Time has just disappeared. It seems that we are having breakfast one moment and then the first is calling a wrap on the day with everything in-between being just a blur. It was, without a doubt, a punishing schedule and we were just making the day by minutes each time. There was no allowance for pick up days so it was essential that we didn’t fall behind. Making this film has really reminded me of the fundamental differences between long form and short form work. With short form, commercials etc, we basically try to make each shot count as an entity in its own. They obviously still have to add together all the pieces to make a whole but the consistency is second to the impact of each shot. When you have 30 seconds to sell a product there is no space for a shot that does not powerfully reinforce that aim. With features it’s much more of a slowburner and so shots, and indeed scenes, can exist to subtly reinforce character traits without necessarily moving the story as a whole forwards. With Lighthouse we had a very clear visual structure which moved with the character arcs and we shot as close to chronologically as was practical. This helped in keeping the consistency of the visuals going but equally was frustrating in the sense that for the first part of the shooting I always had a nagging feeling that we were holding back on the energy of the photography. The photography starts in a documentary feel, then develops into a very structured solid framing style before moving into the final phase of visual chaos where the basic rules of focus, lines and framing were well and truly thrown in the bin. I constantly had to remind myself of an interview I had read with either Conrad Hall ASC or Gordan Willis ASC, I forget which, where they said that the mark of successful photography in a feature was consistency. Making a beautiful image is not such a difficult thing, making an image that remains true to the story and is consistent to the needs of the story is much more difficult. My feeling with Lighthouse is that we succeeded in this but only the edit will tell!
Without doubt we had an amazing team, I don’t think there was a single HoD who didn’t commit 110% to the film and who didn’t produce really exceptional work (excluding me, of course, as I am certainly not the best judge of that!). Chris Crow, who wrote, directed and was one of the producers was a dream to work with again. He has such a clear vision of how the film should be but still allows his collaborators the freedom to explore. Production Designer, Tim Dickel, really gave us a set that we couldn’t wait to put on the screen. Costume ( Sian Jenkins) and Make up (Cat Williams) both designed beautifully and my gaffer Vern rigged the most amazing green and lights all on rope.
For those of you who my wife would categorise as a ‘photography nerd’ I’ll talk now about some of the challenges and some of the ways we explored the visual style. During prep we boldly decided that the set should be claustrophobic, whilst this did work, it also made life very difficult! If I stood on tip toes my head touched the beams so lighting from above was completely out of the question, even moving lights on stands in the set was difficult as we couldn’t lift them more than 20cm before they clashed with the beams.
On top of this the film is set in a storm so it felt wrong to put light coming in from the windows. What we mainly ended up doing was raking light across the walls for the daylight scenes and adding a little fill and smoke to spread the light around a bit. For nightime we used the candles and stove as sources adding flicker from a home made ficker box that worked tremendously. These sources were generally placed at floor level to hide them. I looked at ways of focusing the candle light which we hoped to use as the film became darker. The best method came from a tool I discovered whilst shooting a documentary. The documentary was based on Artisans and one of the contributors was a shoemaker who told me that shoemakers traditionally used a ball filled with water which acted as an organic way of focusing the light from a candle. I had a ball blown and tried it out, there’s a picture above to show you the results. Sadly as the schedule was so demanding on set this was one of the tools that never made it although I’m storing it away for use on something else one day. As the film progresses the widows get boarded up which restricted the practical light even more. To still get some justified light in I asked the art department to break some of the panels that made up the exterior of the set and we pushed in some light through all the cracks that were made. This created a very different look for the last few scenes. It took a while to find a good lighting scheme but by the last day we had it pretty much nailed!