will be looking at the cheeseboard.

 

Day 26 – 21/9/21

“Arm you, I pray you, to this speedy voyage.”

Over four months later and I was back in Windsor to shoot pick-ups. How strange it was to return to this town that was my home for several weeks, return to the theatre that I grew to know like the back of my hand, this time just for a flying visit. Lockdown was far behind us (until the next one); the theatre was a living building now. The play had been performed on stage 78 times, and they would perform it again that night when the pick-ups were wrapped and I could take my seat like any other punter.

But before then there were 12 set-ups to shoot, consisting of a short scene in Claudius’s dressing room that we ran out of time to do before, several extra close-ups for the King’s speech (originally shot on day 7), one extra close-up for another auditorium scene and a shot of Hamlet climbing the stairs to Gertrude’s closet.

It was largely a technical exercise, with my laptop and the principal photography footage never far away, and the camera logs on hand too. We had prepared well and all went smoothly.

I got to see most of the cast again, but so very briefly. There was barely enough time to ask them how the play was going before it was time to move onto another actor and another set-up. Both Ian McKellen and Jonathan Hyde told me how much better they knew the story and the characters than they did back in the spring. This led to a change of blocking in the dressing room scene. Gone was a shot-reverse with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sitting comfortably on the sofa, as we had rehearsed it in March. Jonathan felt strongly that R&G needed to stand, so I composed a shot over him to his triple-paned mirror in which both he and R&G were reflected.

There had been some debate over which staircase to use for the final shot, but in the end we stuck to the one that’s genuinely outside the costume workshop, which has a slightly grungy, seedy feel to it. Ben rigged a skirted toplight overhead and little spill coming from around the corner, and a few takes later we were wrapped. Such an anticlimax!

And how was the play? Electrifying, utterly electrifying. If the film turns out half as well then we will have something very special on our hands.

 

DAY 27 – 11/4/22

A year after principal photography, I was surprised to get a call from Sean asking me to return to Windsor one more time for some more pick-ups, and of course I was very happy to oblige.

The edit is almost locked, but the tone of the prelude was wrong. So at 6 o’clock this morning we were on the street outside the Theatre Royal Windsor to shoot Ian’s arrival at the theatre again, this time with a much gloomier performance, and a new beat in which he peers into Hamlet’s dressing room and sees his alter-ego (using footage from principal photography). By the third set-up the streets were getting busy and we were shooting lots of takes in order to make sure we had every moment clean of unwanted background artists. There were a couple of camcorder shots to do from the roof and upper windows of the theatre, which involved contending with much chaos on the streets as people tried to walk or drive through frame or grab Ian’s autograph!

Sean and his editor, Nic, had completely desaturated the prologue, so I re-shot it with this in mind, going for a more sculpted and less naturalistic look than before. The weather was sunnier too, which will help give us the contrast that works so well in black and white.

When we moved the camera into the dressing room to shoot Ian looking in, Ben and spark Bruce bounced a 2.5K HMI into poly and then through a trace frame to produce a fill light that was soft enough to look natural against the bright daylight outside, but still had enough shape to look interesting. We shot a few variations including some with the prism gaffer-taped to the matte-box to add to the moment of magic.

The scene just outside and inside the stage door we recreated with exactly the same set-ups as day 24. This time Ben bounced the 2.5K into Celotex in the alleyway to push more light through the little windows of the stage door, as well as rigging a Fomex from the ceiling to give just enough top-light to lift the shadows when the door closed.

We dreamed up a couple of extra shots since we were ahead of schedule, including one of Ian peering through the letterbox in the theatre’s front door. Then, after a quick lunch break, we moved to Prompt Corner on the stage, the production that was rehearsing there having broken for their own lunch. We had to shoot a VFX plate of the monitor to drop the camcorder shots into (a lack of the correct cable preventing us from piping it in for real). I put a couple of tracking crosses on it, and we lit it with practicals and a bit of fill from the Fomex bounced into the black walls. Even more of an anticlimax than the previous pick-ups wrap!

“Hamlet”: Week 5 & Pick-ups

“Hamlet”: Week 4

Day 18 – 26/4/21

“Alack and fie for shame”

Today’s material involved Ophelia seeking audience with Gertrude, then singing a risqué song to both her and the king. It sounds very simple when I type it out like that, but somehow it still took all day and wasn’t as well covered as I would have liked. (We did take a short break from the sequence, while waiting for hair and make-up, to grab a couple of actor-less shots of monitors playing the King’s speech from day 7.) There were a lot of big wides and very telephoto shots lensed on the zoom, due to Gertrude being in the circle and the others being in the stalls and on the stage for much of the sequence. Ben used a Source Four to key her, a very hard source but we got away with it by allowing it to mix with the existing house practicals. Zoe came up with some rock-’n’-roll lighting for the song, and Ben worked with her to tweak it for camera. This lighting was predominantly blue which was a colour I originally didn’t want in the film at all (at least not a colour of light), but it’s already crept in a couple of times, so I’ve given up fighting it! When the King and Queen stood in the stalls at the edge of the stage, Ben used a diffusion frame to bring down the intensity of the stage lighting and soften it off. When the pair sit down they were primarily lit by a 2K bounced off poly, with the house lights filling in. For the most aggressive part of the song I circled Ophelia, handheld and low, getting lots of flare off the backlights and the follow spot.

 

Day 19 – 27/4/21

“Get thee to a nunnery”

We shot a sequence of three scenes on the stage and in the vomitorium where we’d shot Gertrude back on day 2. As we were working mostly with two cameras, Ben advised me against the hard, shadowy lighting through the metalwork of the set that I initially envisaged, and instead went for a soft source achieved by firing a 5K into an Ultrabounce up on the bridge. A Litemat armed out from the back of the bridge helped to wrap this source into a backlight for certain positions. We put on just one of the set’s florries, the bulkheads on the back wall and the odd other source from the grid, but Zoe had a pretty easy day!

When we got onto the material in the vom, Ben managed to bounce a tungsten fresnel (1K, I think) through unbleached muslin and mix it with Astera tubes to produce a soft light that would strike Hamlet from an edgy, “broken key” angle, motivated by the single ceiling bulb. On Ophelia’s reverse we went for a lower angle, as if it was floor bounce, because a more sidey look seemed too glamorous for the mood of the scene. For composition, heavy short-siding and occluding foreground objects were the orders of the day.

At the end of the day we picked up a dropped shot from day 3 before returning to the paint shop one last time to complete scene 18.

 

Day 20 – 28/4/21

“Alas, poor Yorick”

First up was a scene in the foyer, a new space of us to film in, with Hamlet acting mad to Polonius. It was a scene whose storyboards I wasn’t very happy with, but I managed to find a new position for the wide – still starting with a zoom out from the convex mirror as planned – which made things a bit more interesting. On the spur of the moment I sent Max into the box office with B-cam, and he got a voyeuristic shot through the closed fretwork of the shutter, in which we captured Polonius’ asides. Reflections were a bit of a nightmare for the wide, not just because of the convex mirror but because of normal mirrors in the frame, glass in the doors and even a mirror behind camera (as seen in the doors). Lighting was pretty simple, just a Jem ball boomed overhead, the windows above the outer doors blacked out to suggest night, and a couple of Asteras between the inner and outer doors producing Urban Sodium spill. A couple of handheld set-ups were all that were necessary to complete the scene.

The next scene – featuring the famous Yorick skull – was a very different set-up. Hamlet and Horatio were in an upper box talking to the gravedigger (Llinos) on the stage below. Trying to communicate with other cast and crew on different levels of the building always slows things down, as did attempting to make things work for two cameras. (After struggling for quite a while to make the lighting work for both a wide and a 2-shot, it turned out that we couldn’t roll them both together anyway because of sound issues.) To match with the gravedigger material from day 6, we needed a soft, blue-ish three-quarter backlight, which was a 5K tungsten bounce again up on the bridge of the set. The usual Asteras behind the bleachers were set to a cool temperature too. Hamlet and Horatio in the box were lit by two more Asteras and a Fomex, all motivated by a practical table lamp. To key them from the front, a Source Four was aimed at them from beside the 5K, and cut and dimmed to make it as subtle as possible. Eliminating shadows from a theatre speaker rigged near the box was somewhat time-consuming. Next we shot Llinos, both from the box and from stage level simultaneously, and as on day 6 we beefed up her practical worklight with a Rifa. We also hid another Astera inside the grave, and turned on the footlights to help her too.

 

Day 21 – 29/4/21

“I pray you, be round with him!”

A big scene today in the costume workshop at the very top of the theatre, beautifully dressed as always by Lee’s team. The room has a lovely skylight which sadly we had to black out because it’s a night scene. Ben put up a polecat across it and rigged a Litemat 2L to it, with another one attached to an existing hanging fluorescent above a sitting area. (We didn’t use any of the fluorescents.) On the other side of the room Ben rigged more polecats with a series of three Astera tubes set to 4000K for a slightly cooler look than the tungsten we were going for in the rest of the space. Then it was just a case of dimming the various practical table lamps and lighting the candles! Some key parts of the action take place around and behind a rack of costumes where Polonius hides to spy on Hamlet, and ultimately meets his death at the prince’s hands. We made sure to establish a practical behind there, then used a Fomex and another Astera covered in muslin to wrap and “floor bounce” this where necessary. Unfortunately, to few people’s surprise, we didn’t finish the scene.

 

Day 22 – 30/4/21

“There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will”

We spent most of the day completing the costume workshop scene, bringing in Francesca Annis late morning for her ghost shots. We repeated the green Northern Lights effect from the roof in the side room where the ghost appears, and took care not to fill the room with too much “ordinary light”. Another Astera was mounted above the door which Francesca looked through, top-lighting her, but we had to flag it to stop it spilling into the room.

