Hi Film Folk!
You can read our first interview with Laurie about how he started his career here.
So we spoke to you last around the time of A Field in England. What have you been up to since then?
Wow, so much has happened since AFIE! AFIE saw the beginning of my full time career shooting narrative drama and in particular the following year was mostly comedy for television. The Job Lot, Him and Her, Friday Night Dinners as well as additional photography on some larger comedy features – ‘Cuban Fury’ and ‘Man Up’. From the comedy work stemmed the chance to work with the Horrible Histories cast on ‘BILL’ – a family comedy in a very British tradition.
‘BILL’ was shot in the cold early months of 2014 and lead straight onto prep for ‘HIGH RISE’ in Summer 2014.
Any new revelations you’ve learned that you can pass on to aspiring cinematographers?
The year of hardcore situation location comedy was a trial by fire. High page count, multi-episode with ensemble cast and keep it looking good.
That kind of work teaches you fast about solving problems quickly but keeping a consistency up – I shot maybe 2 or 3 original pilots and shows but also came in and worked on subsequent series on other shows.
This teaches you to uphold a look from before, and then play with that, the chance to evolve something.
How did you prep for High Rise? Anything particularly different in the prep process this time?
At the time the prep for HIGH RISE was the most comprehensive Ben and I had done. 4 weeks, full-time on site.
Ben had looked for real locations but the chance to shoot in Northern Ireland came up and a few practical locations were fit for purpose plus an
abandoned leisure centre had been found that fit our period perfectly and was in such good condition that it made lots of decision for us.
Ben storyboarded the entire film in and we surrounded ourselves with those – but I think the principal difference for both of us was being involved in production design from the very beginning. Because we didn’t have a real location it had to be constructed and this gave us the opportunity to have a say
in how Ben wanted it and from a practical point of view, where windows went and how it was lit.
To be part of the world building from scratch was a real privilege.
What challenges did you face on High Rise and what trickery did you get up to?
Because the building didn’t exist we had to make it believable and that required scale. Mark Tildesly and his team went all out and created a universe for Ben and I to roam around in! Where on projects before where we may have had far more limited budgets and time – you tend to find somewhere that will pass for
whats been scripted (or write for a particular location) This time it was built around what we needed – the apartments, the corridors, the lobby, the penthouse suite. As much as we might have to use an available location, we’d often use available light. This wasn’t an option on HIGH RISE, it all had to be lit but I still
spent time in the set builds like I might with a location. Given where windows and balconies were, time-of-day, various states of power failure – this motivated the lighting for hopefully as natural a feel as possible.
How long was the shoot?
We shot for 7 weeks in all – with a main unit plus a 2nd Unit shooting GV’s, texture and all of the macro work.
Were you on a stage mainly or location? Or half and half?
I’d say it was around 75% stage work – the supermarket was another disused location that we returned to use, the roof garden was a walled garden near the leisure centre.
The swimming pools were in our disused leisure centre but had to be recommissioned. The apartment was a full single apartment that was redressed for 4 different apartments.
When we came to the last incarnation we came up with the idea of flopping it round which helped it feel like it could be on the other corner of the high rise but maintained all the signature physicality of the building. We printed bottle labels in reverse, re-combed cast hair partings and we monitored with a flopped image. It was really effective!
What did you shoot on and any interesting tech info you can share?
We shot ArriRAW on Alexa XT to onboard Codex Drives. I used MkII and III Zeiss Superspeeds and a pair of Classic Cooke Varotal zooms.
It was pretty simple really. I suppose where we had this entire seductive, possible overwhelming universe to exist inside we needed a simple and familiar package to work with.
Any particularly fun gadgets/rigs on this one that you haven’t been able to use on previous Ben films?
We used a good amount classic dolly work, a lightweight Techno crane for the baroque party scene and, of course, a helping of handheld for the more intense, off the hook moments.
The Kaleidoscope effect was purely practical – we developed a rig that could fit over a prime lens using a carpet roll tube and 3 bright glass mirrors. Eventually it became possible to even work handheld and hand crank the kaleidoscope! Whilst it gave us a fantastic effect it did have the down side of sometimes revealing everything in the room that you might not want to see, booms, track etc. But I love what we got.
What volume of the film was VFX? If more than usual, did it change the way you worked a bit?
The exteriors of the building didn’t exist. Apart from the balcony which was a studio, the walled garden and the very front of the lobby exterior everything else was VFX. There was a painted cyc around the balcony but for views DOWN we’d lay a green screen down to generate any extreme views.
