With Ben Wheatley‘s dark, mind-bending, black and white film, A FIELD IN ENGLAND, about to take cinemas/the internet/TV and DVD players by storm, we warmly welcome back the man behind the camera, cinematographer on all of Wheatley’s film, Laurie Rose.
Before we start, if you’ve not read it already, check out Laurie’s SIGHTSEERS interview.
Now, hup two! Read on!
MADE OF STONE
Before we start on ‘A Field in England’ let’s just take an extremely sneaky detour to Stone Roses doc ‘Made of Stone’. How was it? What differences did you find from shooting fiction? How was it working with Shane Meadows?
That job came via Warp Films who I’d worked with on KILL LIST. I hadn’t met Shane before but we got on really well – he’s very technical and totally knows what he wants to achieve and that only ever inspires me to do my best to make that happen. It was an massive undertaking but I absolutely loved it, a privilege to be part of. I wasn’t a Stone Roses fan beforehand but I am now!
Any war stories/mad events?
I was involved for a little over 6 weeks. Beginning with the one-on-one rehearsals in a farmhouse somewhere in Cheshire, to the free gig at Warrington Parr Hall then Barcelona, Amsterdam and finally the 3 days at Heaton Park, Manchester. We went from 4 cameras to 29 cameras including a helicopter all within 6 weeks, which was probably the biggest single production exercise I’ve had a major role in.
Here is a summarized kit list, Laurie has kindly provided, which is exclusively to Film Doctor!
Stone Roses at Heaton Park – Camera Department
11x Sony PMW-F3 PL (S-Log)
1x Sony f800 (Canon HJ14 B4 Lens)
1x RED Epic PL (3k/150fps)
1x Sony P1 on SMARThead (Canon HJ14 B4 Lens)
1x Sony FS100 (Sony 18-200 Lens)
1x Canon 5D Mkiii Timelapse
6x Canon 5D Mkii
1x Canon 550D
4x GoPro Hero2
1x Canon XF100
1x Sony f23 w/Cineflex V12 Nosemount (Fujinon 13x B4 Lens) (Twin Engine Helicopter)
13x Atomos Samurai (SSD – ProResHQ 4:2:2)
26x 128gB SSDs for Samurai
32x 32gB SxS Cards for PMW-F3’s
7x Angenieux/Cooke 25-250 PL
1x Angenieux Optimo 24-290 PL
1x Century 150-600 PL
1x Canon/Optex 150-600 PL
2x Angenieux Optimo 28-76 PL
1x Angenieux Optimo 45-120 PL
2x Zeiss Superspeeds (Full Sets)
1x RED 18-80 PL
3x Century PL 2x Extenders
10x O’Connor 2575 Head
8x Ronford Heavyweight Talls
2x Ronford Heavyweight Babies
4x Easyrig Cine
1x Spare PMW-F3 body
A FIELD IN ENGLAND
Thanks for that! So what can you tell us about ‘A Field in England’? What were the differences/problems/benefits you found?
SIGHTSEERS at that point was still heading for it’s theatrical release and we wanted to shoot a film inside 2012. A FIELD IN ENGLAND was a kind of ‘flash’ project of Ben’s – I think it’s true to say that it was conceived, written, financed and shot all within 4 months? We shot for 12 days, two 6-day weeks in Sept/Oct ‘12, all exterior day, no major lighting, all with a minimal crew in a field with a hedge.
Those limited parameters were set very early on, they were basically incorporated into the script and once you knew what the limits were it actually frees you up to concentrate on other things. We only had that timeframe to shoot it, so we couldn’t wait for the weather, so rain or shine we just shot through and there was a great liberty in that.
Ben and I had been experimenting with some cheap plastic lenses that happened to have an EF fit, so my cunning plan was to switch out the PL port on the Epic with an EF port so we could use those lenses on a 5K camera but also carry Zeiss Superspeeds in PL that we would then further adapt from PL back to EF! Sounds complicated but it would’ve meant that we could use either lens system, in theory with a simple adapter change. It was a FANTASTIC idea.