With only about an hour and a half left of our day, we moved to the follow-spot booth to shoot a small scene which we had dropped on Wednesday. We had to make this pretty basic, two shot sizes from one direction and one size from the other. The existing florry was used as motivation, with Asteras enhancing.

 

Day 23 – 1/5/21

“Do you know this waterfly?”

A big day in Hamlet’s dressing room, a club room on the ground floor of the theatre that the art department had dressed to look like a seventies teenager had taken over his grandad’s bedroom! Very appropriate for an age-blind Hamlet. The first scene was broad daylight, and Ben rigged a 12×12 Ultrabounce outside which served to block traffic and pedestrians from the camera’s view and to flag the real sun, and of course as a medium to bounce artificial light into, specifically a 6K HMI fresnel. With the net curtains on the window, we had a lovely big, soft source to backlight our wide shot from the opposite end of the room. We turned off the wall sconces – I wasn’t sure, but Ben talked me into it, and he was right! – but had a few practical table lamps on, one of which served perfectly to give a side-light on Ian. The only things we added to the wide were an Astera on the floor for eye-light, and another tucked outside the door to ensure that Horatio and Marcellus were sufficiently lit when Hamlet lets them in. For Ian’s close-up we used a tungsten fresnel through a muslin frame to replace the practical, and turned down the 6K to reduce the veiling lens flare from the window. (The anti-flare coatings on the Cooke Panchros is poor by modern standards, but that’s one of the things I love about them.) For Ben and Ashleigh’s singles the window was a beautiful key and needed only a little bounce to augment it.

After lunch we moved onto a scene much, much later in the story, in which Hamlet and Horatio discuss the morality of killing Claudius, then Osric arrives to tell them of the proposed duel. Sean and I had agreed in rehearsals that the outer curtains should be closed for this scene, giving the room a beautiful yellow glow. Just before we rolled on the first set-up, however, Sean expressed concern about how bright the window looked, preferring to give more of an evening feel to the scene. We wasted off the 6K, leaving mostly just natural light to backlight the curtains, making the wall scones and practicals feel like the main sources. Ben bounced a small fresnel off the ceiling to fill in the faces. I shot the whole scene on the Cinetal, thinking I might add in an unplanned zoom to one or more of the set-ups, but in the end I didn’t. When we moved to Hamlet’s close-up, and needed to pull focus from a foreground letter in Horatio’s hands, we broke out the dioptres for the first time in order to focus close enough. This meant we had to cheat Hamlet slightly closer to the lens so that we wasn’t beyond the new maximum focal distance. Our final set-ups of the scene were POVs through the door’s spy-hole when Hamlet first sees Osric at the door. I thought there might be some experimentation involved to find a lens that allowed us to get close enough for the spy-hole to be large enough in frame, but still to focus on someone fairly close on the other side. I decided to try the 50mm first – they’re usually best for close focus and versatility – and it worked out perfectly. We took off the matte box and pushed the lens right up to the spy-hole, with just enough room for me to squeeze in my finger and open the spy-hole’s cover on cue.

During the afternoon, Max and the lighting crew had been setting up B-cam ready for a pick-up shot of Horatio reacting to the “Alas, poor Yorick” speech, something we dropped on Wednesday, but we ended up shooting it on A-cam instead.

“Hamlet”: Week 4

“Hamlet”: Week 3

Day 12 – 19/4/21

“More matter with less art”

The two-day weekend allowed us all a much-needed recharge. A few of us hired bikes on Sunday and cycled up the river to Maidenhead, where we found an idyllic field to have a picnic in. Bliss.

Monday saw us tackling all of the scenes in what Sean dubbed “the Oval Office” – the office of Claudius the king. First up was a big day scene with a few pages of text and multiple characters coming in and out. One of my references for this scene was The Man in the High Castle, specifically a scene in Hitler’s office where the sunlight smashes into the floor and bounces back up to light Rufus Sewell. The real sun was indeed pounding through the window of the Oval Office, but not from a high enough angle to produce much floor bounce. Since we were on the third floor and we didn’t have the budget for a scissor lift or cherry-picker, we had to live with what the natural light was doing. I set my ISO to 1600 to hold more highlight detail outside, then stacked .9 and .3 NDs so that I could keep the lenses wide open as usual. Ben wanted to keep the room’s many practicals (desk lamps, table lamps and wall sconces) off for this scene, but it looked a little too flat without them – a little too much like we hadn’t done anything! Apart from a Litemat sneaked into a corner to extend the daylight, and a Fomex in another corner to extend one of the practicals, we really hadn’t done anything else on the master shot! For the coverage we brought the Litemat in closer. At lunch we were forced to wrap the scene, despite having only the bare minimum of coverage in the can. I wasn’t very happy about it, but we could not afford to fall any further behind schedule.

After lunch we shot an evening scene, with just a little natural light playing and our main source being an Aladdin with unbleached muslin boomed over the centre of the room. Being only half a page, we were able to knock the scene off very quickly, to everyone’s surprise!

Finally we had a supper party scene set at night. The art department put a white cloth on the table, and Ben suggested firing a 650W fresnel down into it as well as the Aladdin, so that most of the light on the four characters would come up from below, and the Aladdin would just serve as fill. The result was absolutely beautiful. All the practicals gave us lovely backgrounds, and we brought up a dark corner by placing a warm Astera tube on the floor behind a pot plant. When we faced towards the window for the reverses, the castle was now visible across the road, thanks to a 2.5K HMI stationed on the theatre’s first floor canopy, firing through a frame of muslin. (We’re really using the muslin on this job!) The castle wall reflected about two and a half stops under key according to my spot meter, which looked pretty realistic on camera. (Key was T3.7 at ISO 800-1280 for this scene; I shot it all on the zoom. I would have stuck at 1600 ISO but the backgrounds in the room were looking a bit bright and the wall sconces weren’t dimmable, so Ben suggested stopping down and bringing up the Aladdin and 650. Rather than stopping down I stayed wide open and reduced the ISO from 1600 to 800. Then when we reversed to see the window I went back up to 1280 to get a bit more from the castle.)

 

Day 13 – 20/4/21

“The time is out of joint”

This was one of the biggest days in the schedule for logistics, safety, and lighting, as well as a crucial part of the story: Hamlet meeting the ghost of his murdered father on the battlements of Elsinore – or, in our version, on the rooftop of the theatre with the battlements of Windsor Castle looming in the background. It was our first and only night exterior shoot.

There were three consecutive scenes to shoot, which we did in reverse order. The first to go before the camera was set just before sunrise, so we shot it day-for-dusk, completing the last set-up just after sunset at 8:15pm. I used the Easy Rig to allow me to look straight down on part of the spiral staircase fire escape where we were shooting, then pan with Horatio and Marcellus as they ran up the stairs and into a 2-shot. This was natural light only, with a .9 and .6 ND in the matte box, and a white balance of 4500K to give that cool, dawn feel. Next we shot Hamlet’s reverse, and here we added a 2K inside the building for his exit into it, and turned on an existing practical emergency light which helped to give the feeling of the daylight being dim. As the spiral staircase was sandwiched between two buildings the characters were naturally shadowed, which helped a lot. After an insert on their hands as they took a blood oath, we ran the camera four storeys down to the street to get a dramatic low angle wide of the staircase and Horatio and Marcellus running up it. By this time the sky was starting to darken and the emergency lights were at a nice level compared with the remaining daylight.

Then it was up to the rooftop for Hamlet’s encounter with the Ghost (played by Francesca Annis). Health and sfaety concerns had led the producers to have a scaffolding staircase built over the narrow ladder which had been the only access during our recces. This made it much easier to get equipment and people up there! Ben, Connor, Bruce, the spark dailies Nathan and Joey and the two members of the theatre’s LX staff who were helping them had spent several hours and most of the previous day pre-lighting the scene. Six 10K tungsten fresnels were set up in the street (requiring two gennies) to light Windsor Castle, while a Litemat 8 was rigged from scaffolding to top-light the main area of action on the roof. Next to it were two Astera tubes which Connor had programmed to produce interactive light for an Aurora Borealis effect that will be added in post. Underneath the roof’s four skylights were Geminis with a warm, dynamic program to suggest a raucous party happening inside the building. There was also a  2K on a walkway lighting a neighbouring building site. The art department had built a sort of chimney or air conditioning vent which concealed a smoke machine, motivating a supernatural mist. We kept the Ghost just in front of the top-light so that it would become backlight, but Hamlet was then quite flatly and frontally lit by it – not ideal, but there was little else we could do.

The first scene of the roof sequence, but the last to be filmed, took place mainly at the foot of the scaffolding staircase, which looked amazing with the illuminated castle behind it and the Ghost standing at the top against billows of backlit smoke. We’d had bulkheads installed on the wall next to the staircase, and a Gemini was placed behind a pair of doors cracked open, again suggesting the party going on inside. The final source was a Litemat on another part of the roof (accessible only by Will from the theatre in a safety harness!) which provided ambience in one direction and backlight in the other. I came up with a clever shot to show off the scale and slowly walk down some steps to push in on Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus and then tilt up to show the Ghost, but it never quite worked as well as I wanted to because the tilt was so extreme and the weight of the camera made it very hard to balance at that angle. It didn’t help that I was pretty tired by that point! Anyway, we picked up the moments that didn’t work in other angles, then shot the reverse and wrapped comfortably on time, which made everyone very happy!

 

Day 14 – 21/4/21

“Now is the very witching hour of night”

Back in the auditorium (it seems so long since we were last there!) we shot the aftermath of the play within the play. It needed to be bright because it follows on directly from the conscience-pricked king calling for “Lights, lights!” We used the chandelier as a key for some shots, adding a Litemat or a Rifa for others.

After lunch we shot a oner in which Hamlet soliloquizes while shutting down the lights on the stage and in the auditorium. This took a bit of rehearsal and cueing with Zoe and with Tilly who was operating the lighting desk. We added some Astera tubes and a small LED to make sure Hamlet was still dimly visible when everything went out.

