This landmark two-part miniseries tells the story of five young newly-arrived immigrants who met in a Sydney hostel in the Sixties and formed a band that would take Australian rock’n’roll to the world. Lensed my Simon Chapman ACS, Friday On My Mind is the story of The Easybeats.
By James Cunningham.
Friday On My Mind is more than a classic rags to riches tale. It is a story of identity, reinvention and belonging with a powerful contemporary relevance. The series tells the story of five disparate boys who band together with an equally talented young visionary from the top end of town to create Australia’s first truly international rock group, The Easybeats.
Directed by Matthew Saville (Seven Types Of Ambiguity, Please Like Me, The Slap) and written by Howzat and Paper Giants scribe Christopher Lee, Friday On My Mind is a joint production between the ABC, Playmaker, Screen Australia and Screen NSW. Interwoven with a fittingly killer soundtrack, the series touches on themes of celebrity and redemption.
While it was a wild ride being rock stars in the swinging sixties, the talented musicians struggled with holding on to their sense of self in their pursuit of riches and stardom, and were forced to confront the loss of identity that comes with overwhelming fame and living in a foreign land. Ultimately, it was through their groundbreaking music that they found themselves at home and discovered they were essentially Australian.
Cinematographer Simon Chapman ACS (Glitch) had worked with the Playmaker team before on season one of The Wrong Girl (2016). “I had never worked with Director Matt Saville but I have wanted to for a long time,” says Chapman. “That was a big part of deciding to shoot the show. Producer Di Haddon was also very supportive in getting our vision to the screen.”
Chapman says he knew the ARRI Alexa Mini would be perfect for shooting Friday On My Mind and Saville along with the producers were very happy with his choice of camera. “We wanted the show to feel authentic to the period and create a raw energy to the images that reflected the same vibe that the young rockstars would have felt living the incredible rise to fame,” he explains. “I wanted the camera, and the audience, to be with them on their crazy ride to the top.”
I wanted the camera, and the audience, to be with them on their crazy ride to the top.
During pre-production a pseudo doco/drama feel was talked about. “I would have loved to shoot a mix of 8mm, 16mm and 35mm for each period of the bands rise and fall,” says Chapman. “I was actually looking for ‘imperfections’ as much as possible. I would love lens flares or the camera to be bumped or even a bit of dirt on the lens! It was rock n roll after all.”
Deciding they would achieve the look they wanted using digital, along with a clever combination of lenses, filters and grades. Chapman ultimately decided on a mix of Fujinon zooms and Leica primes with Black Satin diffusion. “I shot the entire show at 1600 ISO. I wanted to embed a little ‘texture’ and we even added a little more grain in post,” says Chapman. “We did shoot a few rolls of Super8 too!”
The series is named for the hit song that brought the group international fame, in 1966, so remaining true to the style of that period was pivotal to partnership between Chapman and Production Designer Tim Ferrier. “I spoke with our design team at length about the period and looked at plenty of reference material they had gathered,” explains Chapman. “We also looked at documentaries and archival footage of The Easybeats from the 1960s and then we decided how we would interpret the era for our show and look.”
Chapman was very specific about practical lights for locations and stage work on the show, requesting a lot of haze for interiors. “The atmos really helped sell the period,” he says. “Ultimately we had brilliant locations and dressing, with great costumes and makeup. That was the bedrock to create an authentic ‘period feel’ for the show.”
The Cinematographer had worked with Key Grip Martin Fargher and Gaffer Steve Daley on multiple projects prior to Friday On My Mind, including a collaborations on The Little Death (2014). “I think these guys are incredible at their jobs and also work very well together,” says Chapman. “I was lucky to have them on board as we all have a good shorthand communication now.“
“My A-Camera Operator Michael Steel (Beast) is a gifted operator, but also an accomplished cinematographer in his own right,” explains Chapman. “I have worked with Steel before and know he has the right temperament and experience to lead the team but with the added bonus of being able to go off and shoot beautiful Second Unit material.”
The camera crew on Friday On My Mind was rounded out by First Assistant A-Camera Sam Vines, Second Assistant A-Camera Ann-Sophie Marion, First Assistant B-Camera Sian Bates and Second Assistant B-Camera Louis Lau, with Video Split/Intern Leonardo Gualtieri. “They were some of the finest technicians and friendliest crew I’ve ever worked with,” says Chapman. “On a schedule of only six weeks to shoot 180 minutes of television, this crew never missed a beat!”
Some of Chapman’s favourite sequences in the show are in a shed where the band practice their music. “The location was an absolute find,” he says, “The energy in the room when shooting the songs was electric and I really liked the mood we captured. The light was right, the cameras were alive, the actors were great and the music was fantastic. Sometimes it all just comes together. This was how I wanted the show to feel.”
The energy in the room when shooting the songs was electric and I really liked the mood we captured.
Saville and Chapman decided on a mix of 1960s Ektachrome and Kodachrome for the colour grade. They shot early tests and decided to push the colour pretty hard. “Our fantastic Colorist Marcus Smith at BluePost worked tirelessly creating the colour for each period of the film,” says Chapman. Smith studied 1960s period films and found the combinations that would ultimately achieve their desired look. “Marcus created a LUT which became our ‘base look’ and then in final colour timing he altered it depending on moods and periods in The Easybeat’s rise and fall.”
“I think it’s the same for any project,” explains Chapman, “you must engage with the material and choose your approach that you feel is appropriate and achievable within the constraints imposed. Every decision you make must be in alignment with the team around you and supported by the director. We bring our individual perspective to each project because we all have unique life experiences and creative influences.”
Chapman says he always looks at scenes and shots and thinks what he could have done better, or what he might have done differently with hindsight. “That is part of being a cinematographer,” he says. “You learn on each project and hopefully get better for the next one.”
I definitely think we succeeded in bringing the Easybeats story to life,” says Chapman. “It is always a challenge on tight budgets to do a period film, but for all our adversities and challenges technically, financially and schedule, I think most importantly we captured the spirit of the band. It was the energy of the five guys that is the heart and soul of the series.”
From shooting the past to filming the future, Chapman is now heading off to the UK to shoot episodes of the long-running television series Doctor Who… and we at the magazine can’t wait to talk to him about that!
James Cunningham is the Editor of Australian Cinematographer Magazine.