“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: June 2022 Pick-ups

Last summer I lensed Harvey Greenfield is Running Late, a hilarious comedy feature starring Paul Richards, based on his acclaimed one-man play, soon to have its 100th performance. We had a 14-day window in Paul’s schedule for the shoot, during which we captured two thirds of the film – less than we’d hoped, but still a remarkable achievement given the resources we had and the production value we achieved. This summer we shoot the rest.


Day 15

Ten months on, we returned to the house from days 11 and 12. It’s on the verge of being sold, and this was our last chance to mop up the outstanding material here.

We eased into it gradually with simple inserts, recreating the look and lighting in the kitchen using Fifi’s camera notes, clips from the assembly edit, and this blog (yes, it’s not just for you, dear reader). At times like this I wish I recorded even more information – intensity and colour temperature readings for every source would be extremely useful, but is that really practical?

After traumatising Paul with a reshoot of a scene in which he gets slapped (accidentally for real the first time around) we popped outside to get a shot of him on the street, filmed through a car windscreen. Last year we captured the first monologue of the film as a oner, but with hindsight director Jonnie Howard decided it needed breaking up; this windscreen shot is one of several that he has added to illustrate the things Harvey monologues about. Proving that there are no easy shots, it took me an embarrassingly long time to eliminate annoying reflections in the glass by covering shiny parts of the dashboard with matt black tape and putting a polarising filter in the matte box.

Next we moved to the back garden for one of the film’s most complicated shots. It starts off as a two-shot of Harvey and Alice (Liz Barker) in a nighttime interior setting then – via a low-tech, Michel Gondry-style transition – becomes a single of Harvey in a daytime exterior. Gaffer Stephen Allwright and spark Jeremy Dawson built a dark box out of flags and bolton, parts of which had to swing away to let in the natural light during the transition. A light had to be panned off and a reflector swung in too, while production designer Amanda Stekly and her helpers performed their own magic with the set. By the time we got it in the can we were losing the light, but the result was well worth it.

The dusk gave us just the look we needed for a quick scene in the bedroom, then we were into full nighttime scenes. I climbed into the wardrobe to get the right camera angle – we were without our beloved 14mm lens this time around, so the locations felt a little tighter!

Later we had to recreate the lighting of the aforementioned oner, so we could shoot coverage, again with extensive reference to the camera notes, rushes and R3D metadata, this blog, and on-set photos captured on my phone. Last year we dialled a custom cyan colour into the Astera tubes and I really wish I had noted the XY or HSL numbers so that we could have dialled those into the Rayzr MC 200 that was replacing them for the pick-ups. Instead we had to judge it by eye.

It was now about midnight and we still had an important sequence in the kitchen and living room to shoot; we ultimately captured it in two set-ups and an insert. This day’s filming had seen the most extreme examples of the colour scheme I planned last year: orangey-red colours to represent Harvey’s stress, and cooler, greenish shades for calmer moments. By the end of the night it was starting to look like The Neon Demon and I was wondering if I had gone too far. I guess I will find out when it’s all cut together.


Day 16

A pleasant cycle ride through Cambridge and out across a meadow brought me to the brand-new village of Eddington and the impressive Storey’s Field Centre where we would be filming the office of Harvey’s boss, Bryan (Alan Hay). First up was a fantastic shot of Harvey huffing and puffing up a spiral staircase in the centre’s main hall. The high-tech building had its lights and two layers of blinds controlled electronically, and Stephen was able to completely reshape the natural light in the huge wide shot and even put a glorious streak of light on the staircase just by pressing a few buttons. If only every location was equipped so.

A smaller, but still obscenely spacious, hall served as Bryan’s office. French windows faced east into a beautiful courtyard garden. High windows on the opposite side of the room featured motorised blinds again, which sadly would not stop halfway, forcing us to close them completely to control the light. An overhang above the French windows, combined with the high walls of the courtyard, meant that very little natural light now entered the room. For a key, Stephen constructed a book-light by pointing an Aputure 600D up into a tilted frame of Ultrabounce and then hanging some diffusion (half grid, I think) off the top edge. We added a tungsten fresnel on a boom to give some orange, stress-themed hair-light to characters in the middle of the room.

The first shot was effectively the POV of a dartboard, so we stuck three darts to the matte box with Blu Tack. Sharp points and oily substances – exactly the things you want right next to your lens! – but it looked great.

The next couple of shots featured co-writer Raymond Howard’s baby daughter. One was a contra-zoom, captured on the 18-35mm which I zoomed manually off the barrel while pushing in on the Tango ProSup slider. The other required me to brandish the handheld camera right in baby’s face for a very long time until she eventually cried.