That completed our call sheet for the day, and we spent the last few hours on reshoots and pick-ups. We revisited day 3’s first scene, changing up the blocking a little and using the wheelchair dolly and handheld shots to increase the energy, then we grabbed a missing shot from the next scene.

 

Day 15 – 22/4/21

“My thoughts be bloody, or nothing worth”

We started on and near the stage, with a scene in which Gertrude – having run all the way down the back staircase from her room at the top of the theatre – finds Claudius in conference with Guildenstern in a box. I decided to turn all the house lights off to give it the mood of secrecy required, motivating most of the light from the fluorescents on the stage (but beefing it up with a Litemat and an Astera for eye-light). Inside the box were another couple of tubes to provide backlight and fill, motivated by a practical table lamp. As usual we stuck closely to the storyboards, shooting steep angles up to the box and down from it onto Gertrude, a focus pull from Gertrude to Claudius and Guildenstern in the foreground, then a shot-reverse through the doorway as Claudius issues orders to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

We continued into the next scene, where Claudius walks briskly down the corridor from the box with Voltemand. This was shot on the wheelchair dolly, both leading and following the characters. Ben added a Fomex wrapped in muslin for the final position, but otherwise we relied on the existing overhead practicals and emergency-light practicals, the former re-globed and diffused, the latter gelled with Straw and ND.

After lunch we shot Gertrude’s actual run down the staircase, a fun (if somewhat strenuous) scene which quite simply involved me running down three or four storeys with the Alexa XT after Jenny Seagrove. I stopped down to T4 and a third, the smallest aperture of the shoot so far, in order that the existing florries she ran past wouldn’t be too bright. This meant pounding a couple of 5Ks into a bounce board on the stage so that Claudius and the box would be sufficiently lit when I emerged into the auditorium. The only other lighting was the straight blacking out of a fire escape window (as the scene was meant to be night), black-wrapping part of one florry that was making the start of the run super bright, and turning off one florry to create a patch of darkness. I used the 18mm and didn’t look in the viewfinder much, instead concentrating on where I was going and guessing the framing. My experiences in Exit Eve (which had a lot of staircase scenes) reminded me to pan in advance of going around corners to keep Gertrude in shot. The result was very cool, especially the dark section which was lightly hazed and featured a distant florry reflecting off the floor.

Finally we moved up to the flies, shooting first from a small platform accessible only by ladder, which required getting the camera up to it on a rope. We motivated the lighting from the stage, firing two or three 5Ks into ultrabounce, which resulted in the cast moving through soft shadows of the fly-ropes. Back in the prep the theatre LX team had installed extra florries on the fly floor in addition to the two extant ones, especially for this scene, but we ended up taking out the tubes and cable-tying Asteras in their place, which we set to a low level with Quarter Plus Green virtual gel. I deviated from the shot-list for the coverage, finding a new and interesting shot where – using the Easy Rig – I crabbed the camera from one side of the ropes to the other. On one set-up we rolled Horatio’s camcorder, getting his POV of Hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and the Captain from the stage.

 

Day 16 – 23/4/21

“Lights, lights!”

A complicated shot to start with, winching up the chandelier as I zoomed through it to Hamlet and Horatio at the lighting desk beyond. Ben placed an Astera on the desk to beef up the monitor light, and a Fomex to beef up the tungsten practical lamp. Other than a couple of 2Ks bouncing through doorways, we relied on existing wall sconces and down-lighters for the zoom shot. For closer coverage we added a Rifa as a key for the two Hs, but when the action moved over next to the wall the sconces did all the work for us, though Ben did add some tungsten bounce from the stage to give a touch of backlight.

After lunch a second camera came into play. The producers had requested this after becoming concerned about the schedule slipping. Using two cameras is not a magic wand to double your coverage; it doubles your sound problems and your lighting problems and makes every lens choice and lamp position a compromise to keep things out of the other camera’s frame. I decided that today was one of a very small number of the remaining days on which it could be used successfully. I asked Max to operate it, as he’d been watching all the footage as he wrangled it, so he was familiar with the style. A new B-camera 1st AC and trainee were brought in for the day, while trainee Lulu stepped up to 2nd the B-camera.

Our first dual camera set-up – to which we added Horatio’s camcorder rolling, for extra shits and giggles – was reactions of Claudius and Gertrude to the play within the play, with Max getting a single on the latter while I started on a two-shot and zoomed in to an ECU of the former. But first the dance part of the play had to be rehearsed so that Zoe could plan the theatrical lighting for it; then Ben and Connor were able to programme the same colours into two Astera tubes that were bounced onto Claudius and Gertrude. A dim Gem ball and a couple of 300W kickers were added, while the house down-lighters were turned on at about 10% to look like emergency lights in the background.

Later we flipped around to shoot the dance itself, at 18mm and 75mm simultaneously, before cross-shooting Hamlet and Ophelia through the dancers and over their shoulders to the dancers. Finally we captured a pick-up of the glaring lights coming up on Hamlet, for which we ensured that one of Zoe’s lights was pointed right down the lens to flare it. After wrapping most of the crew we grabbed a GV on B-camera of the curtains lowering in preparation for the play.

 

Day 17 – 24/4/21

“Now cracks a noble heart”

The morning was spent finishing scene 79, capturing reactions to the duel and re-shooting Hamlet’s death. Then we set up for the film’s final scene, 80, in which Norway’s impressive prince Fortinbras arrives in the blood-soaked Danish court. This involved the street door in the scene dock opening, dazzling light flooding in, and Fortinbras emerging from it. To achieve this effect we dimmed all the lighting in the dock, stage and auditorium so that we were wide open (T2.2) and at ISO 1600 to correctly expose it. The daylight outside was then 11 or 12 stops over (fortunately it was a sunny day) and most detail was eradicated, though passing cars and pedestrians were still discernible and will have to be removed in post. Ben enhanced the daylight effect by clamping a matt silver bounce board above the door and firing a 2.5K HMI into it, and I made the light glow a bit by shooting with a 1/2 Soft FX filter. When Fortinbras and Horatio sat down on the edge of the stage to talk, we closed the street door for sound and relied solely on the HMI to create the effect. As there was almost no light coming from the auditorium, Ben set up an Ultrabounce in front of the men and the theatre crew fired one of their spotlights into it, filling in the faces.

Our last task for the week was to return to the paint shop to pick up what we had missed on day 11. The flashbacks were quick and fun to shoot. We reduced the par cans and changed the colour of the Asteras uplighting the paint-splattered wall to give a different feel. I shot with the prism across the bottom left corner of the frame, which helped to keep Hamlet looking mad and mysterious, and a beautiful effect was created when Ophelia was composing her song, whereby both her face and her hand making notations on the music score were visible simultaneously. Unfortunately we were forced to wrap before getting everything we needed to complete the main paint shop scene, so we will be going back there at some point.

“Hamlet”: Week 3

“Hamlet”: Week 2

Day 7 – 12/4/12

“Contracted as it were in one brow of woe”

Not sure how to feel about today. On the one hand we got some great shots, including our first one on the Technocrane. On the other hand, we spectacularly failed to make the call sheet.

Due to the workload on costume and make-up, we generally do not start our days with master shots because not all the cast are ready. Instead we start with singles and 2-shots which is always a bit confusing and inefficient, and the wide shot is done last. Not ideal, but I’m sure it’s the lesser of at least two evils. So we started scene 14 – the first proper Hamlet scene – with Ian’s single, on which I did some of my wackiest framing yet, giving him loads of headroom (even accounting for his Tim-Burton-esque top hat!) and letting the chandelier take up a lot of the frame. Sean loved it and went even further, having half of Ian’s face hidden behind Jonny.

A couple of set-ups later it was time for lunch and for the three-person grip team to bring in the Technocrane. This then sat idle while we picked off a number of other singles, followed by a shot which pulled focus between Claudius and Gertrude and their images on the CRT monitor at prompt corner. The original plan had been to use the theatre’s existing relay camera – mounted to the front of the circle – to provide the image on the screen, but when the chandelier was winched down into position its cable blocked half of the relay camera’s frame. The solution was to borrow the stills photographer’s tripod, mount Horatio’s camcorder on it and run a feed from there to the monitor.

At last it was time to put the zoom on the Alexa XT and mount the package on the crane. Turns out that it was a bit too heavy for the remote head we’d been given, and it struggled to keep the camera bubbled. The remote head was operated by me via a monitor and hot-wheels, which I’ve never used before. I found them surprisingly intuitive.

The scene’s lighting was inspired by a tribunal scene from The Handmaid’s Tale which had warm practical desk lamps and hard, cold beams of light on the accused. The beams were easy to create with the theatre rig, today operated by Will and Tilly from the theatre’s permanent staff, while the half-CTO-gelled fluorescents weren’t exactly warm (our white balance was 3200K) but at least neutral-ish. Additional theatrical lights picked out parts of the architecture, while Astera tubes supplemented the stage set’s florries for CUs. Characters at the edge of the stage were keyed either with Rifas or a 2K through a frame located in one of the boxes.

 

Day 8 – 13/4/21

“Now I am alone”

Yesterday we should have filmed our first soliloquy, “the play’s the thing wherein to catch the conscience of the king”. The only specific shot to be described in Sean’s treatment, it was the whole reason we hired a crane, and therefore had to be picked up today, our second and final crane day. It’s the most complex shot in the film, covering three minutes of monologue in a single developing shot, and unsurprisingly took most of the morning. It begins in CU on Hamlet, shot at the 250mm end of the Cooke Varotal, then zooms out. As the zoom is reaching its 25mm end the crane begins to move back, swinging, booming and contracting to pull back as far from Hamlet as possible, revealing almost all of the circle in which he is sitting alone. Halfway through the soliloquy, when the character has his big idea which will be the turning point of the entire film, he stands up and walks to the front of the circle, while the crane pushes back in towards him, with a slight zoom in too, to end on a low angle MS.