Also the falling man was a static shot with lighting effects to play the passing of lit floors – this was against a green screen.
We had to be conscious of avoiding every ‘exterior’ shot becoming a VFX number hence the balcony cyc and on the occasional CSO screen.
We often incorporate green screen this way so it wasn’t any extra work at all.
A slightly bigger budget (correct?) than last time, what in particular made things easier/harder on that front?
HR comprised our biggest budget up to that point by some significant margin! What it allowed us was scale I think, we didn’t take very much longer than we have done in the past, 7 weeks is still fast and not at all unusual for this size of show.
Scale in design and build, being really very prescriptive about the universe that was built around us and what was in that. It was a privilege to work on in that respect.
How much 2nd Unit was there? How do you go about prepping with the 2nd Unit?
Nick Gillespie ran our 2nd Unit again, and he had more scope than ever before too. The 2nd Unit brief for HR was quite lose at first, he was to follow us around and shoot on a set as we would leave it, picking up cutaways or texture that might fall out of our coverage. He would work fairly autonomously but increasingly under instruction from Ben and I as the shoot went forward.
Empty wides, texture shots of the degradation, the abandonment. But then also the macro work. Nick developed useable homemade macro lenses and he shot all the cast eyes – whenever they were free, they’d pop off for eye close ups!
How did it compare to A Field in England or Sightseers as a shooting experience? What was easier or harder on this one and why?
AFIE had very definite parameters and this was on purpose. A limit to budget and therefore time made decisions in advance and it turns out there’s a real freedom in that.
We prepped HR more than any other project up to that point. That was invaluable and made all the difference. Being prepped meant that we were far less forced into making major decisions or solving problems always on set – you get a chance to foresee issues.
What we haven’t done though is stick religiously to the storyboarding or other prep work at the expense of a little improvisation on set. That’s where the energy can be when you have actors in the actual space. You see how they respond and move and you can respond to that – not always something you can foresee and you shouldn’t discount it ever.
Were there any shots that were particularly challenging in terms of getting the blocking, timing or movement right? What were they?
We went all out for 2 large single take shots – The Baroque Party and the Supermarket scene towards the end of the story – both of which subsequently did contain cuts but we did set out to make them singular!
The Supermarket involved a handheld shot on a rickshaw tracking with the characters at 90 degrees, our paths move together and I hopped off the rickshaw and found Tom Hiddleston’s Dr Laing, followed him to find the last remaining paint can on a shelf.
The shot pans to find young Toby and that hands off to Luke Evans as Wilder and his movement takes us round to find the documentary crew in the thick of it, moving up through the store amongst the looters including the characters we came in with! As we get to the check outs we re-find Wilder who speaks to the cashier from earlier in the story who speaks only in French – he moves off only to encounter the trio of Pangbourne, Simmons and Cosgrove who confront him, all of us rotate into a position where the camera is now in front of behind Wilder, I plant myself back into the rickshaw as Wilder turns to camera and runs towards us at speed – Pangbourne grabs a (prop) can of beans and bowls them at Wilder who takes it on the head and he drops in front of camera as they descend upon him!
This was ALL IN ONE shot but for timing it got a few edits which doesn’t actually detract from the intended dynamic at all, in fact it helps it trip along. One to watch out for..
You worked with legendary producer Jeremy Thomas, how was that? Learn anything interesting from him?
It was a total honour working with indie-film-royalty-producer Jeremy Thomas. He’d tell us off-hand stories of being cooked feasts by Storaro’s camera team while Vittorio explained his theories of aspect ratios and lighting late into the night! There’s nothing he hasn’t done, almost no international indie film in the past 40 years that he hasn’t had SOMETHING to do with.
What types of project are you looking to sink your teeth into soon? Anything you haven’t tried out yet that you’re gagging to?
Since wrapping HR, I’ve shot ‘LONDON SPY’ (5x1hrs) for the BBC, ‘FREE FIRE’ with Ben Wheatley and Series 3 (6x1hrs) of ‘PEAKY BLINDERS’ again for the BBC. I’ve just finished shooting ‘JOURNEYMAN’ – a film which is Paddy Considines second writing and directing project. All widely different work, that have all been rewarding challenges in their own ways – I’m having a great time!
What’s next for you?
I’m right now finishing the grade for ‘PEAKY BLINDERS’, and taking a tiny bit of time off(!) but having meetings for some super interesting projects.
Thank you, Laurie!
RELATED ARTICLE: Read our interview with Laurie Rose about how he got started
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