Then it was onto the big scene. This featured Bryan referring to a PowerPoint presentation, which meant a lighting transition as the screen came down and the projector fired up. For Harvey’s angle, with his back to the projector, we boomed an Aputure 300D behind him to simulate the projection beam, and sat a pocket LED light on the matte box to represent the bounce off the screen; these faded up as the 600D book-light and tungsten hair-light dimmed down. For Bryan’s angle the real projection light wasn’t doing enough on his face, so we “extended” the practical lamp on his desk with a small tungsten fresnel. For the wide shot we could get away with re-angling the practical so that it cast a dramatic, Citizen Kane-esque shadow from Bryan up onto the screen.

All in all, the day’s work added a huge amount of scale and humour to the movie. It was lovely to see and work with everyone again for the weekend. Next month most of us will be back for eight more days of running late.

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: June 2022 Pick-ups

If Camera was Sound and Sound was Camera

“Sound has the set,” calls the 1st AD, fishing a roll-up from her pocket and heading for the fire exit.

The production sound mixer strides into the middle of the set and strokes his Hipster beard thoughtfully.

“What are you thinking, boss?” asks the gaffer, scratching at the beer belly under his Yamaha t-shirt.

The mixer points to the skylight. “Let’s have some early morning ambience coming through here – the one with the distant traffic.” With a sweeping gesture he encompasses one side of the kitchen set. “I want it to explode off the floor and reverberate throughout this whole area.”

“Hundred watt woofer?” the gaffer suggests. The mixer nods, and a spark scuttles off to the truck for the required speaker.

“Is that practical?” the mixer wonders aloud. The gaffer follows his gaze to the kettle, nods, and flicks the switch. The mixer pulls a sound meter from the pocket of his leather jacket and holds it up to the boiling appliance. “6dB under.”

“We could hide a little tweeter behind it, bring the level up a bit,” the gaffer suggests. “I’ve got half a dozen different kettle effects on the truck.”

The mixer agrees, and proceeds to point out several other positions around the set, which is soon full of busy sparks running XLR cables, rigging speakers and shaping them with sound blankets. A cacophony grows as each one is fired up.

“Does this look about right?” asks the 1st AS, steadying the Sennheiser as the grips wheel its massive Technoboom to the previously agreed spot. She holds a pair of headphones out to the mixer.

He puts them on, and a reverent hush descends upon the set. He pans the mic left, then right, then up, then down, then left and right again. Finally he takes off the cans, clutching at his SQN baseball cap to stop it coming off too. “We need to go tighter,” he pronounces. He holds up his two hands, forming a circular aperture with his fingers, and cups them around his ear. His face a picture of concentration, he squats down and listens intently through the hole in his hands. He shuffles a little to the left. “This is it. We need to be right here on the 67.”

“Copy that,” the 1st AS replies. Her 2nd drags over a massive flight case and she begins unscrewing the ME66 from the power module.


“OK everyone, standby for a mic rehearsal.”

At last the camera operator – who had been somehow hiding in plain sight – puts down his coffee and heaves an Alexa onto his shoulder, checking the image as the cast go through the motions.

The director presses her headphones against her ears, frowning. She turns to the mixer. “I’m not getting enough sense of where they are,” she says. “Can we go wider?”

A few moments later the 1st AS is sighing as she unscrews the ME67 and remounts the ME66.

“It’s really quiet,” a producer complains, from his canvas chair in front of the amp at sound city. “Can we turn it up a bit?”

“We’ve got to have the mood,” the mixer insists. “What you can’t hear is more exciting than what you can.”

“I’m paying to hear it!” snaps the producer. “And why is there so much hiss? I can barely hear the dialogue over it.”

“It’s atmosphere!” the mixer protests, but he can see he’s not going to win this one. Reluctantly he signals a spark to turn down the white noise generator.


“Cut!” calls the director, smiling in satisfaction at the cast. She turns to the mixer. “How was that for you?”

“That sounded beautiful,” he replies ecstatically.

“OK, moving on,” says the AD, reaching for the clip-list.

“Hang on a minute.”

All eyes turn to the camera op.

“The caterer walked through the back of shot.”

“Did he?” asks the AD, looking around the crew for confirmation.

“I didn’t pick him up,” says the mixer.

The camera op stares at them in disbelief. “He sauntered right across the back of the set. He was there the whole take. It’s completely unusable.”

The AD sighs. “I guess we’d better go again.”

“Can we ask people not to walk through the frame? This lens will pick up literally anyone that walks in front of it.”

The director thinks about this. “Have you got a different lens you can use?”

“Can’t you put Go Pros on them?” asks the AD, gesturing to the cast.

“I’d rather not use Go Pros,” a new voice chimes in. Everyone turns with surprise to see the director of photography blinking in the light. She almost never moves from the shadowy corner where she sits with LiveGrade and a monitor which is rumoured to display mostly rugby matches.

“We can’t afford to lose any more takes because of camera,” says the AD. “What’s wrong with Go Pros anyway?”

“The image just isn’t as good. The dynamic range…”

But the AD cuts her short. “Well, it’s either that or AVR.”

