Bergman Island Journal — Part VII

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.

Week 5
Monday, September 3
Another magic-hour scene, the pre-wedding dinner, at the end of the day. I want to treat it brighter than the wedding party just mentioned. Unfortunately, Mia wants to shoot more takes and I end up filming the last one, as the night is almost fallen, underexposed two stops. A hair in the gate will have us doing it again tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 4
Trying to finish yesterday’s dusk scene in the same light, able to start earlier as the sky is cloudy but, of course, there is not much in common between a shot filmed two hours before sunset and another one shot half an hour after sunset, at T 1.4 and underexposed by two stops! A possible time lapse, not wished for by Mia but possible, will be used as a last resource.

Moving to night-for-night afterwards, the pleasure of working with Dirk is that he understands very well what I wish for and what he and his crew do is almost always right when I look at it, requiring very little adjustment or correction. I’m a little more picky than he is on color, asking him quite often — for instance when filling some light to balance natural lighting — to be closer to the original source. I am a true believer that even a slight difference in color can make a shot looks less natural, showing off the added lighting. But he has an excellent eye for contrast and luminosity.

On my second movie shot on film in many years, I am lighting more and more the way I would on digital, i.e. using less and less light, using far more the foot of the curve than I used to when finishing on film (I was then almost always looking for a dense, heavy neg). I guess at some point this will get me in trouble!

Friday, September 7
We finish the day work with some exterior night. Oh, how much I miss the Alexa! Instead of the 1200 ISO I would have gotten without any remorse, I have to struggle with only 500. And I don’t have the equipment nor the crew and time to light as we used to in the years of the cherry pickers. I hardly read 0.7 ½ on my Spectra, even at 1.4 I am totally underexposed, not great for a wide shot of the wedding crowd leaving a little private concert. At the same time, I remember on Things to Come dragging my feet because I would have to light for exposure and, ultimately, working at the foot of the curve, getting away with the same kind of lighting I had been doing since switching to digital.

Saturday, September 8
Half a day shooting in what could be described as a country café, in truth a “crêperie bretonne.” Low ceilings, small windows, excellent opportunity to get directional soft lighting. I leave the background dark on purpose; far away there are a few extras around a table lit only by some backlight, which reminds me of a 16th century engraving, Emmaus Pilgrims, a thought I don’t dare to share with anyone. I cannot stand when DPs quote paintings in their work, or worse, drop names of famous painters as inspiration. I always find it cheap and pretentious.

Back in the concert hall, we were working in yesterday for a small private concert; this time it is more like an afterparty. A few guests remain and three young women dance to an ABBA hit. Physical pleasure of tracking with the dancers. Mia, on her handheld monitor, Témoudjine pushing the dolly and me on camera, all having a blast, excited like children, filming more takes than necessary, just for the pleasure.

Sunday, September 9
A rather small day, nothing worth mentioning, with the exception of the last three shots — all filmed at magic hour, which is decidedly always a challenge and a total delight.

Monday, September 10
A full day in and around the Fårösund ferry.

This is the last day of shooting for this Bergman Island part I. Let’s hope Mia will find an actor to play Tony and we will all come back to Fårö next year for a four-week shoot sometime between May and August.

Director Mia Hansen-Løve

Part II, 2019

Week minus 2
Monday, June 3, 2019

A long winter where we were never sure we would have an actor so we can finish the film during our rather small window, mid-May to mid-September. At some point, John Turturro was supposed to come back, but then we lost him again. Two months ago, as I was in a hotel elevator in Havana filming with Olivier Assayas (Wasp Network, a total delight!), he told me he had just talked to Mia on the phone and we were going to go back to Fårö soon, Tim Roth having been cast.