However, in practice, the Epic was rented and the rental house were not at all keen on us switching their port out. They couldn’t supply us with a RED EF port so we would’ve had to buy our own and it was all getting complicated and expensive so we decided to stick to PL only on the Epic. And so we needed another camera.
We still had these plastic EF lenses we wanted to use – I was desperate at ALL costs to NOT shoot with a 5DMkII – during testing on KILL LIST, we had projected 5D footage in a cinema and it looked amazing but it wouldn’t have cut with the Epic and there are of course, the inherent practical difficulties of shooting with that camera. That’s where the C300 came in. The many benefits of using the C300 were principally the form factor is far more practical, and the shutter is much improved over the 5D. Also the incredible ISO range, which I used rather like an iris due to the fixed aperture of the plastics.
We tested everything together and found the quality of the C300 incredibly filmic in combination with our poor quality lenses and the fact we were going to black and white.
We originated in full colour (5K RAW/1080 Log-C – 23.98fps) Ben monitored in black and white and all sync dailies were delivered ProRes with a desaturated, contrasty LUT and 2.35 mask applied.
It’s shot in black and white and is said to be quite psychedelic (soldier take magic mushrooms). What were the technical challenges you faced, either in production or post?
With regard to the black and white there weren’t any particular technical problems. We had discussed the idea of slowly bringing the colour back across the entire length of the film, or maybe picking certain colours out during the film, blood red a la SCHINDLER’S LIST, and so colour wasn’t totally discounted during the shoot. However during the edit, it became evident to Ben that the re-introduction of the colour just didn’t sit right and so it was scrapped. The point being that I didn’t shoot optically for black and white. I shot in colour, monitoring a lot in RAW. Where if I was confident of the full black and white outcome, I might have used filters to boost the optical effects of those colours within the black and white structure.
Whenever possible we tend to shoot in chronological order which helps everyone keep a handle on what’s going on but you do inevitably end up splitting across days and in one instance the weather was TOTALLY different – we’d started in failing light one evening, the following morning was blazing sunshine. So we found a big tree and had to finish the scene off in the shade. The grade was handled by Rob Pizzey of Company 3, who was, as ever, masterful in sorting all that out, the inevitabilities of what happen when you move very quickly. I’m always grateful to the RAW file for the ability to fix things in post.
Did you build those lenses from scratch? If so how did they work/benefit?
Ben had bought a set of plastic Holga lenses with a view to testing with his 5D. They’re stills lenses so I started by ripping out their fixed aperture to work for large format video! We shot a lot of tests (which are all on the DVD extras) with grass and sunlight and the lens behaved terribly – focus was basically fixed, flares were almost total across the lens, they were soft all over the place. They were AMAZING.
We had an idea to make our own lenses. I did some research and found that there’s a terribly good reason why some people devote their lives to making lenses. So instead I went to the pound shop and bought some kids binoculars and telescopes. I wanted a wide angle lens ideally, but it turns out that’s a particularly tough thing to make. I bought some Canon port caps, so I’d have a basic EF mount, drilled about a 6mm hole in one and then started to attach various bits of plastic lens to it and came up with what ended up being dubbed ‘The Mesmerizer’ – a single element macro lens with a focus point of about 4cm. Very sharp at 4cm but within or beyond it was very, very soft. It was used for all the ultra close-ups in the film. It was a lot of fun. I can totally recommend trying it for yourself.
Nick Gillespie, my 1st AC, did a fantastic job for me of the Second Unit footage that lend so much of the texture to the film, the insects and the macro mushrooms.
So in the end, I had a set of Zeiss 35mm PL Superspeeds (18,25,35,50,85, + 100 and 135 Planars) And 30mm & 60mm Holga lenses and ‘The Mesmerizer’ Macro in EF mount.
Another very conscious decision we made was to maximize our depth of field with the Epic, utilizing the incredible resolution but contrasting enormously with the lower resolution and ultra short depth of field of the plastics on the C300. Ordinarily where you might float around T4 for exteriors, my base stop was around T16, which I then didn’t adjust. On a 35mm lens I was getting deep focus from around 7ft to Infinity. The contrast is striking.