“I just think if we took thirty seconds to find a new position for the Alexa…”

As the producer strides over to stick his oar in, the sound assistants exchange knowing looks: this could go on for a while. The pair lean on the Magliner and check their phones.

“Have you ever worked with a Nagra?” the 2nd AS asks, conversationally. “I still think they sound better than digital.”

If Camera was Sound and Sound was Camera

24 Things I Learnt from CineFest

img_1220Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Bristol International Festival of Cinematography: five days of masterclasses and panel discussions with a range of DPs from Oscar-winners like Chris Menges, ASC, BSC and Billy Williams, BSC, OBE to emerging cinematographers like Rina Yang. It was fascinating to watch the likes of Williams lighting the purpose-built set and explaining his decisions as he went. I learnt a huge amount, so I decided to share some of the opinions and nuggets of wisdom I collected.

  • Everyone agrees that the role of the DP is being diminished. Films are more collaborative than they used to be, often with lots of input from the VFX team right from the start.

Getting Work

  • You have to create your own luck. (Rina Yang)
  • Going to LA parties and schmoozing helps. (Roberto Schaefer, AIC, ASC)
  • Each clip on your showreel should make the viewer feel something. (Matt Gray, BSC)


  • Director Philippa Lowthorpe and Gray, her DP, spent weeks of prep getting on the same page when they worked together – chatting, exchanging photos, films, and so on.
  • Spend as much time as you can with the director in the early stages of prep, because as you get closer to the shoot they will be too busy with other stuff. (Schaefer)
  • Start with ten ideas about how you want to approach the cinematography of the film. If you hang onto five of them throughout the shoot you’re doing well. (Gray)
  • Hire a gaffer who knows more than you do. (Schaefer)


  • On Gandhi, co-cinematographer Billy Williams, BSC, OBE was granted only half of the lighting kit he asked for. That was a $22 million movie which won eight Oscars!
  • Schaefer usually carries a 24’x30′ mirror in his kit, in case he needs to get an angle from somewhere where the camera won’t fit.
  • Schaefer doesn’t used OLED monitors to light from, because the blacks are richer than they will ever be seen by an audience on any other device, including in a cinema. He won’t judge the lighting by the EVF either, only a monitor calibrated by the DIT.
  • Focus drop-off is faster on digital than on film. Hence the current popularity of Cooke lenses, which soften the drop-off.
  • Nic Knowland, BSC uses a DSLR as a viewfinder to pick his shots. He also likes to record takes on his Convergent monitor so he can review them quickly for lighting issues.

On Set

  • You have to give the actors freedom, which may mean compromising the cinematography. (Nigel Waters, BSC)
  • Gray would never ask an actor to the find the light. The light needs to find them! As soon as actors are freed from marks, they can truly inhabit the space. [Note: in my experience, some actors absolutely insist on marks. Different strokes for different folks.]
  • On digital, everyone wants to shoot the rehearsal. (Schaefer)
  • Digital encourages more takes, but more takes use up time, drains actors’ energy and creates more work for the editor. Doing fewer takes encourages people to bring their A game to take one. (Williams)
  • Director Philippa Lowthorpe prefers a DP who operates because there is no filter between the ideas you’ve discussed in prep and the operation of the camera.


  • Sometimes when you start lighting a set, you don’t where you’re going with it. You build a look, stroke by stroke, and see where it takes you. (Knowland)
  • Williams advocates maintaining the same stop throughout a scene, because your eye gets used to judging that exposure.
  • Knowland relies more on false colours on his monitor than on his light meter.
  • Schaefer often foregoes his traditional light and colour meters for an iPad app called Cine Meter III.
  • Knowland will go to 359º on the shutter if he’s struggling for light.
  • It’s worth checking the grade on a cheap monitor or TV. That’s how most people will watch it. (Schaefer)
24 Things I Learnt from CineFest

“Above the Clouds”: Week 2

Day 7 / Monday

One of our biggest days, shooting several key scenes from the first act of the movie. We’re in the Turner Contemporary in Margate, and getting this location is a big coup for the production. On the flip side, the amount of material we have to get through in our nine hour day is only achievable if lighting is kept to an absolute minimum. I know from the photos that Leon has shown me that there is plenty of natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows and bright white walls. I also know that with eight scenes on the day’s schedule, there isn’t time to rig the kind of extensive negative fill we used at the roadside cafe last week.

We start in the Turner’s cafe, where angles towards the windows look great with the beach and seafront in the background and the daylight wrapping softly from behind and one side. In the opposite direction the light is extremely flat, but there is no time to do anything but hand-bash a little negative fill, grin and bear it.

Upstairs in the gallery, the sea-view windows are so big and there is so much bounce off the walls that there is only about a single stop’s difference between looking towards the window and looking away from it. Nonetheless, we bring in poly and Celotex for the seaward shots to add a little shape and put nice reflections in the talent’s eyes.

