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 might go on about Danny’s brilliance as a director and, yea, sure, I probably fawn over Alex and his brain a lot, but do you want to know who blows my mind? Alwin Kuchler the Director of Photography (DOP).
There are a very few films I’ve seen where I am awed by or even notice the DOP’s work. Every shot Alwin does, however, is a piece of art. I’ve been on set when after Danny calls ‘cut’ there is this murmur that spreads ‘how does he do that?!’ ‘that was remarkable!’ ‘Alwin is amazing’. Sometimes after watching a shot on the monitor I’ve actually been left speechless.
Apparently, the company who process the film got in contact to say there was a problem- the shot was all blurry and burnt-out or something – and were taken aback when they were told ‘no, there’s no problem, that’s how it’s supposed to look.’
There isn’t a single shot I’ve seen that can be called ‘normal’. He’s using and playing with light in such a way that it distorts the shots. He’s shining lights and lasers directly into the lens. He’s shooting through warped glass. He’s using reflective materials and shining extremely bright lights into it. There are flares and burn-out and over-saturated colours. Yet still… it’s dark…
Alwin Kuchler, the Lord of Darkness.
Today, they’re getting the last few close-up shots from the spacewalk with Hiroyuki Sanada. As I arrived I saw Hiro sitting outside getting ready to film. Every time I see him he is loosening-up, stretching, preparing to film. You can almost feel the intense energy coming from him. He’s remarkable to watch.
This morning I arrived on set when they were still setting up the lights. Danny asked me not to take pictures of Hiro as he’s not feeling particularly well today. Instead, I got Danny talking to Alwin Kuchler, the Director of Photography, bathed in ’sunlight’.