I am now in the Stockholm/Visby plane, as usual totally unable to think after the first leg of the trip from Los Angeles, during which I slept two hours at most. But I got an idea: at some point in Bergman Island, Tony, a film director who is the companion of Chris (the main character and Mia Hansen-Løve’s alter ego), presents one of his films at the Bergman Center. Consequently, we are going to see a few shots of what is supposed to be a different film by another director and another DP, or, actually, it could be the same, since Tony is modeled on Olivier Assayas, with whom I shot many films, all of them looking very different from those I shot with Mia. So I want to find another style, closer to what Olivier and I were doing together 30 years ago. (Oh, God!) A lot of handheld — well, this I still do — grainy and highly unsaturated. I need to see if our Belgian lab can push our film stock two stops, or if they can skip bleach the neg. Obviously, if they can, some tests will have to be shot prior to the filming of that scene. 

Tuesday, June 4
As Mia, Marie and I are looking at the exact place we will lay tracks to cover a walk and talk of our two characters I realize that I cannot remember if we already shot this scene last year ! We were so well prepared, Mia and I had discussed the exact placements, checked them with Artemis, later showed them to Témoudjine during the tech scouts — when we didn’t know we would have to push these scenes a year — that it is as if I had already shot them, knowing exactly where they start, where they end and how it happens in between. Except that during the winter Mia had edited the scenes with which they will ultimately alternate and had decided subsequently to change a few things. After a quick lunch at the Bergman Center cafeteria, the only place open on the island for the time being, we go to the Damba house, the one I.B. inhabited first, where I myself stayed for a few nights the first time I came to Fårö. This is where Chris and Tony will be living and where we will be filming for more than two weeks.

Wednesday, June 5
Early start, I am picking up Mia and Marie at 7:00 a.m. We take the 7:30 ferry, drive to Visby, and finally take a plane to Stockholm where we are going to scout a plane similar to those which fly every day to Visby, and similar to the one we flew in this morning. This plane will come for us to the Visby Airport so we can film the opening scene of the movie on the tarmac. Narrow central aisle — 39cm at its smallest — but I’m pretty sure Témoudjine will be able to lay a small track and I’ll be able to stand, the camera itself on a column, on a very small platform.

Lunch in the airport, during which Mia is having a meeting with the guy who is making the notebooks Tony will be writing in. To do this properly, he has to imitate Tim Roth’s handwriting, and he is with us to discuss the layout of the 30 pages he has to manufacture in quite a short time.

Then back to Gotland, some road scout up to Fårösund, back down to Visby for a very pleasant dinner and a last scout, the cement factory where we will be filming at night the scene for the film within the film. OK, it is confusing, I know. In Bergman Island, there are actually two films within the film. First, the very elaborate and essential to B.I. film that Chris is writing, and narrates to Tony, as the audience will be able to see images from – this is what we filmed last summer with Mia W. and Anders, and it will form maybe a third or even more of B.I. And then there is also the scene from a fictitious film directed by Tony years ago and that we see as he is screening it at the Bergman Center. I was writing about it two days ago and we are now looking at a possible location to film it. The location is perfect. We will start filming at late dusk, so the sky is not too bright. There are already some work lights, Dirk will have to add a few more, but small and on stands, no cherry picker, no big sources. We will remain low-scale like the rest of the movie.

Lucky enough on our way back, we arrive two minutes before the midnight ferry, the next one is at 1:00 a.m. We feel blessed.

Thursday, June 6
Mia, Marie and I meet at the restaurant Albatross, where Mia has, to spare the art department budget, moved the post-Bergman Safari meal scene. We already shot a few other scenes there last year but at dusk or night and not for that long. The terrasse where we will be filming is beautiful and is, I believe, better. Then, back to Damba house and mill, and then we end the first part of the day inside the Bergman cinema, which was actually his private screening room. A little sign lies on one of the first row seats: “SITT EJ HÂR !,”… Don’t sit. His seat. 

He enjoyed watching films there; one of his numerous (nine) children said that the best way to share a moment with his father was to ask to see a film with him. 

I email Tobias about filming a real 35mm print projection and having to synchronize the projector with the camera. I remember having done that many years ago and it was rather complicated. 

