Shooting Hansel and Gretel
Last week saw an overwhelming amount of cakes, pies, chocolate and…maggots. 2012 couldn’t have got off to a better start as I got the opportunity to shoot a wonderful, short adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Below I have included some raw frame grabs from the rushes and production photos.
The whole cast and crew were brilliant. Ella, the director was an absolute pleasure to work with and I think all of the planning to ensure we had the same vision of how it would look, really paid off on the day. The role of the director of photography is to serve the story and keep that at the center of every decision. So ultimately, it was great to see her working with our actors and then getting the chance to film these amazing performances on camera.
As with most low budget films, the schedule was pretty hectic. We really did well with pre-production, planning almost every shot in terms of lighting, camera movement and lens choice, which proved invaluable when we were rushing around with red heads, dedo lights and c-stands, trying to light under pressure. The ongoing give and take between myself and the 1st assistant director, Rob was great (I thought!).
Sometimes you do just have to stop tweaking lights, accept that it won’t be perfect and move on and get the next scene, which is more important. It’s nothing new to film making and this relationship has to be there, but being one of the first shoots where I’ve had this responsibility and an AD to reign in my tendency to want another take, it really was a brilliant experience – you learn a lot from that and really have to up your game in every way to keep up with the pace. He did a fantastic job as he kept everyone motivated, smiling and focused. We ultimately did shoot everything we needed.
Production found me a fantastic gaffer by the name of Greg King, who really helped me achieve the desired look for individual scenes and for the film overall. Reading through the script for the first time, I remember thinking it was an absolute gold mine in terms of visuals. It was so nice seeing these ideas come to fruition on set and without Greg there’s no way we could have pulled it off. He worked tirelessly alongside myself and my assistant Ruby, without any official sparks on hand to help him and brought a great deal of experience to the table as well as good ideas. While we did have a few pieces of really great equipment like flags, gels and a set of dedo lights, some of the best lighting set ups were achieved with tin foil, card board, bed sheets, croc clips and gaffer tape. Brilliant stuff.
We were shooting with 6 red heads and 4 dedo lights, which were used in a versatile way and for a variety of purposes. We very much tried to justify each lighting set up, so the light was always motivated. So we built each scene up from the practical lights that were in the mise en scene, stopped down the lens to expose correctly for them and then brought in one light at a time to enhance these sources. By the end, through no fault of our own, 3 out of 6 bulbs on the red heads blew, but we put them to very good use before that happened! For the most part, I’m very pleased with what we achieved. From the get go, Ella and Rob voiced how key they felt the lighting would be in addressing this story, so it was a real pleasure exploring what we could do with each scene to approach it in an interesting, but appropriate manner.
One of the most fun and challenging environments to think about ideas for was Hansel’s bedroom. Ella and Rob had a vision of a dark, musky room, so we built the lighting plan up from there. In one scene, Gretel bursts from a brightly lit hallway, into the dark room. The aim was to have almost complete darkness inside the room, apart from one shard of light to look like daylight coming through curtains that hadn’t been fully drawn – which would land on the door and the floor. I knew we had to begin the scene from outside the room and towards the end have an important reveal. We worked backwards, using a practical lamp that was on a bedside table and exposed correctly for that light, so that the detail of the lamp shade was captured, rather than having a blown out white blob from the light source on the screen. We then lit outside the room in the corridor keeping the same camera and lens settings, to get a general high key, ambient light that would contrast heavily against the low key light inside the bedroom.
To reflect the sense of urgency that Gretel is feeling in this scene, I tracked Lola (who played Gretel) hand held into the room from the corridor, and then swung round in a semi circle following her movements as she slams the door shut, with her whole body pressed up to the door. We placed the shard of light on the door and gave Lola a mark so she knew where to stop. That was fine. The tricky bit was to keep up with her pace on a wide 22mm lens without catching any lights, stands or shadows in the frame, before coming to a sudden stop on a mid shot of her pressed against the door. Ruby thought up a simple solution – strap a little bean bag pillow to my arm so that I could throw myself into the wall alongside the door with some force, without breaking any bones or getting (as much) shake on camera. I haven’t worn armbands in a while, but it did the trick! It was that kind of thing that I really loved on the shoot – knowing what I wanted from the camera and lighting setup and then all figuring out simple ways to achieve it. In that shot, some of the main enablers were tin foil and a little pillow made up of polystyrene balls.
What was also really wonderful about this production was how much the whole feel of the piece depended on different departments nailing their areas and then bringing it all together into the frame. Films are always collaborative and the more I work, the more I realise the value of that collaborative process. Costume, art direction, acting, make up, hair, and sound on Hansel and Gretel were all just brilliant. Some days were absolutely mad – if we weren’t fighting basically gale force winds, the crew were fitting fat suits, catching runaway maggots (by the pint-full!) and trying to manage the biggest divas on set – our resident baby rats, Deardrie and Gloria.
I think it was the combination of cast and crew living together for the shoot and collectively managing to get to the end without any major catastrophies (a broken car bumper aside!) that enabled everyone to bond, feel comfortable and do their jobs to the best of their ability.
There’s nothing quite like squeezing onto a sofa with 11 odd people at the end of a crazy day filming and watching the rushes back, so we could all see our efforts captured on the screen. That made for such a strong cast and crew and I think those efforts will translate onto the screen for the audience as well. It was great fun and I’m sure it won’t be too long before we’re all back together working on another one.
So now the film goes into post production process and the editing and sound design begins. As it may be a little while until the film is available to watch, here are some more frame grabs from the rushes and production stills to keep your eyes occupied. Enjoy!