I’ve written a bit about how Alwin Kuchler, the Director of Photography, is playing with light in just about every shot. He’s had lights and lasers shining directly into the lens. There are lens flares, burn-out and distortion… He has filmed some of the most astonishing shots that look as if they’ve been through Visual Effects already yet he’s only used light…
One only has to spend about 10 minutes on set before one hears the name ‘Reuben’ called out in a German accent. It’s Alwin calling Reuben Garrett, the Gaffer. Alwin always wants more light.
When I’m on set I often hang around Stephen ‘Math’ Mathie, the Lighting Desk Operator. The lighting desk has a nice big monitor so I can see what’s happening on camera… even if it’s Alwin lying on the floor with a light meter…
Today, I asked ‘Math’ how many lights he thought have been used on the film. As one would imagine on a film about a mission to the Sun, shot entirely indoors on eight different sets, there are going to be a lot of lights. He said that there were a few thousand:
1000 on Stage 5
200 on Stage 8
50 on Stage 11
150 on the Airlock
1000 on the Oxygen Garden
600 on the Flight Deck
2-300 on Stage A
He said this was a higher than usual number as instead of using ‘film lights’ they are using mainly practical lights. The sets are built with lights in them- in the ceilings, the walls and the floors- and those are used instead of big lights on stands… which is a good idea as there isn’t any room for them on the cramped sets anyway. This means that the lights are already set when they arrive and it’s then up to Reuben and Math to work out exactly what the lights need to do for each shot… And then, of course, for Alwin to ask for more…
I’ve never worked on a film before. Apart from the thrills I get from seeing Danny Boyle in action, ‘discovering’ the remarkable Alwin Kuchler Effect, falling in love with Mark Tildelsey’s designs and chatting to the cast… if I’m completely honest, it can be really rather boring. There is a lot of standing around. Some days it’s taken literally hours to set up a shot… so hours and hours and hours of standing around…and waiting. Yes, the end result is amazing and beautiful and makes me go all gushy about Alwin, but, boy, it really can be boring.
I’ve just come back from the airlock set… I was waiting and waiting and waiting for a scene I’ve been waiting weeks to happen… I’ve seen the animatics for it, seen the stunt rehearsals, spoken to every single person involved in creating the shot and today is the big day when it’s finally going to be filmed.
I waited. And waited. And waited. Danny and Alwin were deep in discussion with Richard Conway, the Special Effects Supervisor. Then they had a rehearsal with the actors. More discussion. Another rehearsal. Discussion. Rehearsal. Discussion. Technical rehearsal. Discussion. More discussion. Then Troy Garity, Cliff Curtis, Chris Evans and Cillian Murphy were stood down while there were more discussions.
Cliff wandered off the set. He has a way of just…. disappearing… and no one ever sees him leave.
One minute Chris was there, the next… gone.
Cillian went back to his dressing room, probably to listen to music.
Troy stayed on set and started reading a magazine. He’s not been feeling particularly well for the past few days. He’s come down with the same illness I have, so I chatted to him for a while about fresh ginger and sweat lodges then we compared symptoms- he’s only just got over the headaches, my cough is worse than his.
More discussion on set.
I decided to go out and get some fresh air and a drink. I bumped into Alex Garland, had a chat and then wandered back in.
Nothing had been filmed.
I spoke to a couple of the people on production about the script, Alwin’s shots, Cillian and Hiroyuki Sanada (specifically: the changes from early drafts; how amazing Alwin’s shots are; how being able to stare at Cillian all day, isn’t such a bad job to have; how Hiro is missed by everyone). One of the Special Effects guys came up to me to get my email address because he wanted to send me some photos to put up here.
Still nothing was filmed.
They’re now eating dinner…
They’re running behind- three days? four?- and must complete four different shots by the end of today. They’ll finish very late tonight… and I won’t be here to see it.
Maybe you were a child. Maybe you were a teenager. Maybe you were an adult and should have known better. Maybe you were on a beach. Maybe you were in the mountains. Maybe you were in the middle of a city. Maybe it was summertime. Maybe it was winter. It happened to me once in the autumn. I didn’t realise it could happen in the autumn.
Maybe you thought you had protected yourself. Maybe you didn’t think you needed to do anything because it had never happened to you before in your life. Maybe you didn’t realise it was happening. Maybe you didn’t think it was as bad as it turned out to be. Maybe it was worse than you could have ever imagined.
