The American Society of Cinematographers

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Foerster shot all night scenes at T2.8 and 1,280 ASA. Day interiors mixed in a healthy amount of Vermeer’s “north-facing light,” and in those situations, she set her stop between T4.5 and T5.6 at 800 ASA. “We used candlelight and fireplace light even during day scenes because we were assuming gloomy English days,” she says. “We couldn’t dim the candles, of course, so we had to bring up the daylight level and compensate for the exposure. Otherwise, the fire would have overpowered the daylight or had the same value.

“A misconception about shooting digitally is that you need less light,” she continues. “Actually, you just use light differently. If I were shooting at 400 ASA, I would have needed to double the amount of light or shoot at a different stop, but then I couldn’t have played different color temperatures off each other at twilight or dawn, or shoot with candles during the daytime.”

Foerster was excited about seeing her images on set as they would appear in the dailies and the final, but she still kept her light meter close by, using it to sketch out contrast levels before dialing them in on a monitor. “Maybe one day I’ll give it up, but I had to have my meter on this movie,” she says. “I wanted to be precise with my work.”

Window light plays significantly in all the interior day scenes — to the point where the characters seem drawn to them — so many of the sets were designed with huge windows in mind. There are times when the windows are used almost like spotlights on a theater stage, with characters moving in and out of shafts of light for emotional emphasis. Even at 800 ASA, rows of 18K HMIs were stationed on scaffolding outside the sets, high up and far away and diffused through sheets of Rosco 1⁄2 Density Soft Frost.

“The light is part of the story,” Foerster observes. She points to a scene late in the film, when Oxford confronts Elizabeth for what might be the last time. As he pleads for her mercy, she descends from her dais and its dark half-light to stand with him in the full light of day. “She steps into that harsh, cold daylight to clarify the situation,” says Foerster.

Only occasionally does the sun shine down warm and bright. Foerster cites a scene in which the youthful Oxford moves into the home of Elizabeth’s cunning adviser, William Cecil (David Thewlis). “The house is generally very dark and somber, but in that scene we had sunbeams shining through because Oxford was penetrating the house with emotional light,” she says. Her usual approach to this set was to bounce 18Ks through the windows off 20'x20' muslin, so for this visual departure, gaffer Albrecht Silberberg simply positioned the HMIs to point straight into the windows, aiming them through 1⁄2 Soft Frost and 1⁄4 CTO to give the light a warmer glow.

While conducting her research in London during prep, Foerster became fascinated with the quality of the light filtering through old, baffled-glass windows. “That glass has different colored pieces and is distorted by air bubbles, and the effect on the light is just incredible. When you look through it, it almost looks like there’s a painting on the other side.”

Using real vintage glass would have been impractical and expensive, so the production built its own windows. After testing a number of plastics, the art department arrived at a Lexan-based polymer. The translucent panes were deliberately molded with irregularities, filled with air bubbles, and sandblasted to lend a diffuse quality to the light. The distortion also helped the filmmakers sell the painted backdrops outside the windows.

The sets occupied a new wing of Studio Babelsberg, an old train depot just down the road from the main lot. The stages were soundproofed, wired with electricity and suitable for production, but they were still in the process of being converted from their original use. Inside, the giant cranes that once lifted cargo onto train cars still loomed overhead.

Because of the stages’ unfinished state and the speed at which the art department was completing its work, Silberberg was unable to rig a full-sized truss above the stage. He and best boy Roland Patzelt solved this problem by devising a pulley system with steel-pipe rigs that could be lowered by ropes to specific points over a given set. (On most European crews, set electricians handle every aspect of lighting.)

“Because our lenses were so wide, lighting was really tricky,” says Silberberg. Rigging gaffer Dietmar Haupt hung a lot of overhead fill light, subtly filling in the shadows with large bounce surfaces (bleached and unbleached muslin) and Lowel 1K Rifa eX lights aimed through 1⁄2 Soft Frost.

To facilitate the lighting of greenscreen stages for what would eventually be day exteriors, Foerster’s crew hung almost 4,000 square feet of fireproof white fabric from the ceiling. On one side, five 15'x60' greenscreen sections could be lowered or raised as needed, while eight 4K and eight 6K HMIs were positioned on each of the other three sides; the light from these units was bounced off the overhead surface, which could be flagged off with netting to give the bounce some directionality.

On the ground, 1K and 650-watt Rifa eX lamps were used as roving eyelights, as were a few ingenious “wok lights,” two-handled steel woks outfitted with an ordinary household bulb and covered with 1⁄4 CTO. The woks were connected to a dimmer board and could be programmed to emulate a flickering flame. The “Medusa light” was a variation on the wok light, featuring as many as 12 bulbs attached to flexible wire necks.

“Often, fill light and sometimes even keylight was accomplished with adjustable flame bars or with the double-wick candles either handheld or mounted on C-stands,” says Foerster.

Any movie about Shakespeare is bound to involve performances of his plays, and the book Lighting the Shakespearean Stage offered the filmmakers a wealth of information about how plays were staged in the era. “Sometimes they started Act One in the afternoon and Act Two at dusk, and Act Three was staged in candlelight,” Foerster explains. “They even had devices to dim the candles at the proper time. There are descriptions of the performances at court, and how all of the candle smoke could make it seem as though you were looking at the actors through a veil.”

At the Rose and Globe theaters, she adds, “they usually staged their performances in daylight and didn’t have much money for candles, so we cheated [those scenes] a bit for aesthetic reasons.”

Performances take place in a number of venues throughout the film. When Elizabeth meets Oxford for the first time, the 10-year-old poet (played by Luke Thomas Taylor) is staging a performance of his work in one of the queen’s private chambers. The influence of De La Tour’s paintings emerges in the play’s final act, set in a gnarled tree lit by candles in metal intensifiers. Silberberg hid LED rope lights behind the tree branches to extend the firelight into the background. “There was a lot of candlelight and also a lot of tungsten light — small sources,” he details. “To provide a bit of soft front fill, we bounced two 5K Fresnels off unbleached white muslin teasers above and to the left and right of the camera, with sheets of 1⁄2 Soft Frost between the camera and the muslin.”

 

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