I operated the pan and tilt again, 2nd AC Ashton did the zoom, Aris was of course pulling focus, and the two grips and the crane tech manoeuvred the crane. And we weren’t the only ones doing a dance. Because the circle was only lit by four wall sconces (which were installed especially) and we had to reach an exposure of T3.7 for the Varotal, the sparks had to boom an LED Flyer and clear backwards as the camera pulled out. God only knows what the boom ops were doing! I think it took nine takes to get the shot in the bag; not bad going really.

Next we rehearsed Ophelia’s funeral, which included the final crane shot, a much simpler boom up and push in with a bit of a zoom from 25-60mm as well. We lit the scene with one of Zoe’s backlights streaming through the dock doors, gelled a golden yellow, plus some architectural spots on the set and a Jem ball as a key. When we moved into the coverage after lunch, we tried to keep the scene looking like it was all lit by that one yellow light, even though a few other sources were actually employed, including one skipped off the floor.

 

Day 9 – 14/4/21

“A touch, I do confess”

We were scheduled to film all of scene 79 – the duel – today. That’s a nine-minute scene with half a dozen speaking characters and a swordfight!

We started with the fight coverage while everyone had plenty of energy, breaking the fight into chunks. My angles were stolen wholesale from our two key references: the first fight in Ridley Scott’s The Duellists, and 2012 TV coverage of Olympic fencing. From the former I took handheld shots over Hamlet’s then Laertes’ shoulders (we tried using a double for Ian initially, but Sean wasn’t convinced and we quickly sacked him off) and long lens CUs to show the tension between bouts. From the latter I took a side-on wide shot of the duelling “runway”, zooming in manually as the combatants got closer together and zooming out again as they separated.

We punched hard light from the theatre rig through the metalwork and grills of the set, which enhanced every movement the duellists made as they passed through shadows and highlights. The set’s florries provided fill, a Jem ball over the king and queen gave them suitably regal illumination, and a Rifa was brought in for close-ups when we needed more shape. In the scene dock, visible through the open doors at the back of the stage, we relied on a truss of par cans which the theatre crew had kindly rigged to the ceiling for us a few weeks ago.

It’s going to be another busy day tomorrow picking up everything still left, including a couple of shots at the top of the scene and all the woundings and deaths!

 

Day 10 – 15/4/21

“The rest is silence”

Little to report today. We continued shooting the duel, and still didn’t quite finish. About mid-afternoon Ian finally realised that I was wearing a “What would Gandalf do?” t-shirt. He was very amused. “Keep it until tomorrow,” was his initial response to the sartorially posed conundrum, quickly followed by: “Fix it in post.”

 

Day 11 – 16/4/21

“The apparel oft proclaims the man”

We spent the morning in Claudius’s dressing room, the most cramped of all our locations. We used a 2.5K HMI bounced off a matt silver board to push more daylight in through the window, with two practical table lamps providing additional sources. The scene was fairly simple, with two characters conversing first with one of them on a sofa under the window and the other in a chair opposite, then later with both of them on the sofa. Coverage was conventional too, consisting of a wide (from a high angle, maintaining my CCTV theme), a 2-shot on the sofa, a shot-reverse for each half of the scene, and a couple of inserts. For the first half of the scene, one of the practicals served as our key-light motivation, and we added a small LED hidden behind a desk and a Fomex just out of frame. For the second half, the window was our key-light, so we stopped supplementing the practicals and instead put a Litemat on the window-ledge.

In the afternoon we moved into the paint shop, a space which Ophelia’s character has made her own, adding plants, guitars and various hippy accoutrements. The scene ran for about five minutes, and we managed to come up with a developing master shot that got us a lot of useful material, though it was physically demanding for me and the boom op, and also for the octogenarian Steven Berkov (playing Polonius). It was mentally taxing too, trying to remember all the various positions the characters stood or sat in throughout the scene, and then figure out what other angles were required to finish covering it. After some sticks coverage we were forced to wrap without having completed the scene. (We had originally been scheduled an entire day for it, but overrunning on the duel had a knock-on effect.)

I’m not entirely sure I liked the way the lighting turned out. I pushed for a Jem ball suspended over the main area of the set, which worked out pretty well even though it became a broad key sometimes; bouncing it back into people’s eyes gave an unpolished but still attractive look. Ben had rigged a series of par cans along the paint-splattered wall which picked out the set dressing nicely, but I can’t help wondering if the scene wouldn’t have had more mood and shape without them. What I did like was the three Astera tubes uplighting that same wall (which was mainly blue/violet), providing a nice colour separation from the warmly-lit aforementioned hippy accoutrements. Almost the only other source was our old friend the bulkhead practical, which was installed in an ante-room seen at the beginning and end of the developing master.

“Hamlet”: Week 2

“Hamlet”: Week 1

“If the audience starts looking at the cheeseboard, we’ve had it.”

– Sir Ian McKellen

Following the well-reviewed recent cinema release of Hamlet, which I shot for director Sean Mathias in 2021, here is the diary I kept during filming. You can also go back and read my blogs from prep if you’re interested.

 

Day 1 – 5/4/21

“A king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar”

Our progress began with scenes at the stage door, one of the few spaces in the theatre that has natural light coming in. Gaffer Ben Millar and I considered trying to add artificial light outside to the main window which was backlighting the scene, but instead we opted to light through a little side window with a Fomex wrapped in unbleached muslin. After a minor hiccup about blocking and crew shows, which hadn’t been planned for because we spent the last two weeks rehearsing, we bashed through three set-ups including two using Wes Anderson-esque central framing and eye-lines very close to camera.

Next up was a scene in the substage, next to the boiler room. Here we installed a practical tungsten bulkhead light on the wall as our key, adding to the extant yellowy-green fluorescents that illuminated parts of the background, and the Fomex spilling down a staircase. Lots of black negative space in the frame added to the moody look.

After lunch – during which I sorted out the footage transcoding plan with line producer Stephen Cranny and data wrangler Max Quinton – we moved to the glamorous location of the gents’ toilets for Ian McKellen’s first scene. The location had been very flat and white originally, but Ben’s crew rigged three Astera tubes to the tops of two walls – the two walls that we were mainly shooting towards – and that created a nice wrappy backlit look. Director Sean Matthias embraced the weirder shots I had storyboarded, which I was very happy about!

We also had a brief scene in a corridor outside the toilets, for which we relied largely on the existing practicals. Ben had already gelled the fluorescent emergency lights, and for the ceiling lights we turned off the one closest to camera, left the one in the midground with its pre-existing 25W bulb, and put a 60W bulb in the background one to create classic dark-to-light depth.

After wrap Ben and I had a meeting with Zoe Spurr, the theatrical lighting designer, to work out a plan for the upcoming stage scenes. By that time my brain had clocked off for the day, but Ben did his usual trick of identifying the right solution that I was too tired to see. That solution is to use less of the theatrical lighting than previously planned, which I think is what most people on the production want. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow, with our first auditorium and stage scenes!

 

Day 2 – 6/4/21

“The woman will be out”

Both of today’s scenes required wrenching emotional performances from the cast, who delivered in spades. We began with a well-planned scene in the SL vom. This, I have learnt from a fortnight working in a theatre, is short for “stage left vomitorium”. I’m not entirely sure the theatre crew weren’t winding me up when they told me this. Anyway, it’s an enclosed little space opening onto a short flight of steps up to the stage. The walls are deep red and Lee had stuffed it full of booster seats in the same colour, giving it a rich and striking look. We used the Cooke Varotal 25-250mm zoom for the first time, which is an absolute beast, but enabled us to get a lovely slow push-in to Gertrude during a long speech. I stayed on the zoom for the rest of the scene for speed. The lighting was nearly all motivated by a practical in the ceiling, but we ended up adding quite a few other sources to make the look more flattering, including a Fomex on the ceiling wrapping the practical light, a 1K into poly as fill and tiny little LED for eye-light.

This little LED came in handy again for the second scene, giving a beautiful glint in the characters’ eyes. Here the main source was a Jem ball wrapped in unbleached muslin, which Sean particularly liked as a source. A 2K through diffusion in one of the boxes provided a second key for certain people. We saw a lot of the stage for the first time, and we used Zoe’s theatre lights to illuminate the metalwork of the set and give us a strong, graphical backlight. Ben added Astera tubes and Rifas to softly light the woodwork and separate it from the black walls. The hilariously low-tech wheelchair dolly was broken out for the first time, but the bazooka mount proved too wobbly so I ended up keeping the camera on my shoulder. The prism saw its first use too, mounted to a noga arm in front of the matte box to give us some weird blur and a slight kaleidoscope effect for a handheld shot of the mentally-ill Ophelia. One problem was that it kept reflecting the crew, the equipment and the boom, so that will have to be cut around.

 

Day 3 – 7/4/21

“Denmark’s a prison”

Today’s work was all in the auditorium and covered many pages of dialogue. We began at the back of the stalls, where the existing down-lighters (previously re-bubbled) and emergency lights (gelled with straw and ND) motivated all the lighting and genuinely provided a fair bit of it too. We used Rifas and Litemats wrapped in unbleached muslin to key the close-ups, and added some poly bounce after hearing via Susannah in make-up that Ian wanted a more flattering look!

In the afternoon we moved down into the stalls, where we had lots more text and twelve characters to cover! Needless to say, we went into overtime and still owed a couple of set-ups, despite covering large swathes with a few carefully-chosen handheld shots. By this point I was leaving the lighting almost entirely to Ben, as Sean was relying on me (with help from 1st AD Top Tarasin and script supervisor Jodie Woodall) to work out the coverage. Ben used several soft sources in combination with the auditorium’s existing practicals, which looked lovely but did give the soundies a few boom-shadow headaches!