Maybe it made your friends laugh at you. Maybe it ruined your holiday. Maybe it kept you awake all night. Maybe it hurt you so much you couldn’t do anything except lay down in bed. Maybe it made you cry. Maybe you even had to go to hospital.
Maybe it happened to you 20 years ago and you still bear the scars. Maybe it happened to you loads, but your body could handle it. Maybe it damaged your DNA, but you don’t know about that yet. Maybe it caused you serious, life-threatening health problems decades later. Maybe you wish you would have listened to the warnings.
I was 10 years old. Outside all day. Playing on the beach, playing in the forest. I was wearing only a swimsuit. I don’t think anyone thought of protecting me. By that evening the damage was done. I was hurt, crying, raw. No one could do anything to ease the pain. Maybe I was given an aspirin, I don’t remember. I couldn’t sleep that night. There were huge, painful blisters on both my shoulders. Second degree burns. The damage is still visible to this day.
I really must reiterate that I am unable to just take photos of cast members and put them up on the website. All of them have photo approval within their contracts and as DNA Films are very kindly allowing me to do this blog, I have to follow those rules. Even the snaps I took yesterday of Hiroyuki Sanada having birthday cake with Cliff Curtis and producer Andrew Macdonald have to go through the approval process…
There are several reasons for ‘approval’. One) if the whole entire world was going to see a photo of you, wouldn’t you want to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to it? Two) the publicity department need to make sure that I can actually use the photos – maybe a film magazine has bought one of the pictures of Chris Evans to use on the cover of their December issue and if I use it here right now, I’d mess the whole thing up. Three) there are loads of TV programmes that are going to do things on the film and, again, we have to make sure that someone hasn’t been promised ‘an exclusive’ that I’d completely mess up by posting a photo here.
I have, however, just spoken to Maya, my link to the distributers Fox Searchlight in LA, and told her that you guys really want some new photos of the cast members. So, don’t worry, we are working on it.
2014 Note: If there are any photos of cast members on posts earlier than this, they are a new addition and were not available on the original site.
Today is Hiroyuki Sanada’s birthday. 御誕生日おめでとう, Hiro! He wasn’t filming today, but arrived on set for a bit of birthday cake.
Not only is it Hiro’s birthday today, but it’s also his last day on the shoot. It’s rather sad actually. The cast has really become a tight knit group and now one of them is leaving. Whenever I speak to a cast member about how they’re getting along, they all talk about how they lived together for a while before they started filming and how they did activities like scuba diving and a Zero G flight to prepare for their roles as astronauts, but which helped to bond them. They always talk about how close they’ve become… and Hiro is no different. When talking to him, I sensed that he really will miss his fellow cast members rather a lot and was already talking about when he will be back.
Hiroyuki has been in more movies than one can possibly imagine. He’s a superstar, a megastar, an MBE, for goodness’ sake. Still, he is the most charming, delightful man you could ever hope to meet. I really hope this isn’t the last we see of him.
First, you need to think about the purpose of the mission.
Then, you need to think about whether or not it will be launched from and land on Earth or from low Earth orbit.
Then, you need to think about whether it has passengers and/or payload.
Then, you need to think about living quarters, communications, electrical and computer systems, life support and how they are accessed.
Then, you need to think about how it can be easily built and maintained.
And if you are Mark Tildesley the Production Designer, before you are good to go, you’ve got to think of all of those things in several different ways.
First, in order to be believable, Mark has to think of designing a spaceship as if it was for the real world. The credibility of the film would crumble if the design of the ship was fundamentally wrong- for example, if the ship was a big cube and the characters talked about the smooth launch from Earth. Reading about and studying spaceflight and spaceship design, and talking to engineers, astronauts and scientists is vitally important. Mark’s office is full of books and images on space, spaceflight and spaceships. The walls are plastered with photographs of the International Space Station, inside and out. He immersed himself in ’space’. Most importantly, for this film, he has to think about the fact that it’s going to the awesome, boiling beast that is THE SUN.
Second, the film takes place in the future, 50-60 years in the future. Mark has to read up on technology and the future to get an idea of what, realistically, might be possible (let’s just say you aren’t going to see any replicators or tractor beams in the film). He also has to look back to the past to try and get an idea of just how much our world has changed over the past 60 years to see how much it might change in the next 60 years. For example, we still have cars that are “cars” rather than personal helicopters or hovervehicles, and though the design has been streamlined and the technology of the cars’ system has advanced, someone from 60 years ago would still recognise it as a car. Mark’s designs need to be recognisable, yet realistically, technically advanced.