What are the specific challenges you face shooting on location? Particularly with exteriors? Any top tips/ways around issues?
British weather and noise. We shot in a field near Frensham, between Guildford and Farnham. On a farm that had been used previously by Ridley Scott for ROBIN HOOD, mainly because you could turn 360degs and not see anything particularly modern which is hard to come by these days.
However what we hadn’t quite counted on was the Chinook flight path out of Farnham. One day we had 15 fly-bys, that’s pretty tricky to justify in a story set in 1648 and there isn’t much you can do but wait. Similarly, you’d usually wait for the sun to be either in or out, or the rain to stop. But we just didn’t have the time so we shot through it. I was confident of the flexibility of the RAW image to help deal with disparities in highlights and deep shadow. And the black and white obviously had a huge impact on bringing all the images together. Again, I’d recommend trying it out, I’d happily do it again.
You and Ben were working with two comedy actor/writers (Julian Barratt and Reece Shearsmith) as you did on Sightseers (with Steve Oram and Alice Lowe). What kind of difference in dynamic does that give the process in comparison to working with just straight-up actors? Is there a difference? Pros/Cons?
Everyone took it very seriously, all the performances in A FIELD IN ENGLAND are genuinely astounding, a pleasure to film. I love working with comedians because they’re very fast at thinking on their feet, improvisation comes very naturally. Reece Shearsmith for instance, I think gave himself to this, didn’t at all appear to come at it as a writer or director. At that pace, you have to rely on each others instincts. Plus it makes the process funnier to go through!
How was working with Film 4.0?
Film4.0 were very supportive and knew what we were trying to achieve, knew that we COULD do it so they largely let us get on with it. We were the first film they funded.
It’s being released theatrically, on DVD, VOD and TV simultaneously. What is your take on that? Do you think this specific film (or films generally) are better enjoyed at the cinema?
The distribution strategy for A FIELD IN ENGLAND is an absolute first and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds, the good thing is it’s happening all at once so we’ll know pretty much straight away.
It could very much be a new model for films of this budget and scope because they’re cheap to make and so nobody is really making any serious loss with the all-at-once release. The exposure that the film is getting because the advertising is all being done at the same time, I think, is to everyone’s benefit. People watch films now in ways that are most convenient to them and that isn’t always on the format it was intended for. We were definitely shooting for a big screen with our lens choices and composition etc and I feel it’ll still be the best way to experience A FIELD IN ENGLAND, but I’ve also seen the Blu-ray transfer and it’s amazing. In cinema terms this is a tiny film but I want it to be seen by as many people as possible and this should achieve just that.
How are things going with ‘Freak Shift’? Anything you can tell us?
FREAKSHIFT is the biggest project yet, its still very much in the works and there are no fixed dates for now. Fingers crossed!
Is it looking to be a green screen project? Or au naturel?
We shot a CG test in collaboration with Double Negative in November. The whole emphasis was on shooting in as natural a way as possible and then fitting the CG around us. So D-Neg were with us on set, letting us know what they could cope with in post. The result is very impressive, there’s an enormous creature right there in the room with us. For me it means that we can shoot quickly in a real environment, so performances won’t suffer.
Anything else in the pipeline? You were looking into comedies last time we spoke.
I’ve spent a lot of the past 9 months shooting short-form scripted comedy series for TV. It’s been very busy, a new challenge in terms of achieving a lot in a short space of time and still keep it looking good and feeling fresh but I’ve learnt loads and had fun.
In February/March I did the reshoots and pick ups for CUBAN FURY – a big-budget British comedy. That was a fantastic experience of a very large production and I really enjoyed it.
There are a bunch of things in the pipeline, we shall have to see what comes to light. But right now with MADE OF STONE being so well received and A FIELD IN ENGLAND about to hit, it’s a very exciting time.
Thank you Laurie!
You can follow him on Twitter here: @Laurie_Rose
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