In the first of a series designed to take you behind the films we all watch, Cinematographer and award winning short film-maker Michael Lavelle gives us an insight into the shoot of this year's Irish hit His and Hers. Michael was joint Cinematographer with Kate McCullogh on the project. We gave it an assured 3 1/2 stars back in June, check out the review here.
Anatomy of His & Hers, By Michale Lavelle
While shooting His & Hers was an exciting venture it was also a daunting prospect for a cinematographer. One of our greatest fears was that as a film featuring the voices of 70 women it would become a series of talking heads. Another was that it would feel like a string of 70 short films back to back.
Very early in the preplanning stage the director (Ken Wardrop) and the 2 directors of photography (Kate McCullough and myself) had a number of brainstorming sessions on how to overcome these potential pitfalls.
We knew that the heartbeat of the film would be the women themselves so it was important to frame them in a way that was as non-restrictive as possible. Aesthetically Ken was intent on the idea that the film would feel very natural. We used minimal lighting and any time a light came out of the van it really had to be justified. On ‘soft’ Irish days we often got a beautiful quality of light from the windows.
To sidestep the ‘talking heads’ issue we felt that by searching for interesting frames on the interviews and breaking with some standard conventions of interview framing we would be able to maintain an intriguing visual.
To unify the separate vignettes we established a series of formal conventions and used them like recurring motifs to bridge the narratives. The takes are quite long and it gives the audience time to absorb the space. The camera is inside for the whole film except at the very end where we step outside for the first time. Characters seen outside are always framed through windows.
We shot over a period of about 3 months, shooting 2 characters a day in a four hour window. One of the enormous priveleges was to shoot a documentary on film. Following tests we oped for Kodak Vision 3 (500T) which provided good possibilities for shooting in available light combined with a relatively fine grain structure.
We shot roughly one can of 16mm film per interviewee. Ken sat with a remote under his arm during the interviews and had the unenviable task of having to select the precise moment to roll the Arri SR3 camera. Ken had only about 7 minutes of film per interview. The remaining 3½ minutes of footage was subsequently used for the cutaways.
Kate and I swapped lighting and camera roles every week and if the lighting conditions were variable one of us would crouch under the camera and pull the aperture during the interview.
It was a privelege to work on such a challenging film and it’s immensely rewarding to see the Irish cinema going public taking it into their hearts.