Return to Table of Contents
The Hulk page 2page 3
28 Days Laterpage 2page 3
DVDpage 2page 3
A Flexible Finish
American Cinematographer Magazine
Anthony Dod Mantle, DFF injects the apocalyptic 28 Days Later with a strain of digital video.

by Douglas Bankston
Unit photography by Peter Mountain
Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Late one night, three animal-rights activists slip into a primate research facility and discover chimpanzees undergoing a visual assault of violent imagery. As the activists are about to release the chimps from captivity, a lone scientist stumbles onto the scene and frantically warns them to stop. He explains that these particular primates have been injected with a manufactured, highly contagious virus that causes the stricken to be consumed by a state of unrelenting rage. Of course, in typical government fashion, a cure has yet to be developed. Dismissing the good scientist's pleadings, an activist opens one of the cages . . . .

Twenty-eight days later, a bicycle courier named Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens from a month-long coma in a hospital to find his intravenous bags empty, his heart monitor silent and a lengthy scar on the side of his head. Something ominous has occurred during his incapacitation, which resulted from a collision with a car. Wandering from his room, he finds the hospital deserted, and when he ventures outside, he finds that all of London is equally empty.

Seeking some form of solace, Jim eventually enters a cathedral, where he discovers that the pews are packed with decaying corpses. Growing anxious, he shouts out a futile "hello," expecting no response. But his call interrupts the resident priest and two other gentlemen - who, after being "infected," are now feeding on the dead. Hemorrhaging blood and full of rage, the three tear after the fresh meat (i.e., Jim), who scrambles out of the church in a what-has-the-world-come-to panic. Just before he is ripped limb from limb, however, Jim is rescued by a pair of "normals," Selena and Mark (Naomie Harris and Noah Huntley), who whisk him to relative safety. There, they give him the bad news about the world.

With the World Health Organization announcing virus alerts at an almost daily rate, 28 Days Later seems especially timely. The film has been a smash in the United Kingdom, where it was released late last year. It also offered Brits the chance to see something they'd never seen before - a London devoid of people - thanks to skillful compositions by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, DFF and an incredible job of traffic control.

While Dod Mantle was shooting All About Love in Sweden for Thomas Vinterberg, director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, The Beach) flew over to chat with him about his ideas for the horror film. The duo had already worked together on a pair of BBC productions, Strumpet and Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise. "Danny was splaying these pretty horrific pictures of violence on a table in front of me and saying, 'This film is, of course, quite violent,'" Dod Mantle says with dry understatement. "There was a lot of location work and a lot of building on location, and that's expensive in London. We knew that if we shot on 35mm stock in a conventional format, we would probably have to lose quite a few scenes."

In order to maintain the integrity of Alex Garland's script, the filmmakers opted for MiniDV, a format at the lower end of digital video's resolution scale. The advantage of MiniDV, however, was that its inherently small cameras could be set up quickly, which proved key to pulling off the stunning shots of deserted London. "If I had shot those on a big negative, it would have looked absolutely stunning," Dod Mantle reflects. "It was extraordinary to see those city streets deserted. I knew how beautiful those could have been, but we made an artistic decision and I stood by it. In those particular instances, of course, we would not have been allowed to shoot and take up so much space [in 35mm] for two weeks at such a delicate time before early-morning rush hour. Just out of frame, I heard people screaming serious dissent that I won't quote!"

Even at 4 a.m., traffic control could hold back angry commuters for just so long as scenes were shot at Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Bridge and the Docklands. These sequences necessitated the use of as many as eight Canon XL1 MiniDV cameras to cover all angles, allowing shots to be made as quickly as possible. "I placed them all and framed them all," Dod Mantle recalls. "It was very difficult because we had to deal with Walkie-Talkies, screaming commuters just out of frame, police asking when we'd finish and six or eight people operating cameras. Even my gaffer, Thomas Neivelt, and producer Andrew MacDonald were operating some of the cameras. I was trying to Walkie T-stops knowing that they were at six different angles in accordance to the constantly rising sun. It was hell.

"As I watched the morning light come over St. Paul's Cathedral with all of these beautiful violets, yellows and magentas, I thought, 'How much of this information am I going to be able to maintain on the final print for a massive throw in a big cinema house in London or the States?'"

Page 1



© 2003 American Cinematographer.