Responding to the formality of the gallery setting, there is an unspoken agreement between Leon and I to shoot on sticks and compose centrally or symmetrically. I end the day feeling that we have captured some of the film’s most iconic images.



imageDay 8 / Tuesday

Back in Margate for seafront exteriors. The weather is lovely to start with, but gradually goes down hill as the day progresses. For the first scene we have light cloud, and we use the 8×8 full grid cloth as a bounce to fill in the shadows. For close-ups we add silver from Celotex or a Lasolite to give the talent extra radiance and a glint in their eyes. (See my post on Health Bounce for more on this.)

The influence of yesterday’s gallery scenes is still being felt on the compositions. In wide shots I try to use the horizon to divide the frame into two halves, like the diptych the characters were looking at in the Turner: one above the clouds (or more accurately OF the clouds), and one below. I use a graduated ND filter on most of the day’s wide shots. Even though the Alexa’s dynamic range means that grads are rarely necessary to retain the detail in skies, and they can be added in post, I prefer to get the look in camera, especially on a micro-budget project where time in the grading suite may be very precious.

The day ends with a dusk shot of Oz shuffling along the seafront, which we shoot in the window between the streetlights coming on and the daylight dropping off completely. I set the white balance to 3200K to emphasise the evening look. The colour and positions of the streetlights aren’t great, but there is a lot of production value in the backdrop of Margate, bathed in cool ambience and sprinkled with points of light.


imageDay 9 / Wednesday

Our first scene is on a layby overlooking an estuary. Again the weather starts off nice but deteriorates as the day goes on. By the time we get back to Leon’s for the next scene, the rain is getting noticeable enough that continuity with adjacent scenes is an issue. We decide to wrap for the day.

The camera team uses the time to re-build the Alexa Mini as small as possible and test different lenses inside the picture car for upcoming driving scenes. Our main angles will be from the back seat, looking diagonally forwards for three-quarter singles and straight ahead for a central shot over both driver and passenger’s shoulders to the windscreen. We find that the 24 and 32 work well for the former, and the 20 for the latter. We have a 14, because I knew space would be tight in the car, but it just looks like a Top Gear Go Pro shot.


imageDay 10 / Thursday

We’re in another tiny set in Leon’s living room. Production designer Zoë Seiffert has dressed it as a beautiful/hideous den of clashing patterns and colours, and practical lamps. First up is a day scene, newly added to the script, so as with the Travel Inn I fire in the 2.5K HMI, this time with the curtains open. That might seem like a ridiculous amount of light for a room only about 10ft square, but only a powerful source like that creates all the bounce and ambience that sun would. I make sure the direct beam only really hits the floor. For some shots I put a white sheet over the carpet to maximise the bounce off the floor.

For the night scenes Colin puts all the practicals on dimmers and I place one of Leon’s ETC Profiles outside the window with Urban Sodium gel. Although the curtains will be closed, they are thin enough to be backlit by this ‘streetlight’. The bulb is even visible through the curtains sometimes, but it totally passes as a streetlight. That’s the only source of light when the characters first enter in silhouette, before turning up the practicals.

imageTo beef up the practicals, we rig a couple of Dedos to the top of the set and direct one through sheets of Opal hung from the ceiling, as a key, and use the other as backlight with half CTO on it. We tweak them around shot by shot to follow the blocking. For a scene with more character conflict, I lose the backlight and go hard with the key.

Later we move to another location – conveniently the cottage neighbouring the one where most of us are staying – for a little doorstep night scene. Again I rake the 2.5K along the front of the building, through the full silent grid cloth. In the singles we beef up the existing exterior sconce with three tungsten globes wrapped in Opal. I would rather have used an 800 bounced off poly, for a softer texture, but our package is pretty lacking in tungsten units.

After wrapping we throw a surprise birthday party for Zoë. Colin lights the party with a remote-controlled colour-changing LED fixture and smoke.


imageDay 11 / Friday

We have two hours in a charity shop to set up (including blacking out windows), shoot two scenes, and tear down. Leon decides to shoot them both using only torchlight, and choreographs the cast to light each other throughout the scenes. We hide silver Lasolites and other bounces around the set to reflect the torchlight when it doesn’t make sense for the actors to point their torches where they’re needed. We smoke up the shop heavily to show up the beams.

To anchor the shots, so the pools of torchlight aren’t floating around in a black nothingness, I set two lamps in the background. One, a Divalite gelled with Urban Sodium, spills out of a changing room, and the other, a 1×1 LED panel gelled heavily blue to suggest a computer screen, glows out from behind the counter. As well as adding colour, and colour contrast, to the scene, the pools of light from these two lamps serve to silhouette the characters so you get a sense of where they are when the torch beams aren’t on them.


We move to a forest car park for the film’s only major night exterior. With our HMI package consisting of only a 2.5K and 1.2K, and no tungsten bigger than a Dedo, this was always going to be challenging. We place the 2.5K in the deep background, purely to light up the smoke and foliage behind the action. The action itself is lit by the 1.2K and two 1×1 LED panels, plus smaller panels taped to the dashboards of the vehicles in the scene.

