From one of Australia’s most prolific writers Bevan Lee (Packed to the Rafters, A Place to Call Home, All Saints) comes an intense, high-concept drama series. Between Two Worlds sees two-time AACTA nominee for ‘Best Cinematography in Television’ Henry Pierce ACS (A Place to Call Home) behind the camera.
Interview by Simon Stephens.
AC – Can you describe this project a little, in your own words?
HP – Between Two Worlds is a contemporary drama set in Sydney. It follows the life of a super rich family and also a widowed mother and her family from the suburbs. The story has many twists and turns and high drama about these two families or ‘Worlds’. The scripts are real page turners and beautifully written by Bevan Lee.
AC – How did you initially get involved on Between Two Worlds? Had you worked with any of the producers or creative team previously?
HP – The show was produced by Julie McGauran, Chris Martin-Jones, and Lesley Parker. I had worked with this team on A Place to Call Home and also McGauran on many other projects as well. They asked me to come onboard last year. I had no hesitation as I have always had great experiences with this team previously.
AC – Was there ever a discussion on what to shoot with, and how involved where you in those discussions? What factors did you take into consideration when choosing what cameras to shoot with, both aesthetic and financial?
HP – One of the great things about working with these producers is they provide for creative freedom. It was totally up to me as to what camera and lenses to shoot Between Two Worlds.
I had been to Panavision last year when they had a workshop showcasing the new Millennium DXL2 at their office in Lane Cove and was very impressed with that system, along with the beautiful Artiste Lenses. I really feel this camera is a game changer and couldn’t wait to use it on my next show. My other consideration was the Sony Venice, but after testing both cameras together the Venice did not even come close. I had used the Sony F65 on A Place to Call Home before and loved it’s look, but I have to say I feel the Venice is not as good as the F65.
Panavision’s DXL2 with its full-frame sensor, combined with the Artiste lenses, is just magnificent. As always there are budget considerations, but we were able to do the deal thanks to Paul Jackson and his very helpful team at Panavision Australia. The DXL2 gives me a real cinematic look which is something we talked about with the producers at the beginning, along with Director Kriv Stenders.
AC – Can you talk about that ‘cinematic look’ you’re talking about? What references were you working from? What was your collaboration like with the production design team?
HP – I am so pleased to be working again with Production designer Fiona Donovan, and have a great working relationship with her. Along with Stenders, we referenced Netflix’s House of Cards as a style.
Along with the wonderful cinematic look of the DXL2, we are shooting in 2:1 format which I feel adds to this look. Framing wise, we want classic symmetrical frames for the actors to work in. Using elegant tracking shots and very much using the architecture of the locations. The colour palette is slightly muted with cool skin tones. It is a very exciting project to work on, especially having such creative freedom and support from the producers.
AC – Who were you working with in the camera department?
HP – I try and keep the same crew as much as possible. I like a relaxed, happy atmosphere on set but also very professional. The operators and the first assistants camera are the people right in front of the actors, so it’s important the actors feel comfortable with them and are in a very supportive atmosphere. I had Geoff Owen on A-camera and Steadicam, with Pim Kulk and Roberto Tarrats as my first assistants camera. They certainly deliver in every aspect.
AC – What was your shooting schedule like? Were you shooting mostly location work? Did everything go as planned?
HP – The entire job was shot on location. This presented many challenges as we had nowhere to run when the weather turned bad. For me, planning and pre-production are vitally important. With the usual tight television schedule you need to know where all your major lighting is going well in advance so on the day you are just enhancing. Also, working ahead with the gaffer, so when you’ve lit one scene you are already thinking about the next. Every day is so busy for a cinematographer on these shows as you go from one scene to the next, day in and day out.
We were, however, very lucky with the weather. Our locations were simply fantastic; one being a very expensive penthouse right in the middle of the City, another a magnificent mansion on the water at Newport, and the weather really turned it on when we needed. I think the major locations we had made a huge impact on the look of the show, and I must give great thanks to Phillip Roope, our location manager, who did an amazing job in securing these locations for us.
AC – How involved were you in the post-production process? How did you approach colour-grading on Between Two Worlds?
HP – During pre-production I do as much as I can alongside the post-production facilities regarding the look, Look-Up Table (LUT) setup, how the rushes are seen and in what quality. Every job I insist that I am present at the colour grade which I never have any trouble with. I hear from other cinematographers that sometimes they are not involved with the grade, which I don’t understand as it is so important.
About three weeks into the shoot I go to a grading session with the first cut scenes and that’s when we really refine the look of the show. I like the LUT to be as close as possible to the final look, which it generally is, but after that early grading session sometimes I’ll tweak it a little. It’s very important from day one that everyone sees fairly closely what the look will be so people in the wardrobe, hair and make-up and the art departments know how the colours they are using come up on screen. Equally, the producers need to see and feel confident in how it will eventually look.
AC – Do you have a favourite shot or sequence in Between Two Worlds? Why?
HP – Probably my favourite sequence is the opening of episode three. It starts with a very moody sex scene followed by a [Spoiler Alert] very dramatic murder scene. The first scene is highly -stylised at night, against windows. Lots of rim light and dark shadows. The murder scene is an interior day scene, again against windows, so more rim light opportunities. They are both beautifully directed; one by Stenders and the other by Lynn Hegarty. The actors did a fantastic job.
AC – On a show like this, how do you work to achieve the ‘overall vision’ while still imparting your own unique perspective as cinematographer?
HP – I had the blessing of great creative freedom on this show but filming is a collaborative process. Stenders, Donovan and I really work very closely together during pre-production to sort out the tone and style, then present it to the producers for their approval and input.
For me, as a cinematographer, it eventually comes down to the lighting on set. I get great freedom there and luckily they like what I do. Lighting and composing a scene is still such a great joy for me and that is where the cinematographer really stamps his or her look on a show. You need the best camera for the job and the right filters, but lighting is everything.
AC – Looking back on what you had originally set out to achieve making Between Two Worlds, do you think you succeeded? With the benefit of hindsight, what might you have done differently?
HP – I think we are all very happy with the way the Between Two Worlds turned out. We certainly had great directors, weather, locations and a wonderful cast. From my point of view I am very happy with the look and can’t think of anything I would change. The DXL2 certainly exceeded my expectations. I did a lot of tests with the camera, but when I started putting it through its paces on location I was amazed with its incredible range and the beautiful quality of the lenses. I can’t wait to use it again.
Henry Pierce ACS started shooting television commercials in the early 1980s for all the major advertising agencies in Australia. He has recently completed filming ‘Call The Midwife’ in London airing on BBC 1.