Cinematography Mentored

Filmmaker Simon Woods is paired with cinematographer Mark Wareham ACS
as part of the Australian Cinematographers Society mentorship program – by Simon Woods

By arrangement through the Australian Cinematographers Society I was very
fortunate to spend a few, valuable weeks with one of our most experienced cinematographers, Mark Wareham ACS, while shooting the third season of the series Wanted (2016-) in South Australia.

Wanted is an Australian television drama starring Rebecca Gibney and Geraldine Hakewill who are on the run from authorities in a bid to prove their innocence in the face of corrupt cops. In talking to various crew in Queensland before going on set with Wareham, the comment I heard most frequently was regarding the speed at which the cinematographer is known to work. On television drama, with two or three cameras rolling, and up to forty set-ups a day, this is a useful trait.

Coming from the world of corporates and documentary, my learning was compounded by the exposure I had to the entire camera department, especially B-Camera Operator, the ever-calm Andrew Condor ACS SOC, a highly accomplished cinematographer in his own right.

Andrew Condor ACS SOC on B-Camera (L) with Cinematographer Mark Wareham ACS operating on 'Wanted' - PHOTO Simon Woods
Andrew Condor ACS SOC on B-Camera (L) with Cinematographer Mark Wareham ACS operating on ‘Wanted’ – PHOTO Simon Woods

The production was filmed on ARRI Alexa Classics with Leica Summicron-C Primes, Wareham’s own set of Angénieux Optimo zooms, in addition to a 24-290mm zoom lens.

Despite the busy schedule, Wareham always found time to answer my questions about lighting set-ups and explain what he was doing. It’s one thing to work fast but it’s another thing entirely to be fast and constantly hit the target. Always on the move, walking and talking, Wareham would coordinate camera moves, lens choices and lighting before calling out to Director Peter Sutherland, “Hey Pete, how’s that?”. I would look at the monitor and think, “Fuck, that looks fantastic.

I was initially surprised by Wareham’s minimalistic, natural lighting style. Even with five electrics and a truck-load of gear he would often light with a minimum of fixtures; light bounced off Corflute, an exterior source through the window, some white rag here and there, and some black to take out what wasn’t needed… all elegantly framed. If something became a bit over-lit, he would reject it saying, “That looks a bit too much like television.

The mentorship exposed me to a variety of shooting conditions including exterior and interior location work and a few days back in the cosy studios of the South Australian Film Corporation working on constructed sets and shooting simulated travel. Many of the locations were tiny rooms, squeezing in two cameras, two operators, two focus pullers and a director, plus cast.

These set-ups were the most interesting to observe because of the location problem solving required. Each shot contained an intricate array of bounced light, negative fill and diffusion, plus colour temperature choices within camera that would add to the drama of a scene. An old colonial building used for the country police station was lit only through the windows with ARRI M8 HMIs bounced in, and sometimes the addition of a single 1×1 LED inside for portable fill.

A highlight for me was occasionally being thrown onto the C-Camera for stunts, establishing shots or to grab cutaways and reactions from actors in some of the bigger scenes. Wareham was obviously aware that ‘hands on shooting’ was going to be great experience for me in television drama land, and it certainly was.

Wareham demonstrated to me not only a high-level of technical craft in cinematography but he was also able to model a personable but ‘warmly-assertive’ style of behaviour. You can’t get through these schedules by dithering, and it was extraordinary to see the cinematographer’s thirty years of experience come into play solving a multitude of problems, always calm but firm, which provided an excellent model for me as an emerging cinematographer.

Simon Woods is a director and cinematographer based in Brisbane. Episode One of his web-series shot in the Philippines, People of Paradise, won a Gold Award at the 2017 Queensland ACS Awards.

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