To get it all done with the time and resources we have, a compromise must be made somewhere with the lighting. I decide that this compromise will be motivation of sources. Other than dashboard lights, there should really only be one source in this scene: the moon. If I had time, I would move the biggest source around to backlight every shot and then bounce it back as sidelight. Instead we leave the HMIs mostly where they are, and fly the 1×1 panels around to backlight or sidelight as needed. It makes no sense whatsoever, but it looks good.

“Above the Clouds”: Week 2

9 Tips for Easier Sound Syncing

Colin Smith slates a shot on Stop/Eject
Colin Smith slates a shot on Stop/Eject. Photo: Paul Bednall

While syncing sound in an edit recently I came across a number of little mistakes that cost me time, so I decided to put together some on-set and off-set tips for smooth sound syncing.

On set: tips for the 2nd AC

  1. Get the slate and take number on the slate right. This means a dedicated 2nd AC (this American term seems to have supplanted the more traditional British clapper-loader), not just any old crew member grabbing the slate at the last minute.
  2. Get the date on the slate right. This can be very helpful for starting to match up sound and picture in a large project if other methods fail.
  3. Hold the slate so that your fingers are not covering any of the info on it.
  4. Make MOS (mute) shots very clear by holding the sticks with your fingers through them.
  5. Make sure the rest of the cast and crew appreciate the importance of being quiet while the slate and take number are read out. It’s a real pain for the editing department if the numbers can’t be heard over chit-chat and last-minute notes from the director.
  6. Speak clearly and differentiate any numbers that could be misheard, e.g. “slate one three” and “slate three zero” instead of the similar-sounding “slate thirteen” and “slate thirty”.
Rick Goldsmith slates a steadicam shot on Stop/Eject. Photo: Paul Bednall
Rick Goldsmith slates a steadicam shot on Stop/Eject. Photo: Paul Bednall

For more on best slating practice, see my Slating 101 blog post.

Off set: tips for the DIT and assistant editor

  1. I recommend renaming both sound and video files to contain the slate and take number, but be sure to do this immediately after ingesting the material and on all copies of it. There is nothing worse than having copies of the same file with different names floating around.
  2. This should be obvious, but please, please, please sync your sound BEFORE starting to edit or I will hunt you down and kill you. No excuses.
  3. An esoteric one for any dinosaurs like me still using Final Cut 7: make sure you’ve set your project’s frame rate correctly (in Easy Setup) before importing your audio rushes. Otherwise FCP will assign them timecodes based on the wrong rate, leading to errors and sound falling out of sync if you ever need to relink your project’s media.

Follow these guidelines and dual system sound will be painless – well, as painless as it can ever be!

9 Tips for Easier Sound Syncing

A Day in the Life of a DP

What does a cinematographer’s working day look like? Here’s a snapshot of last Wednesday, the fifth shooting day of six on a short film in south London. It’s a split day, with one daylight and one night scene scheduled, so the call time is 2pm.

IMG_24941:48pm As the cast and crew begin to arrive (I’m being accommodated at the location, conveniently) I check my notes for the upcoming scene. These were written during my second reading of the script, a few weeks previously, and include my thoughts and ideas on camerawork and lighting.

IMG_24961:54pm I sit down with James the director and Mari the 1st AD to decide what order the day’s set-ups will be shot in. Generally shots are grouped by the rough direction the camera is pointing in, to minimise lighting resets.

IMG_24972:13pm Mari assembles the crew to watch a block through of the scene, so everyone knows what they’re doing. Using Artemis, the virtual viewfinder app, James and I select the lens and camera positions for the first set-up. It’s a Steadicam shot, so my 1st AC and Steadicam operator Rupert is in on this conversation.

IMG_24982:24pm The cast go into make-up and it’s time for my department to swing into action.

IMG_24992:26pm On the recce the previous week I had broadly decided how to light this scene. I confirm the details with Ben, my gaffer, and he and the spark begin setting up the key light outside, a 2.5K HMI, and a kinoflo for fill.  IMG_25012:31pm I go and set up an Arrilite to shine down the stairs.

IMG_25022:31pm The ACs rig the Steadicam and put on my chosen lens.

IMG_25032:32pm Meanwhile, DIT and standby 1st AC Max sets up the director’s monitor and focus monitor, which are connected wirelessly to the camera with a Teradek Bolt system.

IMG_25063:09pm Rupert rehearses the Steadicam move using a crew member as a stand-in.

IMG_25073:13pm 2nd AC Nat marks positions to aid Max in pulling focus.

IMG_25083:47pm With camera and lighting set, we get a break waiting for a tricky ageing make-up to be finished. We are completely professional during this hiatus.

IMG_25104:31pm We frame up the actor, Sibusiso, in position to check how the make-up looks under the right lighting.

IMG_25114:38pm Dimple, the spark, sits in while Sibusiso returns to make-up for tweaks, and I tweak my lighting.

