*Please note, an earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the film’s director Ben Allen as Ben Allan ACS CSI.
AC – What is The Foreigner? Can you describe the project a little, in your own words?
OP – The Foreigner is a gay socio-political drama set in the near future, following a British man fleeing a broken Europe and seeking asylum on the Turkish border. The film is a quiet drama and is delivered in a mixture of translated and untranslated Turkish, which drives a lot of the tension and emotion throughout.
I think the film speaks to the great deal of anxiety that is felt in the current political climate, and is in many ways a response to the way asylum seekers are treated on our own borders in the UK and abroad. Seeing the journey of the film so far has been an incredible privilege, but none more so that being in consideration for Best Live Action short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards!
AC – How did you get involved with this production? How did Ben Allen pitch the film to you, and what were your initial discussions in terms of ‘look’?
OP – I was fortunate enough to meet Allen on an online LGBT filmmakers forum and we hit it off straight away. He pitched me The Foreigner over coffee the very next week and ask me to attach the same day. I connected with the story from the get-go and loved the script. It was incredibly dialogue-heavy, as well as being dual language, so a lot of our initial conversation was how we could maintain interest and keep the audience captive whilst also building suspense; letting the scope of the conversation play out in full.
In terms of look, there was one key reference that Allen kept coming back to which was the initial three-hander interrogation sequence in season one of Killing Eve (2018, cinematography by Julian Court BSC). From there we expanded our palette pulling on a range of quiet but intense dialogue scenes from Fargo (2014-2020, cinematography by Dana Gonzales ASC, et al), Sicario (2015, cinematography by Roger Deakins CBE BSC ASC) and Mindhunter (2017-2019, cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt ASC, et al).
AC – What was your collaboration like with the production design team during pre-production?
OP – Izzet Ers was our incredible production designer. He and I worked quite closely on ensuring Allen’s vision came off realistically in-camera; cold, monotonal and claustrophobic. The brief was to keep the world very close and very small. This was partly to help with the fact that we were shooting Britain for Turkey, but also because Allen wanted the audience to feel as cold, uncomfortable and anxious as the protagonist throughout the entire film.
AC – What factors did you take into consideration when choosing what cameras and lenses to shoot The Foreigner?
OP – The choice to shoot on the ARRI Alexa Mini was simple. After discussing extensively with Allen about aspect ratio, mood and tone, we both felt that the Cooke Anamorphic/I lenses were the perfect fit. They softened the sharpness and contrast of the Alexa’s sensor, without us losing or compromising detail overall. We were fortunate not to have any financial considerations when choosing camera, lenses and grip thanks to the incredible sponsorship from Procam Take 2.
AC – Can you talk about your approaches to coverage, and framing? Did you operate the camera yourself?
OP – Coverage was the most important part of our pre-production process. Allen and I worked very closely with our brilliant first assistant director to ensure we did justice to the primary dialogue sequences in the film. As the interrogation makes up the bulk of the film overall, we wanted to ensure we had ample coverage on all characters throughout.
We were particularly interested in nodality and symmetry – having shots that were centred and evenly spaced to help focus attention and cement the dominant hierarchy present in the scene. I always operate the camera myself and, in the case of The Foreigner, the whole film was shot hand-held.
AC – Can you speak briefly about your own crew in the camera department?
OP – I first worked with my first assistant camera Callum Tunmore on a Gucci campaign in early 2018. He is a consummate professional and tremendously hard-working, and as a focus-puller he is incredibly sensitive not only to my needs in terms of camera movement but also to the needs of the narrative. This was particularly evident on The Foreigner as a great deal of the film was delivered in Turkish and thus we were all working off body language and vocal inflection in order to gauge the mood in the scene.
AC – What was your approach to lighting on location?
OP – Allen had made the decision during pre-production that we would shoot for an entirely in-camera world. I wanted the lighting in the world to be as realistic and as soft as possible, with exclusively external sources providing illumination. We shot heavily towards windows that we diffused and key-lit with large HMI fixtures. I increased the general ambience in the world with a fine particulate haze and introduced a lot of negative on the camera side/fill side to increase contrast when needed.
AC – How involved were you in the post-production process? What was your approach colour-grading?
OP – I was very hands-on in post-production, along with Charlotte Howley our incredible producer. It was a truly consultative process, with Robbie Gibbon doing a masterful job on the edit.
For the colour grade we teamed up with an exceptional colourist, Tom Clarke from Molinare, who did a really lovely job across the board. We worked with him extensively on building a look that expanded on Allen’s vision for the world whilst also remaining subtle and cinematic.
AC – Do you have a favourite shot or sequence in the film?
OP – There is a three-quarter profile shot of the female antagonist Elif (played by Özay Fecht) that was easily my favourite shot. I particularly loved this angle as it helped play out the tension dynamic between the two Turkish language characters beautifully, and told a lot of the story through body language and eye contact.
AC – Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, what might you have done differently?
OP – I would have loved to have shot the film in Turkey, simply so we could step outside and see the world that Graham (played by Allen) enters as he leaves the interrogation room at the end of the film. Of course, with budgetary constraints in mind that was a pipe dream for the most part, but I still imagine shooting pickups in Edirne one day!
Oscar Partridge is a London-based and award-winning cinematographer working within the field of commercials, music videos and narrative film.