 

Day 4 – 8/4/21

“The purpose of playing”

We began in the rear stalls again, this time introducing the tiny lighting box too, from which Claudius and Polonius spy on Hamlet as he asks one of the acting troupe to add a speech into the evening’s play. We turned out the house lights and motivated everything from two desk lamps and the stage itself, on which Hamlet was supposedly in the process of designing the play’s lighting. We used two Rifas (one through a frame) for the stage light, plus a 5K to give an edge on the seats. A small LED provided eye-light supposedly bounced up from one of the desk lamps. The other desk lamp, the one in the box, was genuinely bounced off white show card on the table to provide a sinister up-light on Claudius. An existing fluorescent tube behind him served as backlight after being gelled with .3 ND, while we brought Polonius up by hiding the little LED again.

We managed to cram the camera package – complete with zoom – into the back corner of the lighting box to do a lovely shot over Claudius through the lighting-box window to Hamlet and the player beyond. For the shots closer to these latter two characters, I switched to handheld shooting, having learnt the previous day that trying to set up sticks amongst the auditorium seating is a bit of a nightmare. Fortunately the handheld look worked well for this scene.

For the rest of the day we tackled part of the prologue for the first time. In this prologue, the cast are trapped inside the theatre without an audience and decide to put on Hamlet for themselves. I set the white balance right down to 2500K so that the stage set’s fluorescent tubes (which were daylight, but gelled with half CTO by us earlier in the week) went white with a touch of green, and kept the lighting fairly flat and uninviting. We used no haze and kept the theatrical lighting to an absolute minimum. I tried to pick up the pace and power through the shots so we could fit in the dropped material from yesterday – keeping the camera on my shoulder and encouraging simple lighting set-ups – but there were simply too many other elements to juggle, and though we made the day’s call sheet we did not repair yesterday’s damage.

My favourite shot of the day, and of the whole shoot so far, was done before lunch. It was part of the prologue, but a dreamy foreshadowing of Hamlet coming to life. I shot Claudius and Gertrude waltzing on stage with the blurry chandelier glowing in the foreground. All the lighting came from Zoe’s theatrical rig, there was haze aplenty, and most importantly we clamped a £4.99 pair of kaleidoscope glasses to the front of the matte box. On a 100mm lens, this had little effect on the actors but it splintered and repeated the chandelier lights in an utterly entrancing way. Combined with shooting at 48fps the shot was absolutely beautiful.

 

Day 5 – 9/4/21

“Poison in jest”

News of the death of Prince Phillip at Windsor Castle, literally across the road from both the theatre and our hotel, trickled through the crew this morning. This will likely affect production in several ways, the most immediate of which is that we have to move rooms within the hotel, the ones that look out onto the high-street being highly coveted by paparazzi with their long lenses and ghoulish ambitions. It was a day of ill health amongst the cast and crew too, and data wrangler Max had to step in to help out the reduced camera department.

Our first scene was behind the closed “tabs” (curtains) on the stage; we relied mostly on the set’s fluorescents for this, turning off foreground ones to give us more shape. Zoe provided a hard raking light on the back of the curtain. Outside in the auditorium, Ben used two Jem balls (one as hairlight, one as a key) plus 300W kickers from each side to illuminate Claudius and Gertrude.

The next scene was the play within the play, “The Murder of Gonzago”, or, as Hamlet dubs it, “Mousetrap”. Zoe of course took the lead in lighting this, making adjustments primarily to avoid casting nasty shadows on the leads. Ben again added a Rifa to key the close-ups.

We continue to stick very closely to my storyboards, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, we know exactly what we’re doing in advance, and I’ve given a fair bit of thought to the shots throughout prep, but on the other hand I sometimes wonder if there wasn’t a better shot that I failed to spot because I was following the boards by rote. I try to look at my spreadsheet and mood-board at least once a day to remind myself of my original intentions and keep myself on track.

 

Day 6 – 10/4/12

“This is the very ecstasy of love”

First up was a short scene on and under the stage; two traps were being used as the graves dug by Shakespeare’s pair of “clowns”. Coverage included a shot looking through a hole inside one trap to Llinos underneath the other, then rising up as she climbed a ladder onto stage level. For this we broke out the Easy Rig for the first time, to take the camera’s weight. Lighting below the stage was motivated by a bulkhead (the same one used on day one) with a warm Astera tube cheated in too, while on the stage a wonderful sixties handheld floodlight was sitting beside the clowns. Ben used a Rifa gelled with (I think) half CTB to enhance the slightly cold light from this practical, while a couple more Astera tubes and some low-level house lights prevented the backgrounds from going completely black.

Next we moved up to the circle bar, which Lee had so beautifully transformed from the ugly, white room of our first recce to a decadent gentleman’s club strewn with the refuse of an indulgent party. I had always known that I wanted low morning sun glaring in through the window, and Ben accomplished this using a 6K par for the larger window and a 2.5K for the smaller one, both gelled with Full Straw. The curtains, bolton and some diff on the window helped to shape this and ensure that camera shadows were not an issue even when I was shooting with my back to the light. Deeper into the room, an Astera tube on a DJ’s desk and a few floor lamps added to the light. Most of the nasty ceiling lights were turned off, but two or three were snooted with black wrap and allowed to spill a little onto the scene. Reverses were fairly simple, shooting into the window which threw beams of light into the smoke (pretty much the only time I’ll be doing that on this movie!) and using a Rifa or bounce boards to fill in faces. For a later part of the scene we added diff to the Straw frame and an additional diff frame inside the room to create a beautiful, creamy light on Alice’s face.

One week down, three to go!

“Hamlet”: Week 1

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 3 Part 2

Day 21

Photo by Jonnie Howard

A morning full of short running scenes, all shot as oners on the Steadicam by Luke Oliver. Pretty much every crew member had had a cameo by this point, and today it was my turn. My character: Nerdy Cyclist. Alright, technically it was just Cyclist. The nerdy bit was just me (a) beefing up my part and (b) playing to type.

For the afternoon we moved to The Lab, a cocktail bar, where we filmed one of the fantasy/imaginary scenes that cuts with the very first shot we did of Harvey back on Day 1. Mixologist Tom was dressed in an elaborate all-black costume so Stephen and I hit him with two tungsten lamps, one either side, at an angle somewhere between side-light and backlight. This cut him out from the background, showed up the layering in the costume, edge-lit the cocktail shaker and liquids being poured, and deliberately kept Tom’s face dark. Quadruple win!

 

Day 22

We returned to Othersyde to pick up the one scene we dropped there on our most packed day of principal photography, Day 7. I referred to the blog post to help get the vibe of the lighting the same. The main motivation was the real streetlamp at the front of the site, which we wrapped using an Aputure with a lantern attachment, rigged on a mini boom. Another Aputure lantern gave a cool moonlight wash on the venue’s terraced outdoor seating, and a blue-gelled 300W tungsten fresnel uplighter replicated what we did on the other side of the building last year. A 2K blasted light from the direction Harvey has come; this light represented the ongoing wedding, so we had a couple of people moving around in front of it for dynamic shadows.

I ended up turning off the first Aputure for the wide as it seemed to kill the mood, but we brought it back for the close-up to show more of Paul’s face. To represent the light of his phone as he turns it on, Stephen held a PavoTube just above the camera and twisted it quickly around to face Paul on cue. We adjusted the eyebrow on the camera to flag the tube’s light off the phone itself.

There were a few bitty pick-ups to do while we were outside with access to power, including a “BOV” – a POV of a bee. We did this with the probe lens on Jonnie’s Canon C200, which I had to float around and then jab into Paul’s neck. Sorry, Paul.

At 1am we moved into an adjacent industrial street – having decided that it was unreasonable to have Paul shouting dialogue in a residential area at that hour – for some Steadicam shots. I went to the Gemini’s low-light ISO 3200 and Stephen hand-bashed a lantern on a boom pole to fill Paul in between streetlamps, which became a fun dance when we had to do a 270° orbit!

 

Day 23

We convened at Cambridge’s Castle Hill. Nearby Indian restaurant Namaste Village kindly agreed to let us shoot a brief scene there at the last minute, even having one of the staff do a spot of acting. I posted a video breakdown on Instagram – here it is:

 

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Back outside we filmed a nice sequence of shots ending with a 360° pan following Harvey as he walks around the top of Castle Hill talking on the phone. As the other end of the phone call had been shot with Steve’s head sometimes out of frame, we went the other way and gave Harvey loads of headroom, capturing some nice clouds along the way.

Then it was time for another pick-up from Day 7, reshooting the tent scene for continuity reasons. Again we put a light on one side and black-draped the other to get some shape into the light inside. This time we used a wider lens, the 14mm, and with the help of a runner I handheld it over Paul rather than trying to squeeze the tripod in around him like last time. He got a nasty shock when I accidentally knocked the matte box off and it hit him in the face. Er, sorry again.

After wrapping a few of us went back across the road to Namaste Village, where the food was excellent.

 

Day 24

On our last day we caught up to the elusive pick-up that was always meant to be a pick-up: the scenes with Harvey’s mum. We took over Rachel’s grandmother’s house for several hours, most of the shots being in a corner of her living room. Unusually I was drawn to a corner that didn’t have a window in it, because it had the best furniture and dressing to establish the character in our standard 24mm tableau shot.

But this meant – with all the windows behind camera – that it was a challenge to make the lighting interesting. We faked a window just off camera left using a diffusion frame with muslin and a grid over it; Stephen bounced the 600D into it from across the room. I closed the room’s curtains as much as I could get away with before the lack of natural fill light started to make it look like night. (For later scenes we closed them all the way and put a 300D behind the muslin, as pictured above.)

