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Ben Wheatley, British Film Institute, High-Rise, J G Ballard, Laurie Rose, Nick Gillespie, Sight & Sound

HIGH-RISE Interviews #8 – Laurie Rose & Nick Gillespie (DP & 2nd Unit)

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On the eve of the UK release of Ben Wheatley’s eagerly anticipated filmed adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel, HIGH-RISE, I am exclusively posting the entire transcripts of a series of interviews that I conducted with the cast and crew of the film for the British Film Institute film magazine, Sight and Sound. The magazine’s editor, Nick James, has kindly given me permission to post these in full, extracts of which can be found in the April edition of the magazine. The content of all these interviews remains the copyright of Sight & Sound.

Thanks: Nick James at Sight & Sound, Ben Wheatley, Laurie Rose, Nick Gillespie, Zoe Flower, Alaineé Kent at RPC,  Justine McGlone (for transcribing everything!)

Interview #7 – Laurie Rose (Director of Photography) & Nick Gillespie (2nd Unit)

Stats: Interviews conducted via email December 2014-January 2015

> 1. What particular challenges did you encounter with this project given majority of the film is interior shots? On the day we visited the set you were filming round the pool and had to manage animals, children, water and a fault with an underwater camera!

LR: Yes, the moisture sensor kept going off in the housing and we had a lot to get through so it was a bit of a challenging day! The swimming pool was real, it was part of the old leisure centre as were a handful of other interior locations (including a squash court and a boiler room) but everything else was entirely constructed which is pretty much the polar opposite of everything we have ever done before. Mark Tildesley and his team designed and built a set of spaces with the heightened sense of reality verging on science fiction.

Shooting inside for out means everything has to be lit.

In earlier projects we may well have shot for real in a tower block, previously things have been more out of our control (locations, interiors, time etc) and although that always positively informed each film, having some of those parameters more under our control was liberating and when you see HIGH RISE I think you get a sense of that liberation.

NG: One of the good sides to working within a pre-built set is the control you have. For starters you don’t have to worry so much about the wrong kinds of weather or members of the general public walking around in the back of shot – sometimes you make good use of this but it’s difficult with a period film. The High Rise sets were vast and detailed which meant there were a lot of options for different angles and set ups. One of the challenges of shooting in any set is often going to be the amount of visual variety you can achieve between different scenes. Being able to physically walk around the High Rise foyer, corridors, apartments, swimming pool, gym etc gave us lots of space to work in and shoot. It was not only helpful to cast but also for the crew I think – in that when you walked into the set, you were kind of walking into the High Rise to a certain extent. Like any set they’d close the doors and lock it off every time we’d shoot and after a while it did kind of feel like you were inside the High Rise. There were lots of different sets within the complex which meant we could be running 2nd unit somewhere else in the building. We could shoot side by side and easily liaise with Ben and Laurie about what they needed from each scene. Many of the scenes in High Rise featured a lot of complex elements running at once – things like water, animals, animals in water, dive-units, large groups of children, stunts and pyro could all come together to make up a single shot, so with so much going on the challenge is always going to be about time and how much time you have or probably don’t have to complete each set up.

>2. I understand from Ben that a few films were watched together before filming commenced including LAST TANGO IN PARIS. As a DP who would you say were your influences; films, DP’s or scenes etc

LR: We did watch a number of 70’s films, specifically I was looking for framing, lighting and camera movement. Also for a sense of period, what might be expected from a 70’s film. Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS, Irvin Kershner’s UP THE SANDBOX, (a bit of EYES OF LAURA MARS). And THE TOWERING INFERNO, which is really interesting for the way it deals with large glamorous interiors and then model exteriors of a high rise block – there’s a faint feeling of disconnection between the two which perhaps you don’t notice if you’re not conscious of it.

I really love LAST TANGO, having watched it with new eyes a good few times now, gloriously European, mean and tender and sad.

Lot’s of British 70’s films had a gritty, real feel to them but we decided we weren’t making a 1970’s film, we were making a new film with modern
lighting and camera technology that happens to be set in 1975.

(I also watched Steve McQueen’s SHAME for myself which is Sean Bobbitt’s brilliant example of effortless modern ‘apartment’ lighting)

> 3. A lot of the second unit work ended up in Ben’s A FIELD IN ENGLAND. What can you tell us about the work you’ve been doing on HIGH RISE?

LR: Having a 2nd Unit has become indispensable for us. We move 1st Unit very quickly, securing all the principal dialogue, movement and action but for texture, pause for thought, detail and alternative angles, giving 2nd Unit the time to concentrate on that while we move on is impossible to do without. It’s priceless material.

