The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents May 2015 Return to Table of Contents
Presidents Desk
The Water Diviner
Page 2
Page 3
The Thing
ASC Close-Up

The location shoot kicked off in the small town of Burra in South Australia. We filmed the opening Outback sequences there. We were joined by cinematographer Ernie Clark, ACS, who did additional camera and some second-unit photography. (He was assisted by 1st AC Frank Rhuby and 2nd ACs Viv Madigan and Maxx Corkindale.)

I should point out that this was high summer in the Outback, and for the next five weeks we endured record temperatures that ranged from 110°F-130°F. Our success was a testament to the gear and the crew. Hydration became the name of the game.

We blacked out the farmhouse for the night scenes. For the only day scene in the house, I lit the interior and did a dynamic iris pull as we ran down the corridor and outside. At the beginning of the film, Connor divines and then digs a well. We filmed the exterior well digging with four cameras in one afternoon, and later, we built the 4-meter well interior as a cylinder next to an old, flooded open-cut mine. That way we could use the water to flood and drain the set, courtesy of special-effects maestro Peter Stubbs. We had two camera ports in the side of the cylinder and a third camera over the top on a crane with a Scorpio stabilized head. The ports had to be waterproof, so they were Perspex, which meant the cameras had to be blacked out like a hide. The day was hot, so being inside those hides was like roasting in a sauna.

Burra has a series of ancient tunnels that were built to keep alcohol cool for the miners. These were a perfect match to some locations in Turkey, where we needed a subterranean setting for Constantinople. The tunnels were an interesting challenge to light, and apart from the odd air vent to the surface, Reg and I met this challenge by working with the art department to bury small lamps amongst the ammunition cases, weapons and other paraphernalia that were stacked all the way along.

Before we moved on from Burra, we also filmed part of the dust-storm sequence, which is a flashback showing Connor saving his young sons from a violent storm. We filmed Russell riding fast in a couple of locations, using the remote head on a tracking vehicle. One paddock was particularly rough, the other very smooth. The coverage reflects this, but they both have an amazing energy that works for the scene. To lead and chase the three running boys, Dave Nichols broke out “the rickshaw” with the remote head; this was driven by two fit young grips to keep the action immediate.

In Quorn, we filmed another extended Turkey sequence using the historic Pichi Richi Railway. In one scene, Connor, Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan) and Turkish troops jump aboard a moving freight train at dawn. I’ve generally found dusk-for-dawn to be more practical when it comes to staging a complex sequence safely, and the railway line ran east to west, which was perfect. We set up a crane, a dolly and two cameras inside a freight car to capture the action in one go. It was cloudy, but we went for it anyway. We did three takes, and on the last one, the sun came out and barreled down our lenses, making the whole event looked fantastic.

Connor and his Turkish friends travel across war-torn Turkey and are soon ambushed by Greek forces. Although the script called for railway freight cars, the Pichi Richi Railway offered horse freight cars, which are more open. We added some canvas blinds and decided to go with it. The porous walls encouraged me to go with available light. I knew we would need to keep the coverage in the moving carriage fluid, so I shot a test in the horse car. With our DIT, Nir Shelter, we assessed how much dynamic range we had between the shaded interior and the sunlit exterior. It was impressive.

We had very limited time with the train, so while the main unit filmed onboard, Ernie Clark filmed traveling and wide shots from the road that runs alongside the tracks, using a guerilla unit that gave him a tracking vehicle and remote head.

Because of the scorching heat wave, some restrictions were imposed upon us. Steam locomotives were banned from running because the cinders they generate can be a fire hazard, so we used a diesel to pull the train, delegating its replacement to visual-effects supervisor Dave Booth! On a slightly cooler day, the railway personnel were happy to roll our desired locomotive out of the shed and into the sunlight. Ernie’s crew photographed everything to do with that engine, and stills photographer Mark Rogers also photographed it from every angle.

We also had limitations on fire effects, which we mostly overcame by adding more smoke. In the three days scheduled for the train ambush, which takes place in a remote, open landscape, we had the highest summer temperatures. Although we paid great attention to keeping everybody hydrated, we still had an average of three to seven people go down each day with heat exhaustion. It was grueling, as the ambush was a complex exercise involving a machine gun strafing the train, followed by a mortar barrage, followed by a ground assault.

The Gallipoli battlefield was built in a sand quarry near McLaren Vale. The ground was essentially sludge, and production designer Chris Kennedy had to fortify the trench walls to avert collapse; this gave him the opportunity to contour the landscape to history. I would have had it run a different way for the light, but it made sense. The sludge meant I couldn’t use access machinery because of weight limitations. Because most of the flashback scenes were set at night, we resorted to the ridgeline and some towers to give us elevation for our night lighting, a combination of HMI and tungsten units. Sometimes all we lit was smoke. We moved and faded some lamps to mimic flares.

The Turkish forces had the sun behind them in the mornings, giving them a significant strategic advantage. The Turkish assault that opens the film starts before dawn, so we used every piece of textile we had to shade the trench for those scenes, then shot the actual assault early the next morning. We had four cameras set up before dawn, and everyone just started shooting when the sun came up — no discussion, nothing. It looked amazing. Russell and 1st AD Chris Webb quickly realized what was going on and started feeding in extras and distant smoke.

For the moment the Turkish troops reach the Anzac trenches, Russell wanted to stage the whole event in one go. We choreographed a Steadicam master, with additional coverage from Ernie and me riding the long zooms. At the end of each take, all the operators would scurry over to video village, watch the coverage (three monitors simultaneously), and head back for the next take, discussing who would shoot what and how it would cut! It certainly kept things lively and gave the footage a certain raw quality.

I’ve never wondered how many camera crews you can fit into a closet, but I found out when we filmed a particularly aggressive night assault on the Turkish trenches by Anzac soldiers, action that finishes with hand-to-hand fighting. We set up a Steadicam shot following the troops into the covered trench, had another camera tracking on the battlefield looking through a slit, and hid two manned cameras in the trench on wide lenses. Inevitably, everybody saw everybody else at some point, but once again, it allowed the entire ensemble to play out the sequence from start to finish. We planned for a fast 180-degree turnaround and shot the sequence again, this time with the Steadicam leading the troops through. Once again, we rigged small moving tungsten units to travel above the roof slats and mimic flares.

 

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