It is night. We Steadicam into a moonlit bedroom, drifting across a window – where a raven is visible on the outside ledge, tapping at the glass with its beak – and land on a sleeping couple. The woman, Annabel, wakes up and goes to the window, causing the bird to flee. Crossing over to her far shoulder, we rest on Annabel’s reflection for a moment, before racking focus to another woman outside, maybe 200ft away, running towards a cliff. All in one shot.
Such was the action required in a scene from Annabel Lee, the most ambitious short I’ve ever been involved with. Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, the film was the brainchild of actor Angel Parker, who plays the titular character. It was directed by Amy Coop, who had already to decided to shoot on an Alexa Mini with Cooke Anamorphics before I was even hired.
Working with animals has its own difficulties, but for me as director of photography the challenges of this particular shot were:
- Making the bedroom appear moonlit by the single window, without any lamps being visible at any point in the Steadicam move.
- Lighting the view outside.
- Ensuring the live raven read on camera even though the shot was quite wide.
- Making Annabel bright enough that her reflection would read, without washing out the rest of the scene.
- Blocking the camera in concert with Annabel’s move so that its reflection would not be seen.
I left that last one in the capable hands of Steadicam op Rupert Peddle, along with Angel and Amy. What they ended up doing was timing Angel’s move so that she would block the window from camera at the moment that the camera’s reflection would have appeared.
Meanwhile, I put my head together with gaffer Bertil Mulvad to tackle the other four challenges. We arrived at a set-up using only three lights:
- A LiteMat 1 above the window (indoors) which served to light Annabel and her reflection, as well as reaching to the bed.
- Another LED source outside the window to one side, lighting the raven.
- A nine-light Maxibrute on a cherry-picker, side-lighting the woman outside and the cliffs. This was gelled with CTB to match the daylight LEDs.
Unfortunately the outside LED panel backlit the window glass, which was old and kept fogging up, obscuring the raven. With hindsight that panel might have been better on the other side of the window (left rather than right, but still outside), even though it would have created some spill problems inside. (To be honest, this would have made the lighting direction more consistent with the Maxibrute “moonlight” as well. It’s so easy to see this stuff after the fact!)
Everything else worked very well, but editor Jim Page did have to cut in a close-up of the raven, without which you’d never have known it was there.