To add more interest to the shot I played around with the positions of two table lamps and a floor lamp. Pausing to check my script breakdown notes from last year I saw that I had written “a single practical floor lamp” in the lighting column; too many lamps would kill the scene’s sad tone. This is a good example of a breakdown keeping me honest as a DP and preventing me from getting carried away doing stuff on set just because I can (though that definitely still happens sometimes). I ended up with just one lamp in the back of the main shot.

After some variations on that main shot for later scenes, and a brief scene in the kitchen, we packed up and headed out for exteriors. Most of these were happy flashbacks from the early days of Harvey and Alice’s relationship, and Jonnie wanted to fill them with filmic references. First up was a Jules et Jim homage with the pair racing across a bridge, then a “remake” of one of Jonnie’s own amateur films with Harvey and Alice spinning around holding hands. For POV reverse shots we put the tripod on the point which they span around, and I set the panning tension to zero so that they could pull the camera around themselves by holding the moose bars (handgrips).

Next was a Manhattan-esque shot with the couple on a bench looking up at Ely Cathedral. We clearly weren’t going to light the cathedral on our budget, so we set up around sunset and waited for the streetlamps to come on and the ambient light to drop to a nice dusky level. We rolled when the daylight was metering at T1.4 at ISO 800, though I exposed at T2. To cut Harvey and Alice out from the background a bit Stephen stood just out of frame with an LED lantern motivated by a nearby streetlamp.

He pulled the same trick at our next location, a passageway beside Prezzo, where we did actually have to light a small portion of the cathedral wall as well, using a battery-powered Aputure (200X I think). We couldn’t have done it for long on the batteries we had, but fortunately it was a brief scene.

Our final set-up was a Poor Man’s shot of Harvey running at night. We did this on the green beside the cathedral because it was a handy open space where we could get a completely dark background save for a few dots of distant lights. Stephen armed a FalconEyes over Paul and swung it back and forth to create the illusion of passing streetlamps. The shot needed a tiny touch of fill, so we taped a PavoTube to the top of the matte box, setting it to 1% intensity and taping over most of it to get it down to a low enough level. (I was at ISO 3200 and on a 14mm lens, so mere inches from Paul’s face.)

Then Rob said the magic words, “It’s a wrap.” Like most micro-budget projects there are still a few loose ends to be shot, but those will be done with Jonnie’s camera and no crew. For most of the cast and crew Harvey Greenfield has run his course and I’ll see them at some distant time for the premiere. Thank you Stephen Allwright (gaffer), Jeremy Dawson (spark), Hamish Nichols (1st AC), Fiyin Oladimeji (2nd AC) and Nana Nabi (2nd AC daily) for all your hard work, and to Jonnie for bringing me onto this fun and creative film. Huge thanks also to Global Distribution, Red and Sigma who supported us with equipment which brought the whole thing up a level. The rough cut is already fantastic and I can’t wait to see it finished.

Read all my Harvey Greenfield is Running Late posts:

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 3 Part 2

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 3 Part 1

Photo by Jonnie Howard

Day 17

Our first location was a medical training ward populated by creepy dummies; we had a brief flashback scene to do around a hospital bed. When we arrived there was nice warm sunlight coming in through the frosted glass behind the bed, so we made sure that stuck around by putting an orange-gelled Aputure 600D out there. Inside we wrapped this with a FalconEyes and Stephen added some soft fill because I wanted the scene to feel romantic. To get some green into the frame (a calming colour in the film’s visual language) we stuck a couple of Nanlite PavoTubes into the background as practicals.

While Hamish (our new 1st AC) and Fifi were building the camera I faffed about with the Prosup Tango slider, trying to figure out a way to have the track go over the bed so we could pull straight back from Paul. It proved impossible simply because the track also ended up in frame, and instead we simply set it up beside the bed. It took a bit of clever blocking by director Jonnie to ensure that the camera could point directly along the axis of the track, rather than at an angle, which would have broken the established visual grammar of the film. This is the sort of thing that takes a bit of time to get back into after months away from the project, but it’s important to get it right.

Next we moved into the foyer, which we were playing as a bank. There was plenty of natural light but we made sure to keep that in the background, neg-filling behind the camera, and adding a key (a Rayzr MC 200) at 90° to the talent (Alex Wilber), who was partly facing towards a computer monitor on that side of camera anyway. A heavily dimmed 2K served as backlight.

After a brief panic when we thought we were missing our favourite lens, the 14mm, we moved to Cambridge 105’s studio a couple of blocks away. A special guest star played a Tony Blackburn-esque DJ and threw in some brilliant improvs.

We fought a battle against the high, bright sun that kept trying to come in the south-facing window, despite us having diffed a lot of it, and blacked out the whole top section, and having blinds partly lowered, and the windows having some special solar coating on them anyway. Once again we fired in the 600D, which probably did very little compared with that sun, and wrapped it inside with a FalconEyes, and added the PavoTubes into the background for colour. The DJ’s computer monitors were set to 60Hz, but I’d learnt my lesson from last year and immediately set the shutter to 144° to sort that out.

 

Day 18

We were at Anglia Ruskin University for the day, mostly in one of their media studios. Here we had to shoot a number of things against a black backdrop, mainly to cut into the climax of the film. These included a 180° camera move using the university’s track and dolly. I thought briefly about doing some elaborate lighting rig in which lamps would have to be dimmed up and down to maintain backlight and eliminate front-light as the camera circled, but then I came to my senses and we just fired a Source Four straight down onto the makeshift table that the two actors were hunched over so that it would bounce back up to them. I was using the Soft FX 1 to match the look of the Happy Place scenes from Day 3, which helped to take the harshness out of the highlights where the Source Four was directly hitting the cast.

A little later Jonnie started flinging things in front of the camera. Had he finally cracked? No, he just wanted some lovely slo-mo shots of key props arcing through a black void. We went to 120fps, the Red Gemini’s maximum 4K frame rate, and the higher native ISO of 3200. We were able to make a stop of somewhere between T4 and T5.6 by bouncing two 2Ks into an 8×4′ poly just out of frame, and using three triple banks of the uni’s linear cyc lights in the grid as backlight.

After lunch we came to a couple of crucial shots that were dropped from the night shoot on Day 10, meaning we had to replicate the lighting from Vinery Park. We used the cycs again, a Source Four on a stand as a special flaring backlight simulating the park’s streetlamp, and a couple of 2Ks through a diffusion frame as the key. Although we were back to 24fps we still needed loads of light because one of the set-ups was on an f/14 probe lens sliding into Harvey’s mouth! “It feels really weird,” Paul remarked. Yep. And sorry for bashing you in the teeth with it.

As our time on the campus ticked down we moved across to another building to shoot a call centre scene. We went for our 24mm “tableau” frame that we’ve used to establish all the characters who ring Harvey in their own environments, followed by a couple of other set-ups. We kept the talent’s (Kate Madison) eye-line between the camera and the windows for a nice short key, beefing it up with a FalconEyes, and added a dimmed 2K backlight and some warm PavoTubes in the background (orange being the stress colour in the film’s visual language).

 

Day 19

The good folks at BBC Breakfast were up bright and early, set up at the Granta beside Sheep’s Green, shooting live news footage of what was widely forecast to be a record-breakingly hot day. We were up pretty early too, watching from the banks of the Cam at 5:30am as the BBC drone flew over, and hoping that it wouldn’t ruin a take (which it didn’t).

We were shooting Harvey Greenfield‘s only stunt, which I probably shouldn’t spoil by describing. We’d given Stephen the day off, and my trusty 5-in-1 reflector was our only lighting gear, but of course there was no shortage of sunlight. I used the white side for most set-ups, running along beside the Steadicam later in the day to keep Paul’s face filled in when he wasn’t facing the sun.

There was an interesting moment when we had the sun in the background of a low-angle shot. As I’ve experienced before, the Soft FX filter reflected a rectangle of light onto the subject. But even when we took it out, the IRND filter did the same thing. Do all filters do it, I wonder? Must test that one day.

We wrapped a little after 3pm, as the heat was reaching its maximum. Despite all the dire warnings (and drone-worthy news coverage) it hadn’t been too hot to work. We were all sensible with hydration, shade and sunblock, and I even swam in the Cam a couple of times during the day to cool off. You don’t get to do that very often on a shoot!

Straight after wrap I went for another swim in Jesus Green Lido, whence a Channel 5 news crew were broadcasting live weather reports with the pool in the background. The presenter was positioned in the shade and they’d set up a 600D on either side of him to fill him in. Believe it or not, that would inspire the next day’s lighting.

 

Day 20

First up was a one-shot flashback scene at the Arts Picturehouse. We used the 600D as the “projector”, positioning it just barely out of the top of frame, and a 4×4′ poly armed over the camera as the screen bounce. During the takes Jeremy wiggled his hand in front of the 600D to create dynamics in the flare.

The day’s main scene was a fake advert starring a nineties keep-fit icon. The aim was a cheesy infomercial vibe, with a 4:3 aspect ratio and over-the-top acting. We cross-front-lit the scene with the Aputures 300D and 200X (thank you, Channel 5), with only a bit of diff on them. I over-exposed by a stop and took out the Soft FX filter to make the image even less filmic. I framed with a lot of headroom and even did a deliberately late tilt-down at one point. When the actual aerobics start, we went even more naff by adding two PavoTubes into the background and the Rayzr MC behind camera, all flashing nasty disco colours. It was great fun.

By the time we moved onto the last scene – another 24mm phone call, in a GP’s waiting room – it was at least 39°C in Cambridge and the UK’s temperature record had been broken.

There’ll be more from this shoot in next week’s post. In the meantime, you can read all the Harvey posts here. Note that the link will display them in reverse chronological order, so scroll down for the older ones.

