In Early Januaray 2015, writer-director Eileen Tracy approached me with her next short screenplay. I had always admired Eileen's directorial style in the form of her Graduate film from college. The screenplay, "Four Walls," touches upon the current issues occurring in Syria. A personal look for an audience into the entrapment of four Christians by Sryian soldiers.
The majority scenes play out in a single location, a four walled prison Cell situated in the desert-lands of the middle east. This really pulled me into the project, for my number one passion is in character studies. There's something that fascinates me about what you can say subliminally with lighting and camera-work when two characters are simply conversing in a room. Ofcourse there is a whole lot more going on in the story than that
Eileen's approach to the Visual Style of the film was somewhat fresh for me. Steering away from the conventions of classical Hollywood, she proposed the film to be framed for a 4:3 aspect ratio. Personally, I had never worked in the format before. So it was a particular learning curve for me in my career to research and study this form in pre-production. In fact, the film was to mix-format, opening up the frame to a 16x9 ratio for dream sequences. The creative intent being to create a constricted atmosphere inside the prison where our characters are trapped. And then showing that contrast between the two modes when the dreams kick in. Our inspiration for framing came in the form of such films as Pawel Pawlikowski's "IDA," Xavier Dolan's "MOMMY" and Lynne Ramsay's "MORVERN CALLAR." We wanted to keep our compositions open to alot of negative space, especially above our character's, this was intended as a metaphorical feeling of God being present in the frame. When our character's situations grew more dire, they're faith faded and hence the head room did too.
The technicals of this film were held back due to budget reasons, as always the case. But in the end, we ended up with a pretty decent package to work with. I opted for the Red One MX. I know, "it belongs in a museum." But hey, a camera with 4k r3d Raw, for the price tag that it is. Can't complain too much with that when you're on a budget. Optically, we rented a 19-90 T2 Technovision Cooke Zoom. Instantly I fell in love with this lens. It's an old customized Cooke lens that is far from perfect in any respect. But that's what made it perfect for this project. I wasn't looking a pristine, razor sharp, Master Prime look. I wanted something softer, with natural vignetting and the right amount of breathing. The Cooke gave me that and then some.
We also rented another MX body with an EF mount for our B-Cam. This was for our handheld dream scenes where we needed everything to be loose and free-flowing to contrast with the camera movement in the cell wich is all very locked off, still and restricted. We borrowed a set of Rokinon Cine Primes from a very good friend, which allowed for a manageable weight to fit snug on my shoulder.
Lighting was pretty challenging on this shoot. My package consisted of a small family of fresnals, 300's, redheads. and 1k's The largest lamp I had was a 2k blonde. What made it possible to work with was the fact that we built the sets, giving me full control of the light. The Cell was a simple setup, and changed rarely, only really in the event of a time-of-day change in the script. Basically my Gaffer, Jim Cone and I set up a diffusion frame outside the cell window and shot 2 redheads through this giving us our main ambiance inside the room. Then I had the Blonde shooting hard from the side as our sunlight. Inside I had a 300w and a reflector that I adjust per shot to fill faces bounced off the walls, ground or the soft white reflector if I needed that extra punch. Admittedly, this didn't give me the output I needed for correct exposure at a reasonable stop, so I was forced to give my focus puller Mike Lockhart a hard time by shooting wide open at T2. I knew he could handle it though. Pro.
In our exteriors, I was stuck for ND's also. So on the spectacularly sunny day we got, I was shooting t5.6 on a 35mm. I kept this lens throughout the dream sequences, forcing me to move close for the close-ups which gives the audience a more personal feel for our lead. We shot all of this at 50fps for half speed slow-motion. I felt this added to the aesthetic of it all being inside our characters head.
We wanted these scenes to be quite sensual and focusing on little details that make up memories such as hair and the touching of skin. Much to the style of Terrence Mallick. We surrounded our character with nature, in distinction to the Interior. Prison sequences. I kept the lens partial to flares from the sun, I always trying to capture as much beauty in the blocking as I could, simply to differentiate from the rest of the story.
Production lasted a total of four days for the 13 page screenplay. I must commend a few names for their amazing dedication and hard work for this project. Michael David Jones for his incredibly construction of the sets on such a tight budget and schedule. Megan McCrea for the stressful organization of such an endeavor. Adele Smyth-Kennedy for her wonderful portrayal of the lead role, even in front of a camera crew who are as mad as hatters. And our Director and Chief, Eileen Tracey for her unlimited support and guidance in projecting her vision clearly for me to capture.
I highly enjoyed working on this one. It was something different for me to experiment with which was a great opportunity that I am truly grateful for. The film is still in the splicing room but I just couldn't wait to share the a sneak peak with you all. I know it was a short written piece this time, I just don't want to give away too much!
Special thanks to my amazing team whom were short-staffed and yet never without a smile on their face throughout production. Truly masters in their field.
- 1stAC - Mike Lockhart
- 2ndAC/DIT - Cel Bothwell
- Gaffer/Grip - Jim Crone
Once again, thanks for reading. More coming very soon so watch this space!
BTS Photography by Peter Marley