… for Random Weirdness
Tip #1712: Tips on Restarting Production
An in-depth interview with cinematographer Ben Richardson.
This article, written by Matt Mulcahey, first appeared in FilmmakerMagazine.com. This is an excerpt.
With the entire season of “Mare of Easttown” now available on HBO Max, cinematographer Ben Richardson talks the difficulties of a six-month COVID-19 pause, the benefits of Leitz Summilux lenses and his tricks for assigning the right level of suspicion to your red herrings.
Filmmaker: Were the scripts for all seven episodes of the series completely finished when you started shooting?
Richardson: Yes. This was a somewhat unusual scenario in that we didn’t actually start shooting with the first episode. Instead, we cross-boarded the entire season, visiting many locations only once (and shooting every scene there) for all seven episodes. Because there was a single DP and a single director, there wasn’t any need to go in strict episode order. To make the logistics work with actor availability and some of the locations that were featured throughout the whole show, it made sense to block shoot everything.
Filmmaker: That plan makes a lot of sense, but it definitely complicated matters when you had to shut down halfway through the shoot because of COVID. When you went back to finish, now you still had scenes from all seven episodes to shoot.
Richardson: The challenge was that we had set out to make something not only scheduled more like a movie but also with that same sort of scale, which is something I think the story demanded. The real challenge was maintaining that scale we’d been able to establish while working within the new restrictions that COVID required.
Filmmaker: The interiors and exteriors really blend seamlessly. How much of this was shot on stage versus practical locations?
Richardson: I think it’s probably about 50/50. Though the exterior is real, the interior of Mare’s house is a build. Actually, the little stairwell [next to the split-level home’s front door] was duplicated on stage to match the one in the real exterior location, so we were able to do stairwell scenes looking out the real location’s front door to get the background, then do the reverses on the set build. Frank and Faye’s was entirely practical. Lori’s was entirely practical. It was a real hybrid and that ends up being a little bit challenging in a fun way, because there are some logistical differences between shooting location interiors versus stage interiors. You don’t want the stuff done on stage to feel much more controlled or contrived compared to the location stuff, which may have a few more rough edges. But I like the rough edges, so I’m always looking for ways to break the lighting a little bit and make it imperfect on stage.
Filmmaker: The only handheld shot I remember in the show is the episode six flashback to the suicide of Mare’s son, which tracks from outside to inside her house.
Richardson: That shot actually ended being quite a complex thing to pull off, because it’s two shots stitched together between the location and the stage set, and also there’s a speed ramp at the end. It became a very interesting technical challenge to be able to marry those shots in a way that, hopefully, nobody will ever notice and I think we pulled that off pretty well.
The interview goes into much more detail. Read the full version here.