IMG_25264:41pm I decide that the morning sunlight look I’m going for is too subtle, so I have Ben replace the HMI’s half CTO gel with full CTO.

IMG_25124:44pm Rupert and James finesse the camera move. When the make-up artist, Carly, is happy, we start shooting.

IMG_25134:44pm I sit back and watch the monitor, giving a note or two to Rupert after the first take.

IMG_25144:57pm With the Steadicam shot in the can, we select a lens and position for the next shot, a wide.

IMG_25164:59pm Activity on set pauses while James catches a spider that is freaking out some of the crew.

IMG_25185:04pm I squeeze myself in behind the camera, which is set up on sticks on the stairs, ready to shoot the wide. James gives some final direction to Lasharne, the actress, before we shoot the first take.

IMG_25195:05pm Nat prepares the clapperboard for the next take.

IMG_25205:12pm The camera team set up the slider for the third set-up.


IMG_25215:32pm Carly does final checks on Lasharne’s make-up.

IMG_25225:32pm For this set-up I’m using a polyboard under the camera in an effort to raise the room’s ambient light level closer to the burnt-out view through the window.

IMG_25236:25pm Mari and James adjust an armchair to better suit the next set-up, another slider shot.

IMG_25247:12pm Cunningly disguised as a lens, my cup of tea sits in easy reach beside the tripod.

IMG_25257:12pm We do a camera rehearsal to see if the set-up can accommodate Lasharne standing up, and it can. Max will move the slider while I control pan and tilt, and Rupert pulls focus remotely.

IMG_25278:13pm As the daylight starts to fade, we complete the scene and break for ‘lunch’. The food is quickly devoured.

IMG_25288:14pm We assemble on set again to watch a block through of the nighttime scene.

IMG_25298:21pm Ben discusses a car headlight effect which James wants for the scene.

IMG_25308:24pm We clear the set to allow Jorge, the art director, to dress it. I check my notes for the scene.

IMG_25318:29pm Once Jorge has done his thing, James and I pick a lens and position for the first set-up. By this point most of the lighting has been done, except this…

IMG_25338:50pm Ben and Dimple construct a car headlight rig using two 300W tungsten fresnels mounted on a camera a dolly.

IMG_25349:10pm The 300s prove too dim and the dolly too flimsy, so instead a Source 4 is rigged to Rupert’s Magliner.

IMG_253510:29pm The night scene is deliberately designed to echo the day scene, so I’m soon back on the stairs for a wide shot.

IMG_253612:46am We carry on with the scene, getting some very cool shots in the can, before wrapping a little after midnight. The kit is packed away in the living room, ready to load into the van tomorrow. Cider and sleep beckon.

A Day in the Life of a DP

Cow Trek: Director’s Log

Back in 2000 I directed and co-produced a surreal Star Trek spoof written for me by my old schoolfriend Matt Hodges. Although it was made a few months before I started blogging, the website did feature a retrospective production diary, and today I’m going to share that with you. But first, here’s the film…

Who is that handsome young fellow?
Who is that handsome young fellow?

To find out how the project came about, in a strange little Malvern pub called The Prince of Wales, read the production notes on Cow Trek’s film page. And here’s the shoot diary…

Sunday, December 17, 2000

There are two Hereford-Worcester roads. Each one has a pub named The Wheatsheaf on it. These are facts. I know them. I did not know them before this day. And that’s what made us an hour and a half late as we roamed the Bromyard Downs in my mum’s little Peugot, with an unfeasible amount of equipment (and lard) in the back, at a unfeasibly early time on an unfeasibly cold Sunday morning, trying to find an unfeasibly unfindable farm.

All of this time, Matt was sat in a very uncomfortable position in the rear right seat, or what would have been the rear right seat, had it not been folded down to fit more gear in, effectively encasing the unfortunate Mr. Hodges in a metal box constructed from grip equipment and plastic poles. And a piratical wheel. Sometimes, I suspect Matt may regret writing Cow Trek.

Mike Hodges as Farmer Blackbeard
Mike Hodges as Farmer Blackbeard

Still, we got there in the end, and eventually filmed our first shot, with Mike (Farmer Blackbeard) having quickly learnt the intricacies of tractor operation. It was then that Julia Evans, head honcho of Longlands Farm, asked us exactly what we needed to film. When I mentioned a cow in a field, she was very surprised. She had no idea. The cows were in barns. Fields would be tricky. Very tricky.

Closing my mind to the fevered panic which threatened to engulf my very soul (and a fair bit of my hair as well), I pressed on with the two farmyard scenes featuring the main dialogue twixt brothers Hodges. Once Matt had donned a flat cap, he looked more like a farmer than you could possibly imagine. Big sideburns are surprisingly agricultural. (Perhaps Matt’s next script should be about a ska band that are also farmers.)