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 3 Part 1

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 2-and-a-Bit

Day 11

In a conference room at a business centre in north Cambridge we set up for a scene in which the titular Harvey arrives titularly late for a big meeting at work. Here we were joined by my good friend Alan Hay, who voiced all the pre-recorded male characters in the stage play, and now portrays Harvey’s overbearing boss Bryan on screen.

A TV monitor in the background of Bryan’s shot, displaying relevant graphics, gave us some trouble. Neither the 50Hz or 60Hz “flicker free” modes in the monitor’s menu lived up to their names. The best – though not perfect – results were achieved by setting the camera’s shutter to 144°, which works out as 60Hz at our frame rate of 24fps. (Next week’s post will be dedicated to the maths behind this. I bet you can’t wait.)

Stephen and James rigged several Astera tubes to the ceiling, which we mostly used to give everyone a tungsten-coloured backlight whichever direction we shot in (Harvey’s stress colour again). The key light was motivated from the window, which we weren’t able to light from outside of, but we generally used the Litemat 2S to punch up or wrap the natural light from that direction. We used floppy flags on the opposite side of the room to stop too much ambience from the atrium spilling in.

Unfortunately by the time we wrapped the meeting scene we were left with a difficult choice: to rush a long and funny scene in Bryan’s office, or to postpone it for some future pick-up shoot when we could do it justice. Jonnie wisely chose the latter, allowing us to decamp to a private home in Arbury and get ahead with the scenes set in Harvey’s house.

First up at the house was a happy flashback of Harvey and Alice dancing in the bedroom, which Amanda had dressed in calming shades of green. We shot towards the window at 48fps and supplemented the natural light with a single Astera tube in a corner.

Next was a less positive flashback set at night. As it was still broad daylight I closed the curtains, framed out the window and set the white balance to 3600K to turn the remaining light seeping through the curtains into a dim nighttime ambience. I had asked Amanda to provide matching practicals on the bedside cabinets, which we now turned on and dimmed to get a nice warm orange glow. This looked great but left the actors’ faces very under-exposed, so we added a 300W tungsten fresnel motivated by one of the tablelamps. (The thing you see hanging in front of it in the above photo is a makeshift flag to stop the other tablelamp from casting an unrealistic shadow.)

Then it was back to daylight – again natural light supplemented by an Astera – and the camera had to stay locked off so that Jonnie could jump-cut to this shot from the same angle at night. Stephen and James set up the lighting while the daylight faded. The main element that I wanted was a streak of sodium streetlight through a gap in the curtains, again part of the stress colour theme, which was achieved with the Aputure 300D gelled appropriately. We wanted to give the impression that this was bouncing off the wall and edge-lighting Harvey in his second position, but in reality we used the tungsten 300W fresnel – now hidden on top of the wardrobe – to get this effect. We bounced two Astera tubes, set very blue with a bit of green mixed in, off a wall to provide ambience.

Overall the frame was still pretty dark, so I decided to do something I’ve seen advised for night scenes before but never actually done: I reduced the ISO by one stop and opened the iris to compensate. Read my article about ISO if you want to understand all the ins and outs, but essentially doing this allowed one more stop of light to reach the sensor – that’s more information to grade with – without increasing the apparent brightness of the image.

 

Day 12

Back in the house, this time downstairs in the kitchen. We had three daylight scenes to shoot here, and the lighting approach was to push in soft light through the windows using the Litemat or an Aladdin, with some harder streaks where appropriate from the Aputure. Hiding another Aladdin on top of a cabinet and firing it into a corner of the ceiling was a good move by Stephen to raise the ambience in the room while still keeping some directionality.

 

Day 13

Our first task today was to return to the cemetery and pick up a dropped shot from day 8. Then it was another Steadicam/rickshaw scene on an Ely street where rain, traffic and a recalcitrant beer can combined to make things quite tricky.

After lunch we had a strict two-hour window in which to shoot three scenes with a hired limousine. The first required it to be driving around, so Filipe (sound mixer), Olga (focus puller) and I squeezed into the front of the main cabin, shooting down the length of the vehicle on the 14mm to where Paul and Alan’s characters were sitting at the back. Jonnie rode in the front passenger seat and watched the monitor over my shoulder. Next to him was an Aladdin which I could use for fill when necessary, but mostly I relied on the dynamic natural light. The heavily tinted windows were a big help, allowing me to retain most of the detail in the sky outside without under-exposing the talent.

When we returned to base, Stephen had all the flags, bolton and lights ready to move into position around the limo for the night scene. His custom-built LED was gelled with Urban Sodium again to key Alan, and an Astera tube inside the limo provided the impression of a passing ambulance.

Then we were left with less than 25 minutes to capture a daytime dialogue scene around the limo. Jonnie had storyboarded it as three set-ups but there was only time for one. Rupert came to the rescue, quickly balancing his Steadicam as Jonnie devised a camera move that would hit all the needed beats.

After a couple more Steadicam shots we moved on to a scene in a hospital car park, a rare moment of calm for the beleagured Harvey. We shot this mostly on the slider, capturing the dialogue in another single developing shot that taxed poor Filipe again but set exactly the right mood for the story. The natural light was very shapeless, so Stephen set up some floppies on one side and bounce on the other.

The day brought principal photography to an end for Stephen and for leading man Paul Richards, both of whom have done stellar work despite the long hours and high energy levels required.

Just after I wrote this Jonnie sent me a rough edit of the limo/hospital sequence and it has turned out very nicely indeed.

 

Day 14

We convened at a farm near Mildenhall to film Billy the pig farmer, one of the many people who hassles Harvey by phone during the story. In a last-minute casting coup Billy was portrayed by 1st AD Rob Oliver with the unscripted addition of his mother Shirley. A comedy duo to be reckoned with. Between takes we scattered food around to entice the porcine supporting artists into the right positions.

After completing this sequence we all took it in turns to hold a piglet. I’m not sure why.

The final scene of principal photography was a spoof charity appeal for “No More Racism UK”. We shot this down at Ely riverside again, where a crowd steadily gathered to watch us film an old white lady throwing bread at a black couple. We captured the whole thing on the slider with the 50-100mm zoom at 48fps and with the Soft FX 1 for extra cheesiness. To get the depth of field as shallow as possible with our limited ND filters I went down to ISO 250, the downside being a reduction in highlight detail which threatened to blow out the feathers of a white swan in shot. I’m sure that’s symbolic somehow.

We wrapped at the astonishingly reasonable time of 3pm and reconvened in the evening for a pizza-fuelled celebration at Othersyde. The shoot was great fun, the whole team has worked really hard, and I look forward to seeing everyone again for the pick-ups.

The “Harvey Greenfield” camera department: 1st AC Olga Lagun, 2nd AC Fiyin Oladimeji and me
“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 2-and-a-Bit

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 2

Day 6

I think the director is turning into Harvey Greenfield. This morning Jonnie burst unexpectedly out of a hedge apologising for being slightly late.

Our first location was a surprisingly busy park in the village of Exning. We shot under the trees lining the edge of the park, keeping the camera on the same side of the eye-line as this handy arboreal negative fill, allowing the open sky of the park proper to light the actors’ off-camera sides. It’s great when blocking works out in your favour like this.

Then we moved around the corner to Wests Garage. First up here was a 24mm tableau shot to establish Barry the mechanic when he first calls Harvey, just as we have done to introduce the other supporting characters. We placed Barry in an office with a window behind him showing the workshop. Stephen arranged our four Astera tubes (in tungsten mode) around the workshop as practical work-lights, clamping some to pillars and placing others on the floor; wherever possible we are adding orange splashes of light (Harvey’s stress colour) into the background of these tableaux.

Next we shot outside around a car (a Rover I think – they all look the same to me), getting a nice slider shot parallel to the vehicle. Shades of Wes Anderson again. The trouble with all these straight-on shots of windows and shiny cars is hiding all the reflections. Stephen had to build a wall of floppy flags to disguise the slider.

By the time we wrapped the heat was getting to us all, and there was nothing for it but to try out the local pub.

But that was closed for a private party so we went to the other local pub instead.

 

Day 7

Jonnie was wearing Harvey’s jacket. Definitely turning into him.

We were at Othersyde, part of the Cambridge Museum of Technology, for the biggest day of the shoot: 12 scenes and nine pages of script to cover.

We began in a tent – Amanda had kindly found an orange one at my request – which we flagged on one side, adding the Aputure 300D to the other side to bring some shape to the lighting.

Then we moved into one of the venue’s toilet cubicles, where we simply added a skirt of black wrap to the existing overhead light fitting to reduce the light on the walls and add contrast. (Stephen and spark daily James also had to build a black-out tent around the door so that it could be open for the camera to see in without admitting daylight.)

Then we jumped into the bar of the Engineer’s House to grab a one-shot flashback scene. We lit through two windows (the Aputure and the Litemat 2S, I think) and added fill (a CTB-gelled 2K bounced off poly) and a couple of other sources inside (an Aladdin into a dark corner; a tungsten lamp shining down some background stairs). The shot required some well-timed whip-pans – always good for comedy. These require great skill as a camera operator when executed on sticks, but fortunately for me this one was handheld which makes the muscle-memory involved much easier.

Next we were in another toilet cubicle. Again we skirted the ceiling light and tented around the door, but this time another character had to come in. Here we used an LED fixture which Stephen built himself, gelling it with Urban Sodium as this shot is part of a sequence that has a stressy, streetlamp look to it.

By this time it was getting towards evening and we set up for a slider shot at the front of the site, overlooking the River Cam and shooting towards the low sun. Thanks to Helios Pro – a sun tracking app – we managed to time this just right. A 4×4 poly bounce either side of camera was all that was needed to supplement the beautiful natural light.