Third, Mark needs to think about the aesthetics of the design- basically, it needs to look really cool. NASA engineers just have to make something functional and if they stumble upon an iconic design then so much the better (did you know that the external fuel tank on the Shuttle is orange not because it looks cool, but because to paint it white would add 500kg in weight?). Mark has to create a functional yet iconic spaceship, no questions asked. Otherwise what will they put on the T-shirts and coffee mugs?
Fourth, he has to think how this spaceship is going to be built in seven different buildings on a film studio lot. Unfortunately, there isn’t a studio here that is about one kilometre long so that the whole ship could be built as one big set. He also has to work out how much filming will be done on each set, how long it will be needed for each block of filming.
Fifth, he has to think about how it’s going to be used in the film. He needs to go over the script with a fine toothed comb and work out the layout of the ship, what the characters need to do in each space, how they get to each section, how many of the characters’ private cabins need to be built, how much ‘corridor’ needs to be built for each different set…
Sixth, he needs to think about how each set is going to be filmed – a tiny, little, enclosed room with no space for more than one person might not be ideal for a film crew. He also needs to think about special effects and CGI. How are they going to make the actors ‘float’ on this set? How are they going to “extend” that set so it looks like it’s a mile wide? Is every bit of the set going to be filmed or can just a small section of it be built?
Seventh, he needs to think about how it’s actually going to be manufactured. There isn’t a big shop called ‘Movie Spaceships Galore’ that he can just walk into to get everything he needs. Every panel, every rail, every floor surface, every nut and bolt needs to be sourced or manufactured. And that’s just the shell of the set.
Eighth, he needs to think about how it’s going to be built. Does every set need to be finished at the same time? Is there any way that one stage can be used for more than one set? How many people will it take to build this (over 200, as it happens)? Will it be finished on time?!
Ninth, he needs to think about the smaller stuff – how it’s going to be lit, where the lights will be placed, what props are needed and where. There are the monitors, the switches, the sockets, the cables which make it start to look like a working spaceship. Then there is everything from pieces of paper with formulas scribbled on them, to the kitchen, to cupboards filled with medical equipment, to all of the idiosyncratic ’stuff’ that makes one character’s bedroom different from another’s.
Tenth, he needs to think about the outside of the spaceship. How does it move? Where are the thrusters? Where is that thing mentioned on page 98?
Along with all of that he’s also got to think about how much it’s all going to cost (a massive amount, right, Andrew?!) and how to get it all done within the budget.
The whole process, from beginning to end, is entirely collaborative. He oversees and liaises with several different departments, all in charge of various different parts of the spaceship- the Art Department, Set Dressers, Props, Miniatures, Special Effects, Visual Effects… and I often see him in Accounts. For more than a year before filming started Mark has been working directly with both Danny and Alex to create a believable, functional, iconic spaceship.
It’s actually so iconic that all I can show you are these little bits…
They’ve been filming in Stage A for the past several days. A lot of really important scenes happen there throughout the film and for the past couple days the set has been covered in filth. The other day the set was pretty bad, today, however, everyone is wearing either dust masks, protective clothing or both. The air is hazy. Everyone is covered in dust and dirt. It’s not helping those of us who have caught the nasty cold going round.
I went to the set to find Suttirat Anne Larlarb to have a chat about the costumes and as I got to the top of the stairs, Danny was walking up the corridor wearing a protective suit. He looked so cool I had to grab a snap.
Today, Chris Evans had a rehearsal with Julian Spencer the Stunts Coordinator. Julian has been coordinating fights and Zero G work on wires. Today they were rehearsing a scene in which Chris has to climb down into a tank of almost freezing water, immerse himself and ‘fix something’. This afternoon, the water was room temperature; when they film, the room and the tank will be refrigerated to 7°C. Chris certainly won’t have to act like he’s cold.
There were two medics on hand at the rehearsal today and will be there during filming as well. I asked Julian if it was dangerous for Chris to be in water that cold. He said, ‘Well, it takes 12 minutes before you have a heart attack. So, not that dangerous.’
Even though the set is closed to the likes of me this week, I got a chance to talk to one of the actors last night to find out how everything was going. He said:
Take that literally and/or figuratively.
2014 Note: In this post I was referring to Mark Strong. I wasn’t permitted to mention his name nor his character’s name nor did Danny allow me on set when Mark was filming. I did break that rule one time and snuck this photo of him though.