It didn’t take long for me to start getting paranoid and shooting far too many takes and angles of everything, but we weren’t on a particularly tight schedule so it didn’t really matter. The first yard scene had that tacky low budget look with the two actors looking at a cow “that’s there, honest, but it’s just out of frame so you can’t see it”. Oh well.

Writer Matt Hodges in his role as Farmer Giles
Writer Matt Hodges in his role as Farmer Giles

As the sun went down, we repaired to the farm’s study, where we promptly set up a whole bunch of lights in an attempt to make it look like day. Muchos comedy ensued as Mike improvised a sequence in which he swapped his hook hand for a biro appendage to sign his cheque, and then impaled it on the aforementioned appendage to hold it out to Farmer Giles.

Monday, December 18, 2000

Having discovered, to my horror, that sound man David Abbott’s car had broken down, I was forced to get my mum to take us to the farm today.

Arriving at the delightful time of 8:00am, we were kindly provided with a cup of tea by Julia, who then dutifully got two cows from the barn and put them in the paddock near the farmhouse. Sipping our tea gratefully, we watched Julia and her husband chasing one of the cows around, trying to get it into the field. We opted to make the other cow our star.

As Matt had been saying for some time, the cow’s action consisted primarily of eating grass and walking along. This would not take all day, he insisted. Always the professional (read: know-it-all), I was more conservative. However, that cheeky bugger Matt turned out to completely right. Julia helped us out with the walking bits, shooing the cow up and down the lane. We were completely unable to get the beast to stand still next to Matt (a cutaway for the yard scene), but you can’t have everything.

The starring cow
The starring cow

I was loath to broach the subject of bovine sexual congress with Julia, as she had been so helpful thusfar, despite having clearly not been briefed as fully as I had hoped on what we were going to need. An effect, I decided. It would be tricky, but what the hell?

And at about midday, we realised we’d finished. Buggery. Mum wasn’t picking us up till 6:00pm. We killed the afternoon filming extra cow shots, recording sound effects and sitting around in the farm house.

In the evening I went up to Chris Jenkins’ abode, for ’twas he that was providing a basement as a studio for the spaceship interiors. We had spent all of Saturday working on the set, but had progressed considerably less quickly, and considerably more expensively, than I had anticipated. Even the Hodges’ input on console construction had not brought us up to speed. But by the end of Monday night I was confident that we had done enough groundwork to allow Tuesday afternoon’s filming to start on time.

How wrong I was…

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Actor Si Dovey (in red shirt) and I (in gillette, I regret to say) move a set panel into place while David Abbott adjusts the jib. Actor and composer Chris Jenkins, whose mother owned this basement, is in the yellow shirt.
Actor Si Dovey (in red shirt) and I (in gillette, I regret to say) move a set panel into place while David Abbott adjusts the jib. Actor and composer Chris Jenkins, whose mother owned this basement, is in the yellow shirt.

I can’t for the life of me remember what took us so long on Tuesday morning. We had been scheduled to finish the set between 10am and 2pm, then film the Engineering Room scenes until 5:30. In the end, we didn’t shoot a thing until 4:00pm.

Late in the morning, I sent David out to get some gerbils. Directing him to the only pet shop I knew of in Malvern, with additional instructions to pick up some extra hardboard for the set, I was extremely pleased when he turned up an hour later with three hamsters. It was around this time that Chris’ sister Sarah became an inpromptu member of the crew, looking after the gerbils and making (occasionally) helpful comments as we affixed three plastic wheels to the fake walls and inserted rodents into them. Praise the Lord, the little blighters actually went round in them! Sadly we couldn’t get them all to go round at once, but I was happy enough.

Finally Jim got to do some “acting”. The script described Engineer McHaggis as “an overly Scottish man” who does “overly Scottish things”. Jim’s interpretation of the character, combined with the poor selection of Scottish items which were available to dress the set, is best described as “a barely Scottish man doing barely Scottish things”. Not only was he incapable of doing the accent, he also couldn’t deliver a long line, forcing me to cut the scene.

Oh Jim, why?

Lee Richardson (Captain Lightstar), Chris Jenkins (Ensign Lancer) and Si Dovery (Lieutenant Steeljaw) rehearse their lines.
Lee Richardson (Captain Lightstar), Chris Jenkins (Ensign Lancer) and Si Dovery (Lieutenant Steeljaw) rehearse their lines.

Wednesday, December 20, 2000

I don’t know at what point I realised that this day had about 50% of the film’s total running time scheduled to be shot on it, but I was brown-trousering when I did. However, I reasoned with myself, there were no animals today. Just lots of big dialogue scenes. But all in one location. Easy, right?

Two and a half hours after our scheduled start time, we had finally constructed the sliding door for the bridge set and were ready to shoot. Once we got going, we rocketed through it. Again, loads of takes were needed – this time because my shotlist called for complex tracks/cranes combined with multiple focus pulls, and I kept arsing them up.