Sounds like all that would be enough for one day, doesn’t it? But oh no, the big scene was still to come. With 20 or 30 extras we staged a wedding reception under Othersyde’s marquee. Stephen keyed the wedding party at the head table with the Aputure bounced off poly (both rigged to the marquee’s ceiling) and we backlit them with a tungsten 1K firing out of an upper window of the Engineer’s House. A character off to one side was lit with an Aladdin rigged to the roof of the bar. The aim was to keep the lighting fairly warm overall, but to make those warm foreground colours pop we added blue-gelled 300W fresnels uplighting the Engineer’s House and a 1K in the deep background, gelled with Steel Blue, for a hint of moonlight. All of this was supplemented by the venue’s existing string lights, bar lights, LED uplighters in the flower beds and candles which Amanda placed on the tables.

Although we didn’t quite make the call sheet, we only dropped one brief scene – a pretty amazing result and one for the whole team to be proud of. Our welcome reward was a selection of Othersyde’s finest pizzas.

 

Day 8

The morning was spent with a beautiful horse-drawn hearse (featuring more fun reflective surfaces!) while the afternoon took place around an off-camera grave in Ely Cemetery. Some brief scenes with the child actors, faking a corner of the cemetery as a park, completed a damp but straightforward day for cinematography.

 

Day 9

About a third of Harvey Greenfield is Running Late takes its title very literally, seeing Paul Richards’ character hurrying to his next appointments as he makes phone calls and talks to camera. Today was the first day dedicated to capturing these scenes.

The first few scenes were shot as Annie Hall-esque wides in the streets and parkland around of Ely. (Much as Hot Fuzz filmed in Wells but painted out the cathedral, we framed out Ely Cathedral to avoid it becoming an identifiable landmark.)

To get a shot of Harvey looking down at a piece of litter, we put the empty beer can on top of two peli cases. Using the lovely wide 14mm lens we were then able to shoot up past it to Harvey and even rack focus to the can. I never usually hire anything wider than an 18mm but I have certainly learnt to appreciate what a 14mm can do on this shoot, even if it does make lighting and boom-operating more challenging.

Our Steadicam operator Rupert joined us again for the rest of the day, bringing along a rickshaw to enable him to track Harvey more smoothly. This drew plenty of attention from the general public, particularly when we moved down to Ely’s picturesque riverside. Most people were very friendly and kindly stayed out of frame if asked to, but a couple of self-styled pirates seemed determined to get an unscripted cameo. Nevertheless we managed to pull off a long and complicated shot which begins with Harvey approaching camera down a tree-lined car park and then tracks him in profile as he pelts along the riverbank.

 

Day 10

The morning was spent filming outside a house in Romsey – a short walk from home for me – which was standing in for Harvey’s. There was yet more fun with reflections when we had to shoot Harvey’s neighbour looking out of his window. No matter how tight the budget is, I will never ever take a polarising filter off my kit hire list again.

In the afternoon we captured more Steadicam running scenes around Romsey Park, before moving onto the nearby streets when it got dark. Here the Gemini’s low light mode saw use again, allowing us to rely mostly on the existing streetlamps (not pretty, but it works for the story). Stephen rigged an Aladdin to the rickshaw so that Harvey would have a little fill light moving with him.

Finally we moved back into the park, where Stephen had cross-lit the kids’ playground with tungsten sources. This formed the background of the scene, with the action taking place under a streetlamp in front of the play area. As the streetlamp was naturally very toppy, we fired in a Litemat (gelled with Urban Sodium) from above the camera to make sure that we would see Paul’s face for this critical performance scene.

There will be more on Harvey Greenfield‘s second week in my next post. In the meantime you can follow the film’s official Instagram account or Facebook page.

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 2

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 1

Day 1

The weather was dry and overcast, shedding a pleasantly soft light on the proceedings as the crew of Harvey Greenfield is Running Late set up for our first scene, in front of a small primary school in rural Cambridgeshire.

Then we started shooting and the weather went bananas.

One moment we had bright sunshine, the next we had heavy rain bordering on hail… sometimes in the same take. We had lots of fun and games dodging the showers, maneouvering a 12×12′ silk to soften the sun, keeping reflections and shadows out of shot, waiting for noisy trains to pass, and trying to get through takes without the light changing. But we got there in the end.

In the afternoon we moved into the school hall, which we were using as a makeshift studio. As well as numerous flashbacks, the film includes several imaginary sequences, including a spoof advert. This we shot against a black backdrop using dual backlights, one on either side, to highlight the talent. I totally stole this look from the Men in Black poster.

Our last shot of the day was Harvey’s first, and another imaginary scene, this time set in a coffin. To give the appearance of it being underground, the coffin (with no lid and one side missing) was placed on rostra with a black drape hanging below it. To create darkness above it, we simply set a flag in front of camera. Harvey (Paul Richards) lights a match to illuminate himself, which gaffer Stephen Allwright supplemented with two 1×1′ Aladdin Bi-flexes set to tungsten and gelled even more orange.

 

Day 2

One of the few occasions in my life when I’ve been able to walk to set from home: we started at the University Arms Hotel overlooking Parker’s Piece, one of Cambridge’s many green spaces (and, fact fans, the place where the rules of Association Football were first established).

The hotel’s function room was dressed as an upmarket restaurant, where we captured Harvey’s first date with his girlfriend Alice (Liz Todd). We shot towards a window; putting your main light source in the background is always a good move, and it gave us the perfect excuse to do soft cross-backlight on the two characters. The room’s wood panelling and sconces looked great on camera too.

The unit then moved to Emmaus, a large charity shop north of the city, where we filmed a Wall of Pants and some tightly choreographed Sandwich Action. Here we broke out the Astera tubes for the fist time, using them as a toppy, fluorescent-style key-light and backlight.

By now we were getting into the visual rhythm of the film, embracing wide angles (our 18-35mm zoom gets heavy use), central framing (or sometimes short-siding), Wes Anderson-type pans/tilts, and a 14mm lens and/or handheld moves for crazier moments.

 

Day 3

We were based at Paul’s house for day 3, beginning in the street outside for a brief scene in his car. Shooting from the back, we mounted an Aladdin in the passenger seat to key Paul, and blacked out some of the rear windows to create negative fill, much like I did for the driving scenes in Above the Clouds.

The rest of the day was spent in and around Paul’s shed. Or, to be more specific, the middle one of his three sheds. This is Harvey’s “Happy Place” so I stepped up from the Soft FX 0.5 filter I’d been shooting with so far to the Soft FX 1, to diffuse the image a little more. We also used haze for the only time on the film.

Some shots through the shed window gave us the usual reflection challenges. Stephen rigged a 12×12 black solid to help with this, and we draped some bolton over the camera. Inside the shed we used an Aladdin to bring up the level, and once we stopped shooting through the window we fired a tungsten 2K in through there instead. This was gelled with just half CTB so that it would still be warm compared with the daylight, and Stephen swapped the solid for a silk to keep the natural light consistent and eliminate the real direct sun.

I made my first use of the Red Gemini’s low light mode today, switching to ISO 3200 to maintain the depth of field when filming in slow motion. (I have been shooting at T4-5.6 because a sharper, busier background feels more stressful for Harvey.)

 

Day 4

Back to the primary school. We spent the morning outside shooting flashbacks with some talented child actors from the Pauline Quirke Academy. We got some nice slider shots and comedy pans while dealing with the ever-changing cloud cover.

Inside in the afternoon we picked up a dropped scene from day 1, then moved on to one of the film’s biggest challenges: a six-minute dialogue scene travelling through a corridor and around a classroom, to be filmed in a single continuous Steadicam shot. This could easily have been a nightmare, but a number of factors worked in our favour. Firstly, we had rehearsed the scene on location with actors and a phone camera during pre-production. Secondly, we had the brilliant Rupert Peddle operating the Steadicam. Thirdly, it would have been so difficult to keep a boom and its shadows out of shot that mixer Filipe Pinheiro and his team didn’t even try, instead relying on lavaliers and a mic mounted on the camera.

For similar reasons, we didn’t do much lighting either; there were almost no areas of the rooms and their ceilings that didn’t come into shot at some point. In two places Stephen rigged blackout for negative fill. I then chose which of the existing ceiling lights to turn off and which to keep on, to get as much shape into the image as possible. We tried to rig a grid onto one of the ceiling lights to take it off a wall that was getting too hot, but after one take we realised that this was in frame, so instead we stuck a square of ND gel to it. We also rigged two Astera tubes in the corridor, but discovered that one of those came into frame too, so in the end a single Astera tube was the only additive lighting. The existing ceiling lights worked particularly well for a slow push-in to Alice near the end of the shot, providing her with both key and backlight from perfect angles.

 

Day 5

Today we shot a big scene based around a school play. Production designer Amanda Stekly had created a suitably cheesy, sparkly backdrop, and more PQA students dressed up in weird and wonderful costumes to enact snatches of a very random production called Spamlet (making it the second time this year I’ve shot “to be or not to be”, though this time was… er… a little different).

The school had a basic lighting rig already. We refocused and re-gelled some of the lights, keeping it very simple and frontal. Behind the set I put one of my old 800W Arri Lites as a backlight for the kids on stage. To one side, where Alice was standing, we used two Astera tubes, one to key her and one to backlight her. These were both set to a cool, slightly minty colour. My idea of using green for calming characters and moments hasn’t come to fruition quite as I’d planned, because it hasn’t fitted the locations and other design elements, but there’s a little hint of it here.

For the audience, Stephen rigged an Aputure 300D to the ceiling as a backlight, then we bounced the stage lighting back onto them using a silver board. We also used the school’s follow spot, which gave us some nice flares for the stressful moments later in the scene. It was daytime both in reality and in the story, but we closed the (thin) curtains and reduced the ambience outside with floppy flags so that the artificial lighting would have more effect.

We had to move at breakneck speed in the afternoon to get everything in the can before wrap time, but we managed it, finishing our first week on schedule. No mean feat.

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 1