The Village was filmed entirely on location in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where the production built a small, practical village set on a pasture adjacent to a stretch of woods. Approximately one mile from the main sets, a base camp and makeshift soundstage (built inside an inflatable dome) were erected to provide cover sets, and to accommodate a few sequences that are not set in the village. Deakins recalls, “Night very much wanted to shoot as much as possible in the real situations, so we were often shooting interiors on the main village set with all of the exteriors visible outside the windows. I did feel that more of the picture could have been shot onstage. When we were shooting night interiors in a house built on location, for example, we sometimes had to battle the wind and the weather, and in the end, we couldn’t really see anything outside [the windows], anyway. So there was a bit of a tradeoff between creating a sense of reality for the actors and taking advantage of the practicality of working in a controllable environment. On a few occasions when we needed to float a wall to do a certain shot, the wind was blowing at 40 miles per hour, so Mitch Lillian, my key grip, and his crew had to build a whole baffle screen just so we could record sound and not have the actors blown about!”
During the construction of the main village set, Deakins had gaffer Bill O’Leary’s team extensively pre-rig the sets for both interior and exterior work. “We laid an enormous amount of cable,” states Deakins. “It was quite a big space, and the production wanted to have the flexibility in the schedule to basically shoot anything at any time. So before the greensmen put in turf around the houses, we dug channels and put cables not only to just about every house, but also out to the perimeter, where I thought we might want some night-light effect.
“One particular night scene shows two characters sitting on a terrace, and we wanted a sort of misty fog in the background,” the cinematographer continues. “To light the effect I envisioned, we needed to position a pair of large cranes with a couple of 18-bulb Maxi-Brutes in a particular spot way back behind this grove of trees. But in order to do that, the cranes had to be put in well before we even started shooting. Because a gravel road would have appeared somewhere in the background of our many 360-degree shots, and because the ground was so muddy from all the bad weather, we had to tow the cranes around the perimeter of the set in an area where we wouldn’t see the tracks, and then we basically buried them there. So we had those two cranes sitting out there, just sort of waiting for us to shoot that terrace sequence before we could get them out again.”
The filmmakers wanted to shoot The Village in the winter, after all the leaves had fallen from the trees, and strove to maintain a soft, overcast look throughout the picture. “Night wanted a sort of stark landscape,” says Deakins. “The film is a very somber piece, and I think the photography reflects that. We tried to shoot in overcast conditions, with sort of dull light, as much as possible. The days were very short, so we were often shooting in late light; although that’s ostensibly bad light, it was good light for what this film is.
“The biggest challenge on this shoot was the weather, which was atrocious,” he continues. “It was especially hard on the art department I think it rained nine out of 10 days while they were building the sets. Working at that time of the year, you can slate the take, and by the time the shot actually starts, the light has dropped or jumped by a stop and a half! We tried to structure our shooting days as best we could, and the storyboards were really helpful in that respect. We’d shoot the wide shots early and then plan to do other shots in a certain direction at a designated point in the day, or in the shade of a building or tree. There was one weekend when we got about 16 inches of snow that wouldn’t melt, so we ended up shooting interiors and blowing out the exteriors so we couldn’t see the snow outside.”
Even with storyboards and a degree of flexibility to move inside or outside a set as the weather improved, there were many instances when the filmmakers had to shoot in less than ideal light interior and exterior. “For one sequence, we were shooting inside the largest structure in the village set,” recalls Deakins, “and because of the way the windows were constructed and the way the shots were designed, we could see out the windows on the lower floor, so we had to bring in several lifts just to be able to have light come in through the higher windows. If we’d shot that location at the right time of day with the perfect light, we wouldn’t have needed to do anything at all and it would have looked really nice. But you can’t rely on that, of course, so you end up with four or five Condors with an 18K on each, and then you have to put in diffusion to soften those up. You end up with quite a big rig just to create what you could have done naturally.
“As the natural sunlight changed during the day, new problems would arise,” Deakins continues. “One moment there would be full sunlight hitting the diffusion over the windows, and the next moment there would only be our lights hitting the diffusion, which created a totally different look. Then you’d go to lunch, and when you came back you’d find that the light hitting the diffusion on one side of the building was hitting another set of windows on another side. We essentially had to figure whether we wanted any natural light at all, and I ended up spending quite a lot of time sitting on the set in the morning, afternoon and evening just to see how the light moved in those rooms. That enabled us to stage the shots around the way light was going to affect the space.