Cinematographer Jack Shepherd shoots the bold new series Cloudy River about an artist, Cloudy, and her lover, River, whose relationship is put to the test – by Jack Shepherd
Cloudy River was co-created by author Sophie Hardcastle and director Charlie Ford. It explores the dramatic and humorous escapades of a couple in an open-relationship who have just moved in together.
Ford and I have a lot of mutual friends so we’d met briefly on a few occasions. After a discussion at a house party he asked me if I would help bring their vision to life. After several discussions, we knew we needed something small and compact that would be less intrusive in small intimate locations. I wanted the actors to feel like there wasn’t ever a camera in the room with them as majority of the story plays out inside their home.
We decided to go with a RED Epic Dragon for few reasons; I actually own the camera so this was extremely helpful because we knew there was going to be some shots we needed to get either side of the primary shoot schedule. We also made the decision that most of the film would be hand held so I needed something light weight that I could operate for some very long dialogue scenes, but then also quickly chuck it on a jib or Steadicam.
For lenses we used an old set of Zeiss Super Speeds from Panavision and added Black Pro-Mist filters to create a creamy and soft look to the image.
Production designer Karla Milat and I have been good friends for years, however this was our first time working together. Milat would help me by sourcing some great practical lights like lamps and daisy chain garden lights. In a bar scene when Cloudy (Rebecca Robertson) discovers Holly (Indigo Sparke) performing with her band, we decided to use some iridescent tinsel curtains in the background. This really caught all the lights and created nice bokeh in the background.
Following this scene, they are walking down a tunnel on their way home. On the location scout we really liked one tunnel in particular but thought the fluorescent lights were not quite bold enough. We came up with the idea to gel each light so as they made their way through the tunnel, they would travel through a rainbow of different colours. Not only was this just a practical, visual effect it also became a tribute to the rainbow flag of the queer community. We removed the gels once we finished shooting at that location, then a few weeks later someone must have seen us filming or it’s just a strange coincidence, but they decided to make it a permanent feature of that tunnel in Newtown.
My main influence at this time was Sean Bobbitt BSC, who shot my favourite film The Place Beyond The Pines (2012). Like myself, he comes from a background in documentary and uses a lot of hand held operating.
From the beginning I knew this was an episodic series and not a movie so that definitely influenced the way I shot this. If Cloudy River were a feature film, I would have shot it differently. I approached most of the shoot in a kind of documentary style. I was very familiar with the script so I would watch the rehearsal and I would react to the story in front of me. I instantly knew where the audience should be and we’d continue to block the scene, sometimes the directors would even let me go for a ‘wild one’ where I’d just go with my gut as if it were a documentary. That all just came naturally to me.
We had a small crew for this as it was very much an independent production. My first assistant camera, Thomas Austin, was with me all through except for some pick up scenes. Then I would have second assistants camera who would rotate days depending on availabilities. I operated the camera and pulled focus myself for the whole shoot except for the scenes we used Steadicam or an underwater housing for the camera. Jason Rodrigues was my Steadicam operator and I also had Spencer Frost as my underwater operator for the ocean and pool scenes.
A lot of the locations were chosen by the directors and producer. Due to the fast production schedule I was only able to scout a handful of the locations. This meant most of the time I would be seeing a location for the first time when I arrived on set.
I didn’t have a gaffer so I was doing all the lighting myself. I worked a lot with shaping natural light, practical light sources and a very small lighting kit consisting only of LEDs. I used coloured gels a lot to create the strong colour pallet of the film.
I sat in on multiple sessions with editor Laurence van Camp at The Editors; this was purely out of curiosity as I knew the directors had a strong vision for what they wanted. I was only able to attend one colour grade session with our colourist, Matt Fezz, where we created a look for the series. I’ve worked a lot with Fezz and completely trusted him to finish it off over the following week. The directors and producer also sat in on just about every session with him.
I particularly love the opening scene of Cloudy River. I feel like it really injects the audience straight into the intimacy of the relationship between Cloudy and River (Rowan Davie). I really enjoyed shooting the swooping overhead jib shots mixed with some macro close-ups.
Shooting this series was a great experience for me and I was lucky to share it with some amazing people. I learnt so much about telling a story in long form and I’m looking forward to taking that knowledge and experience onto my next narrative film projects.
Like most cinematographers, there’s a lot I would have done differently as I’ve grown so much in the time since we shot this. However I wouldn’t change anything because at the end of the day, this series is the result of a group of young friends who came together to tell a personal story and contribute to the presence of GLBTIQ+ stories on screen. In saying that, however, I’ll definitely be pushing for a gaffer on Season Two!
Jack Shepherd is a Sydney-based cinematographer who has experience in various fields of professional filmmaking.