NG: For High Rise we expanded on what we had learnt from the second unit elements of A Field In England and Doctor Who. Ben wanted a very specific look throughout the film which would not only resemble the 1970’s period, but also suit the camera story, and having options of some soft lenses with lots of little imperfections was key to this. Following what we had leaned from AFIE we designed and developed a lot more lenses for High Rise. We also experimented a lot with old school video cameras, and literally manipulated smoke and mirrors at times to get specific shots. We played around with different kinds of glass so that we could preserve a strong image in line with the Alexa but also capture all these wonderful little imperfections at the same time. We spent some time testing all these weird lenses, things we had built out of bits of old magnifying glasses and mouldable polymer solutions, until we had a whole set of High Rise macros. Each for a different set up e.g: the actors eyes, macro skin and fingerprints, concrete, 1970’s kitchen appliances, insects, animals, and water were all things we could look at. Some of it was about trying to capture the character of the building along with its different textures and looks. We had devised a system which was useful for mopping up scenes or covering off detail and texture following the main unit shoots. Things which could add an additional layer to the film but could end up being a bit fiddly to shoot during the time with which you could have the cast on set. The second unit was completely varied on High Rise which made it exciting but also challenging from one day to the next. With the nature of the film there was a lot to capture in a relatively short space of time, so there would sometimes be lots of smaller stand alone scenes for us to cover off in between shooting second camera with Ben and Laurie on the main unit. We might spend a morning on a tracking vehicle shooting Tom driving around Belfast docklands and then in the afternoon we might go and shoot some macro sequences in a pipe room beneath the swimming pool.

>4. What can you tell us about how you went about achieving the look of a film made in the 70’s? Techniques/lighting etc

LR: I think there was a decision across the board to do the “70’s” with the very lightest touch – design, costume, hair, make up etc. We shot on new digital cameras but I did use lenses made in the 60’s and 70’s – my favourite set of Zeiss Superspeed primes but also some vintage zooms which we ended up using a lot more than we’d planned – Ben fell in love with full bore 70’s zooms – they had all sorts of idiosyncrasies that we embraced but they did prove a headache for my focus puller at times! I think digital cinema images can benefit from having the edges rubbed off with vintage lenses and the organic feel they can have.

My lighting has always come from a realistic starting point – but with the High Rise being so constructed and with the inherent vintage-modernism, all the elements brought their own motivations for light.
It was a real opportunity to light differently and on a larger scale. Mark’s art team provided a great range of vintage light fittings that looked fantastic by themselves and they just needed supporting, and so I built
a lot of lighting around that.

> 5. You’ve worked with Ben on all his films so far, so it’s clear you have a strong working relationship. Being this is Ben’s biggest film to date in terms of cast and budget, how does it compare to you and did that mean it enabled you technically to go further than you perhaps had before?

LR: Ben and I have developed quite an instinctive working relationship but it was great to also have time to explore ideas – Ben always challenges me and it brings the best out in not just me but everyone.
We lived in the same house in Bangor, NI for the shoot and Ben was editing there after every shoot day so we both got a very immediate sense or idea of how it was all fitting together and
what we needed to do. Having such an efficient feedback loop is just great for knowing where you’re up to, it takes a lot of guess work and stress away.

The experience of making HIGH RISE in the summer of 2014 was amazing. I was excited from the moment I read script, it felt so true to the novel. Having a bigger budget principally allowed Ben and I time to work more closely than ever before which was great. Having seen HIGH RISE in an almost finished state, it’s striking how different this film is to what we’ve done before. The expanse of the world we get to inhabit is really exciting – it’s far more sophisticated and complete. That’s not to denigrate anything we have done before as you always strive to over-deliver on the budgets and parameters you’re given with but having such a fantastic script, cast and crew (lots of whom have worked with us on previous films) was a dream. It felt like the planets aligned.

NG: High Rise is very much a Ben Wheatley film, simply on a bigger scale. Quite a few of Ben’s cast and crew have all worked together before so you can’t help but get this feel of camaraderie at times. The scale from one film to the next makes little difference in the long run of the shoot really. On High Rise there were some bigger sets and a larger cast and crew than on Ben’s other films but the principles are all the same. A lot of the way Ben shoots is quite different to other things that are around, so you’re constantly learning and experimenting with new techniques, then developing those into something even more interesting, then possibly even developing that again. Making a film is always about problem solving so having the opportunity to experiment with and break some of the technical rules is always a good learning curve and something Ben and Laurie have always done on the films. Everyone gets on with the work and making a film can be exhausting at times, for all levels of cast and crew, but when you find a group of people you can work with but also get on with it can be a wonderful experience which is something I think Ben’s sets often give people.

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