At the end of the day, we go to Fårögarden, another restaurant where we filmed last year. Before having dinner there, Mia describes the scenes we will shoot. This is an opportunity for me to set my own rules: the characters will arrive in what will look like the end of the afternoon, i.e. the sun height will be around 30°, they will have a short scene still in the sunlight soon after, 8° above the horizon is looking like the latest we can go before it looks very different. And then we will move to the dusk dinner. I should be able to put a big light blue frame between the setting sun and the actors, allowing me to start filming before it is really dusk. We should be able to film until the sun is 2° below the horizon, -2°, before it is too dark. (400 ASA, I hate film!)

Friday, June 7
More scouting, ending at lunch time at the Bergman Center. I’m able to download the sync test Tobias shot last year, no flicker at all, neither at 172.8° nor at 180° nor at 150° shutter. Good.

Week minus 1
Monday, June 10

After a small scout on the seashore related to the filming of the Bergman Safari, we have the bad surprise to discover that tree trunks have been put across the road during the weekend, closing off the main access to the shore. Mostly big branches and small trunks we are able to move to the roadside. Even though they are probably here to discourage tourists, it reminds us we are feeling more hostility than last year. Not that we behave badly, but the locals are just fed up. The insularity syndrome: they don’t like outsiders but need them badly to survive.

Coffee at the Bergman Center café afterwards to go through the schedule, as much as possible tweaking call times according to how high or low the sun will be on any given day at any given time. Marie gets a text from the line producer who just arrived yesterday to officially help Marianne, in fact, to replace her, saying that he is leaving the island. It seems that lodging him in a room with no toilet or shower didn’t help! 

Done with any work with Mia or Marie, I work in the afternoon on my cheat sheets, going through the script, comparing with last year’s notes.

Tuesday, June 11
Homework, going through the script, surfing through last year’s notes, updating them with those from the last few days. Rainy and cold.

Wednesday, June 12
Skype with Paris to discuss with Marion the editor, Anne-Sophie the postproduction line producer, and people from the SFX company, the first shot of the film, an establishing shot of the plane in the sky as well as Chris and Tony in the plane, both filmed on the tarmac. The SFX suggests that when filming the plane from outside, for the very first shot of the movie, I track laterally and do some boom up and down in order to have a moving plane when they will put it among the clouds, to give it more life. It makes total sense.

Impromptu meeting about the Fårösund ferry shoot on days 2 and 3. Unlike last year, we don’t have the boat for ourselves except for 105 minutes in the morning. It means we have to be super-efficient during that time. Hence the reunion, to decide what can be done when the boat is open to the public, what absolutely needs to be filmed first, when it is ours, and in what order. Tim Roth, who is in Stockholm ready to fly to Visby this afternoon, calls Mia to chat. He seems very happy and excited but wonders what country Fårö is in.

Thursday, June 13
Tech scout day one. Dirk is finishing a film in Austria and will not be on the island before Sunday. No big deal; he knows the locations already. I meet with Témoudjine and Bertrand, Dirk’s best boy, who are flying in from Brussels. I’m very happy to see them — it brings back pleasant memories and promises more to be made. We start filming Monday! The scout itself is not really a scout; there’s a sense of “been there done that” but it’s still useful to reconnect us with each other and with the project.

Scout and dinner at Fårögarden, Mia and Tim join us for dinner afterwards.

Friday, June 14
Tech scout day two. A few locations — the Damba house, the Bergman cinema, and the Bergman Center screening room — demand some prelight. I therefore spend some time explaining to Bertrand what I wish for. Done at 3:00 p.m., I try to buy some bread at the bakery, but it won’t open for the season until tomorrow. My dear restaurant Albatross was supposed to open this weekend, but now we will have to wait for next weekend. 

Not much more to do. I’m ready and, like all of us, eager to dive into film mode. Dinner with Mia and Tim. I launch Tim on The War Zone, the film he directed in 1999; huge success.

To be continued in Part VIII. Catch up with Part VI here.

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

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