I was annoyed when, about five scenes in, I had to rearrange my lovely lighting set-up in order to make way for an extra wall section. It never looked as good after that.

Lee managed to get his arse out. A deliberate out-take – the sliding door opens and there are the hairy cheeks of the Tuxman’s posterior.

Somehow we wrapped five minutes ahead of schedule, but there was then lots of clearing up to do. The mighty director was reduced to scrubbing the carpet, as it transpired that the dust sheets I had used whilst painting the set were of insufficient thickness, and the paint had seeped through to the carpet. I am told that those patches are now the only clean areas of the carpet.

Cow Trek: Director’s Log

Know Your Lights

Whilst prepping for The First Musketeer here in the south of France I was able to record this video blog showing the lighting kit we’ll be using and what it all does. If you don’t know your kinos from your dedos, or can’t can understand why a 2.5K HMI is SO much better than a 2K blonde, this vlog will shed some light [groan].

The first week of the adventure is drawing to a close, although we only started shooting two days ago, the rest of the week having been taken up by travel and prep.
After picking up the lighting kit from Panalux and Filmscape on Monday, we set off in a convoy of five vehicles first thing on Tuesday morning from High Wycombe. After a noon crossing from Dover to Dunkirk we drove all afternoon and most of Wednesday to get to Puy L’eveque, the medieval town in which we’re based.
The main task on Wednesday was to test the workflow of the Black Magic Cinema Camera kindly lent to us by gaffer Richard. This is my first time working with the BMCC and I’ll share my thoughts on it in a forthcoming vlog.
Shooting began on Thursday, coinciding with a storm which broke the sweltering hot spell and has seen pretty much continuous rain become the dominant weather since then. There were challenges with horses, generators and (as ever) time, but as of this writing we’re on schedule and everyone seems to be very happy with the footage acquired.
I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to reveal about the series and the details of what we’ve been shooting, so I’ll leave it there. Stay tuned for more video blogs.


Know Your Lights

Depth Cues in Cinematography

One of the most important jobs of a director of photography is to help the viewer’s brain decode the image. Just as a sound mixer must get the cleanest possible dialogue and ensure that ambience, music and effects don’t distract from it or drown it out, so a cinematographer must ensure the eye is drawn to the character and not distracted by the surroundings.

Depth is a key part of creating this clarity. Christopher Nolan once said: “95 percent of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution, color and so forth, so the idea of calling a 2-D movie a ’2-D movie’ is a little misleading.”

This week, on The Deaths of John Smith, I photographed a shot that used every trick in the book to create depth. Why? Because it was a one-shot scene, a flashback taken out of context, and the audience needed to “get it” quickly.

When I first set the camera up and we stood John (played by Roy Donoghue) in position, his dark suit melted into the dark wood panelling behind him, so there was clearly some work to do. Once lit, as you can see from these frame grabs, he stands out sharply.

Kirsty Minchella-Storer (Sarah) and Roy Donoghue (John) in The Deaths of John Smith, directed by Roger Harding, copyright 2013 Two Hats Films
frame2 frame3 Kirsty Minchella-Storer (Sarah) and Roy Donoghue (John) in The Deaths of John Smith, directed by Roger Harding, copyright 2013 Two Hats Films

Let’s look at the depth cues going on here.

  1. DEPTH OF FIELD. Although I’m shooting at f1.8, on a 20mm lens nothing is massively out of focus, so that isn’t helping much.
  2. SMOKE. There is more smoke between the camera and a distant object than between the camera and a close object, and therefore smoke aids depth perception.
  3. CONTRAST. The foreground is darker than the background, helping the eye to distinguish between the various layers. In particular, the smoke picks up the light from the windows at the back of the room, creating a blue-white haze against which John’s dark suit stands out clearly, as does Sarah’s silhouette.
  4. COLOUR CONTRAST. The foreground is lit with warm orange, while the background is a cool blue, again enhancing the separation between the layers. (Imagine you’re standing on a hill and looking at another hill in the distance. That distant hill looks much bluer than the one you’re standing on, due to atmospheric haze. The smoke and colour contrast mimic this effect.) For most of this film I kept all the light sources within about 1,500K of each other, but in this scene I deliberately allowed more like 3,000K of difference between warm and cool sources to give the flashback a more stylised look.
  5. BACKLIGHT. John has a little edge-light on his righthand side, ostensibly from the wall sconces, but in reality from a hidden Dedo. This helps to cut him out from the background.
  6. FRAMING. The doorway frames the image, adding an extra layer of depth.
  7. PARALLAX. This is the optical phenomenon whereby, when you move your head (or a camera) things closer to you appear to move more than things further away. By dollying slightly into the room behind Sarah we create a dramatic parallax effect as the doorway grows on camera much more than John and the room behind him.

I’ll leave you with my (retrospective) lighting plan for this scene. Be sure to check out the film’s official website at www.thedeathsofjohnsmith.com

Lighting plan
Lighting plan
Depth Cues in Cinematography