Shot by young cinematographer Ramy Daniel, short film Dots tells the story of a small Australian town where people start dying after the arrival of a mysterious stranger. A local police officer, however, is too preoccupied with his Mercedes to pay attention to the deaths.
Daniel graduated last year from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) as a Master of Screen Arts student specialising in cinematography. Both Daniel and Director Eryk Lenartowicz were working closely in the same class. Lenartowicz specialised in writing and directing while Daniel was working in both cinematography and documentary. “During our class feedback sessions I started reading the script,” says Daniel, “and before I turned the first page, I immediately pictured myself pitching to shoot it.”
The number one factor for Daniel when it came to choosing his gear was to look within what the school had to offer, in order to save money. “The mission was to minimise our gear list in order to setup, shoot and move light and fast since there was some traveling and harsh terrain on the location shoots,” explains Daniel. “Our goal was of course the ‘look’ and with all the cameras and lenses we tested, only one combination was standing out with the right tone which myself and the director were aiming for.” They chose the ARRI Alexa Classic with the Angenieux 25-250. “Slow, heavy and bulky but vintage gold!”
The close relationship between Lenartowicz and Production Designers Thomas Muir and Yvette Underwood meant that his working relationship with the production design team was ‘a breeze’. “Rarely did I feel the need to add much to what they were coming up with, be it the colours or the layouts, as we were working from the same references and working from the storyboard,” says Daniel. Those references being Dogtooth (2009, cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis GSC) and A Serious Man (2009, cinematography by Roger Deakins CBE BSC ASC). “Most of my time with the production designers was utilised working on measurements and practical lights during pre production and on set it was a matter of only moving things one inch left one inch right.”
“Some days, you wake up at 4am knowing there’s a tonne of gear to be setup, footage to be backed up, and a shot-list longer than the wait for season eight of Game of Thrones,” says Daniel. “But that time flies by so quickly and effortlessly when you’re with the crew.“ Daniel explains it’s the mutual respect and professionalism that keeps them going, and looking forward to the next day. “The key thing I do with my crew after each day is allow time to give each other feedback. We keep an open mind about suggestions and how we could improve things creatively and practically, as well as pointing out the positive aspects of the day, not just the negative,” he says.
Daniel does confess, however, that he would have preferred to be more involved in post production, especially during the grade. “I shot with a look up table we created prior to shoot, and that was passed on to post,” he says. “I would have loved to be more involved but timing simply made it difficult on this occasion.”
There was a some fortune for Daniel on the Dots shoot, however. “This one I credit to poor man’s luck!,” he says. Toward the beginning of the film, the crew planned to shoot the mysterious stranger entering the small town, standing in front of a house. “When we set up the shot, it just happened; it clouded, drizzled and the wind started pushing fog in the same direction our stranger was walking. It was a gift from the gods that complemented the story behind this frame in every single way.”
Dots received its world premier in the Cinéfondation section of this year’s Cannes film festival. “Everyone worked really hard to get us this far,” says Daniel. “It’s been a long, awesome journey and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved.”
Ramy Daniel is a freelance cinematographer based in Sydney.