With Sightseers having well and truly made an impact in cinemas across the UK, it now moves across to international waters – opening in Australia and New Zealand this week.
TVO were lucky enough to talk to a number of the cast and crew last month, and now we’ve also found the time to talk to one of the unsung heroes of the film too.
We threw cinematographer, Laurie Rose, some questions about working on the film, his history with Ben Wheatley plus what is to come of the man that gave us the most from the stunning locations that Tina & Chris visit in the film. Here are the results…
Hi, Laurie – welcome to TVO. Firstly, could we get a small insight into how you got into the film/tv industry?
I went to Art School doing sculpture and installation, with some multimedia in there too. This is where I first encountered tape to tape editing. I’d always been into photography and films but had never considered it as a career. I left university not entirely enamoured with the art world or the desire continuing to be part of it, perhaps I wasn’t that good anyway. I ended up moving to Brighton with friends, not doing very much, amateur DJing and cooking breakfasts in a cafe until I got a job as a runner at a TV production company. Being of a technical disposition (nerd) I didn’t much like making tea or answering the phone so I retitled my own job as ‘Technical Runner’ – I got a mobile phone and got to drive a lease car and maintain bits of kit belonging to the company. That’s where it all began really.
Who spurred your enthusiasm for cinematography? Who is your idol in the industry?
I’ve always had a fascination with images of all kinds. As with art I like pictures to do the talking rather than lengthy exposition so I suppose that’s where the desire for story-telling comes in. I’m from a bit of an obsessive technical background perhaps more so than the art. I’m still developing the best language to use and a lot of that has come out of experience and my relationship with Ben Wheatley. We’re trying lots of different ways and that language is forming almost unconsciously.
Ben is a huge inspiration, his determination and drive, his ideas. There are many people I admire but for all sorts of reasons to do with film not just cinematography perhaps their career paths, what they’ve done and how they got there – Roger Deakins, Robbie Müller, Barry Ayckroyd.
You are now a strong part of any Wheatley project – when did this start? How did you meet?
We met through a mutual friend, another cameraman in fact. There was something he couldn’t do for Ben so he put us in touch. We both live in Brighton so it was very convenient. We shot a few comedy virals for BBC Online Comedy (Amazing Wizards ‘Axe Trick’ and ‘Cock Rocket‘) and hooked up on Facebook.
I’d been doing mainly TV up until that point and threatening for a long time to DP some drama. I’d reached a point where I could get hold of the kit and knew enough like-minded crew to get involved that I posted on FB asking if any of my friends/work-types had a script they wanted to shoot. I reckon pretty much everyone in TV secretly wants to do something fictional or dramatic but the first reply was from Ben. He had a script, but he explained it was feature-length and he wanted to shoot it in a week! I thought that was slightly mental and not a little terrifying, I had been hoping for maybe a nice short. But he and Robin Hill had written it entirely specifically for the location and the cast they had in mind. We talked about it for a few weeks and then we just did it. But in 8 days not 7 – that was Down Terrace.
For our readers who don’t know, how would you describe a Director of Photography’s job?
I’m still learning that I think. It really varies with directors and productions with what is expected or required. Sometimes it’s more technical, sometimes it’s also input editorially but more and more it’s a management role of people and equipment, planning and problem solving with production. The camera department is obviously very much at the heart of a production and I love that total immersion in every aspect. It’s always a collaboration, no one can make it completely on their own, I certainly couldn’t. It’s about supporting and facilitating the directors vision. Bringing your ideas and experiences to the directors table, yes but it’s not solely my vision, it’s theirs, I just try to be the eyes for them.
Do yourself and Ben have a certain way of working now after a number of projects together?
Ben loves to move fast, and doesn’t want technical things to get in the way of script and performance and that totally suits handheld, available-light scenarios. When I do light it has to be a space to work within as opposed to necessarily have actors hit marks. That’s a byproduct of working in television – there’s never much time to relight for reverses. Actors appreciate the freedom to move, but its not without its obvious problems. I like to find my way through a scene, which hopefully lends it some dynamism. We don’t discuss it much, but Ben is always right there behind me watching everything and if I’m not doing it right, not seeing what he wants or imagined, he tells me. Largely he seems to trust me get on with it and I trust him to know when he’s got what he wants.
