Bergman Island Journal — Part IX

The cinematographer’s updates on the making of this unique project set on Fårö, the Swedish island where Ingmar Bergman shot four features, lived, died and is buried.

Denis Lenoir, ASC, AFC, ASK

The cinematographer’s updates on the making of this unique project set on Fårö, the Swedish island where Ingmar Bergman shot four features, lived, died and is buried.

Production images courtesy of the author

Editor’s note: This production diary will unfold over the following days in multiple parts (starting here), while a more formal interview with the cinematographer can be found here.

Thursday, July 4
Picking up from exactly where we ended yesterday as the characters leave their outside table to go inside the restaurant (it is getting chilly), first at the bar and then at their new table. We start filming 45 minutes before the time we wrapped yesterday and as the sky is very dark, with black clouds, it matches yesterday’s last shot very well. Quite happy with the balance between the exterior and the interior, an interior which is lit like a normal evening, candles on the tables, not too bright.

Friday, July 5
First day at the Bergman Center. First in the screening room where we film a white screen, knowing that at the end of next week we will be filming the “excerpt” shown. Then the reverse, the audience watching the film, with some cold light on them, then the Q&A, with the room lights on. Always fun to have to balance different stages of light. 

We end the day with some crazy boom on the dolly, piling apple boxes so I can still frame when the camera, on an extender, is at its highest, which means, of course, I have to crouch when it is down. It would be so simple with a jib arm and a remote head…

I am told by Témoudjine that an extra asked if my name was Fisher, as he had seen it written everywhere on and around the dolly — funny!

Saturday, July 6
A weird day like there is on every movie. We start with a retake of a scene from last year, Chris approaching the church. Today it is sunny, last year the first part of the scene was under clouds but the sun had come out after a few shots. There was obviously a continuity problem and Mia wanted the sun to shine. 

We move afterwards to the nearby Bergman Center, first for a scene where the Bergman safari group gathers and steps on the bus, followed by a few not essential scenes. Even though it looks like an easy day, or maybe for that reason, we are actually behind. I have to work even faster than usual, and there are two scenes where I have to accept that there will be some rather insane flare. Nothing to do now, except bite the bullet, and I will see what can be done or not — I might even like it — when coloring.

Week 4
Monday, July 8

Another one of these weird days where you jump from a small exterior day to some interior dusk, then go outside again for another dusk — so easy with an outcast sky — then go back inside for more dusk shots.

Tuesday, July 9
In Ingmar Bergman’s private cinema! I am lucky enough not to have to film the two actors and the screened film — Cries and Whispers — at the same time. It is a 35mm print and I suspect the projectionist, like every projectionist in the world, uses a lower voltage on the lamp so he can get more mileage from it. I ask him, his reply, a little shocking for a 70-year-old DP, is that my eyes will get used to darkness and I will see better in a while. I know that ! That is not what I meant ! So I film the screen at T1.4, and for the reverse on the actors I light them softly, trying to replicate the reflection of the “projected” movie. But not trying to flicker, nor even to change the color or density as if reflecting a change in the film itself from one scene to another. No backlight coming from the projector either, I find all these effects totally unrealistic and fake.

In the afternoon, we film a scene in the projection booth plus some footage of the projectionist loading one of the projectors. This is always a totally magical moment when, having threaded the film and hand rolled the spools, he finally hits the button and the divine music made by the teeth in the sprockets, the rotating Maltese cross, the turning of the reels and the igniting of the light bulb bring the apparition of the first images on the screen. 

Wednesday, July 10
We’re at last filming — with the special effects guys who came from Stockholm — the rain shots we’ve been chasing for more than a year. In my memory from previous films, with man-made rain there’s a lot of trial and error, the rain too strong or too weak, not falling where it should. And today, to my surprise, what they installed is good from the first try. Also to my surprise, after two takes there is a lot of steam building up in the zoom; there has been some leak in the rain cover. Bad. Real bad. It takes a while for Tobias to dry everything.

We are so lucky: clouds in the morning for the rain and sun in the afternoon for the last scene of the film — not really a happy ending in a story with no real drama, more some kind of a promise of happiness. Tim asks for a big overhead frame so he doesn’t have to squint in the direct sun. Fair enough; we give it to him.

Thursday, July 11
More shots where I have to pan 180 degrees, which means having to seriously find ahead of time what to do with my body, place the panhandle at the proper angle and rehearse my footsteps. I guess a hot head would be the right solution.

Friday, July 12
Filming for our very last day — no coming back next year this time! — the images which will be placed in post on the Bergman Center screen as excerpts from an old movie of Tony’s, something he supposedly directed in the early 1990s. With Mia’s blessing, I happily go to my old repertory — gritty, grainy, handheld, skip bleach on the negative. The full-old Denis Lenoir songbook. We start at dusk with a young woman running on a road. She is in the headlights of a car which follows her — directly inspired, even though she is not naked, by the opening scene of Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly. Camera handheld, I am seated on a doorway dolly, wearing for the second time the already very dear Ergorig:

A few more shots, all handheld, always so much fun, and then we are done, it is over.

The sun already rising, and there are many hugs, some bad champagne in plastic cups, getting my personal equipment, meters, filters, etc. in the trunk of my car. I have to go back to Fårö and wait for the day after tomorrow to fly back to L.A. without any stopover, while most of the crew will fly later today from Visby.

To be concluded in Part X. Catch up with Part VIII here.

A more formal interview with the cinematographer can be found here.

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