Interview: Far From the Madding Crowd cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen
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Award-winning Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen talks about how she came up with the 'look' she wanted for Far From the Madding Crowd, working with Thomas Vinterberg and the importance of shooting on celluloid. Just Thomas Hardy’s name seems to conjure up ideas of rolling hills and beautiful landscapes and fields – it’s a name that comes pre-loaded with visual power. When you first came on board how did initially come up with how you wanted this film to look? What were your first points of discussion with director Thomas Vinterberg? Both our first reactions were like ‘Oh my goodness, how on earth are we going to live up to those descriptions in the novel?’ We were nervous about how we were going to live up to it. One of his first words to me was ‘We must get this sweeping romance of Dorset’, as if it’s a character in the film. There was a lot of discussion as to how we get the character and the description in Hardy. When you read the novel, he has page after page describing one view and when we film it, it’s going to be on the screen for three of four seconds. How do we capture the detail that he does on the page? We realised that each view and each wide shot of Dorset had to not just have the view, but something we are watching, such as the sheep, so it had to be a very specific view. There’s a lot of preparation as to what view goes where in the film and for what reason. Those landscape shots are not just ‘grabs’ as you travel around Dorset, they are all set-up. A lot of pre-planning and a lot of precision. A lot of thoughts and prep we went through when we started talking about the movie. Did you look elsewhere for inspiration, such as look at other period drama adaptations or movies or photography? Yes, I do a lot of visual references, but never a specific painter or film. We looked quite widely, and watched a few films, including the original Far From the Madding Crowd. We wanted to be a modern period piece, we don’t want to force modern energy into it. We wanted to stay true to the pace of Thomas Hardy and the pace of that world. We also looked at Gone with the Wind and Fanny and Alexander. I was inspired by different painters – a Danish painter, Peder Krøyer, works a lot with light so I looked at his work. On top of that, general research on the internet of still photography. I also have my own little library I collect of photographs; I cut them out and put them in books. I do a wide amount of visual preparation. I made a document for this film of 350 pages of work that, together, gives me a feel of where we are going with the film. Going back to the process of image capture, the 1967 adaptation was shot on Eastman 35mm, the 1998 version was I believe shot on 16mm and now here in 2015, I believe, according to IMDB this was the first digital Thomas Hardy adaptation, shot on the Arri Alexa, is that correct? No, we shot on 35mm! Is it saying we shot digitally? Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll have to get that corrected right away! No, we ended up shooting on 35mm which was so important for us. That explains a lot! I was sitting there thinking ‘How on earth did they get this to look so filmic?’ So that does explain it! What was reasoning behind that choice? Thomas and I were sure this film had to feel truthful. It had to be a truthful adaptation of the novel. Not documentary, but it had to feel real. That’s what Thomas Vinterberg as a director is very good at. He’s good at his realism. We wanted that to be part of the film. We knew it needed to look soft and we didn’t want to have a lot of post-production work. We wanted to have that softness and the grain. So this thing where you shoot digital and then add a lot of layers of grain – it felt wrong when our aim was to be truthful. We didn’t want to manipulate the images. We thought, we want it to look like film, then if we shoot on digital we have to do a lot of work adding a lot of layers of grain to make it look like we shot on film. Why don’t we just shoot on film? And so, we wrote a long letter to the producers explaining why. Another reason is the way of working. It gives you such discipline when you work on film. You can’t just roll the camera. It’s a very old fashioned way of filmmaking and we found that old fashioned way really helped.
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