As projects get bigger obviously the prep required is going to get more important, pre-viz of action sequences, making decisions about post before we shoot, providing colour decisions and LUTs for CG work etc.
What is the working process like? Do you take on cast and crew’s own suggestions or do they leave you to your own free will? Is there any collaborative decisions you can think of as an example?
Shooting is a collaboration. We’ve been lucky enough to build a small crew of like-minded people who are all very much friends now, and it’s growing with every project. I think you need people around you who are great at what they do and then you need to hang on to them.
You can generate a short hand where everyone is heading for the same goal without having to spend too much energy explaining and that’s brilliant. It’s a trusting relationship and for me, it makes working a pleasure.
Ben has an incredibly vivid idea of what he wants but will take suggestions and contribution from anyone if its a good idea and fixes a problem!
Sightseers may have some of the most beautiful locations of any UK feature this year – each location looks stunning and credit to you of course for putting it all across like that, which was your favourite and which was your least favourite?
I’d never been to the Lake District before. I was blown away by the landscape we encountered. The sunrises, sunsets, the wind, the clouds, the mountains, the lakes. We were incredibly lucky with the weather during the Sightseers shoot, it just appeared to follow the script.
The ‘Ian Kill’ sequence at sunrise was us arriving at the rock and running up it – desperately trying to get crew out of the way so we could capture it before the sun just went that little bit too high. An amazing sequence that I’m dead proud of, heightened by the slow-mo, the sun, the clear sky, the intercut edit and the music.
The ‘Desolate Place’ was on top of a slate mountain that you could only get to via 4×4 vehicles along perilous single tracks with sheer drops. It felt properly desolate and untouched, with barely any evidence of humans – totally 1970s Dr Who.
The caravan was perched on the edge of a cliff and you could see far off towards the nearby mountains, you could literally see the weather front coming towards you, mainly freezing wind and hail. We would shoot for a bit then all huddle together like North-Faced penguins, backs to the weather as it hit until it passed by, then carry on. It was very cold and unforgiving and has to be the toughest few days of any shoot ever. But it completely suited that bleak point in the story. And we all survived it – most of us anyway. I had the support of Nick Gillespie, my first AC, who shot some fantastic additional work on Sightseers freeing me to concentrate on the essentials.
Which location would you go back to see again?
I promised myself to take my family back to The Lakes and mountains around Keswick – I’m still yet to do it.
What was the process like of finding these locations? Were they mostly places that you have been to before and what is your input into finding them?
I hadn’t been to any of the locations prior to the recce’s. The eventual choice to use certain locations when you’re on a tight budget and schedule is whether they can stand in for what you need.
A Field In England – how far into this project are you and how are you finding it so far? What do you think the response will be to it?
AFIE has all been shot. We spent 12 days in September 2012 in a field near Farnham with a fantastic cast, a brilliant script, some muskets, wigs, incredible costumes and A LOT of smoke. It was very fast and very dirty, we didn’t wait for weather but we did have to wait for the Chinooks flying out of Aldershot (I think?) Sometimes up to 15 a day which doesn’t quite fit into a story set in 1648 however psychedelic you make it. But with our core crew, and genuinely thrilling performances, I think we’ve made a unique film. Ben is editing right now, I can’t wait for it.
And what are your future plans?
I’ve just finished shooting a sitcom which is a departure I’ve really enjoyed. I’m talking to lots of people at the moment about various interesting shorts and TV drama/comedy projects. But firstly I’m working on a documentary for the BBC. I’ve always relished doing lots of different styles of show whether doc, reality, music promo, commercials, comedy or drama. They’re all opportunities to tell a story in a different way – some more structured than others but each inform the other in terms of style, method and approach.
With Ben, we’ve shot some tests already for Freak Shift, with any luck shooting in 2013 – a much bigger production with cops and creatures which I’m very excited about!
If you could go caravanning anywhere and with anyone, where would you go and where would you take them?
I really wanted the caravan used in Sightseers while we were shooting, my kids would LOVE it, but when we’d finished I’d sort of gone off the idea not for any other reason than I’d spent a month cooped up in it and that was plenty but I do rather like the idea of a caravan even over camping.
The image of caravanning doesn’t bother me at all, you make what you like of these things. I’m pretty sure not everyone in the caravan world is anything like Chris and Tina. Not all of them anyway.