Beginning pre-production in February, we explore how feature film Children of the Corn continued production in isolation throughout the pandemic — by Andrew Rowlands
Children of the Corn started pre-production in February, just at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. We were able to proceed with the persistence of our producer Lucas Foster. He set about instigating protocols from within our production and using our key safety officer John Heanney’s documents along with state and federal guidelines so that we could continue safely. It meant a new version of being on set with social distancing, adherence to working with personal protective equipment (PPE) and with enforcing new hygiene standards.
Before we started shooting, Foster convened the heads of department. He asked if we wanted to proceed and if we could work under these new protocols. There was a resounding ‘yes’. I think the Australian crew were really outstanding in their ability to adapt to the new rules and workplace guidelines. Everyone from the office staff to the crew were onboard to be able to make it work. Personal responsibility was key.
From my perspective, we had a few key factors to be able to push ahead. Firstly, we went on location and we took over three hotels and some other accommodations solely for our use. Secondly, we had an amazing catering courtesy of Kerri Fetzer who provided three outstanding meals a day, served to us in a safe and gracious manner. This became a really solid basis to start from.
Each department had their own set of protocols to follow. Starting with my camera department; we had two main unit camera teams, with myself and Ricky Schamburg operating cameras. Dora Krolikowska and Jack Mayo were our first assistants who did a brilliant job running the camera department. Pre-production at Panavision in Sydney had its own complications, as they introduced their own new work schedule and protocol requirements. As always though, they were able work out a plan and let us continue.
Grant Hansford and Andrew Collier were most helpful to me, especially getting our camera package together. I had started testing in Los Angeles at Panavision in Woodland Hills. After discussions with Dan Sasaki and Lori Killam we were able to put together a lens package which Sasaki modified, or expanded, to allow us to shoot on the DXL2 using all of the 8K sensor.
I was looking for an older style lens that would suit the story we wanted to tell. Sasaki then took it to task and came up with a custom set of Panavision Super and Ultra Speeds with unique contrast and flare characteristics. Our director, Kurt Wimmer, was keen on a ‘retro look’. We had a set of primes and two longer lenses, being a converted spherical 11-1 zoom and a fantastic 70 series 200-400mm zoom, which we dubbed “the Mayo”, a popular B camera lens.
Key grip Jason Weekes and his brilliant team gave us incredible support with cranes, dolly and sliders, as we had to maintain a safe distance from our cast. We also had to adapt to working in a new environment where we all had to socially distance. While setting up shots we all had to take turns building and setting up the camera. Our talented gaffer Steve Daley and his crew were outstanding in getting me through this. He always had the right solution and they all had boundless enthusiasm to bring to the set each day, and night.
We mainly shot exteriors day and night in our primary location in a corn field. This was planted weeks prior to production starting, in the Richmond Lowlands of New South Wales. We were lucky enough to have ‘corn whisperer’ Chris Reynolds on our side who grew a ten-acre playing field of corn that our production designer Pete Baxter, and our art director Rob Wood, utilised to give us multiple areas to shoot in. Splinter unit cinematographer Matt Toll and his unit took on a lot of bigger scale work than usually isn’t the case with splinter units, and did a tremendous job shooting some gorgeous scenes.
While shooting, Heaney’s onset safety officers kept us honest in regard to socially distancing on set and keeping our numbers to a strict count when shooting interiors. Whilst this added more time to the day, the assistant directors and production scheduled accordingly. Still, each day was a challenge.
Our shooting style had to take into account how close we could be to our cast. Some close-up shots had to be re-imagined within the genre of Children of the Corn, and this was entirely achievable. We relied on the Ronin with a DXL2 on it with our prime lenses a lot to keep the camera moving in order to suggest that there was always something lurking in the corn.
When not on Ronin, we utilised fantastic skills of our dolly grips, Ben Hyde and Dave Shaw. To give our movie yet another layer we involved company XM2 with their array of drone and electric bike rigs. Stephen Oh and his team did an amazing job shooting the aerials and chase sequences considering the new on-set restrictions.
Children of the Corn will benefit hugely from the talents of the designers from visual effects powerhouse Digital Domain and Western Australian post-productions house Boogie Monster. Steve Vojkovic, of the latter, was our onset visual effects supervisor. Vojkovic handled brilliantly the challenges of our young cast interacting with an imaginary creature, which can be a challenge even for more seasoned actors.
Last but not least, our hair and makeup team led by Angela Conte did amazing work with all the parameters they had to work within, along with our Costume Designer Amelia Gebler and her team.
We came together as a crew, we adapted, and we were able to push onwards.
Children of the Corn is the first feature film for Andrew Rowlands as cinematographer, having worked as extensively as a camera operator and second unit cinematographer on films such as The Departed (2006) for Martin Scorsese and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).