I talked to High Rise Director of Photography Laurie Rose about his experience working on the film shortly after they wrapped.
Music In the Dark: What is a ‘day in the life’ like for a director of photography? I think many people aren’t very clear about what cinematography entails, especially as definitions can vary between the U.K and U.S.?
Laurie Rose: A DoP (Director of Photography) works very closely with a director initially in discussions about how the film or show might look. We might look at other films, photography, even paintings for reference.
Camera movement, lighting and framing are all the responsibility of the DoP and the director usually has a strong idea of what they might want – the DoP then tries to implement that, so it’s a real blend of technical craft and creativity whilst maintaining continuity and most importantly mood and emotion to support the story being told. High-Rise was the first film where we built most of the sets – coming from humble beginnings meant we’ve made do with what we could afford, using locations and often available light but we had an enormous amount of control this time which was fantastic. It did mean that every shot had to be lit, there was no relying on natural light.
MitD: Were you familiar with the novel before doing the film?
LR: I read the novel shortly before reading the script and I was immediately struck by how faithfully writer Amy Jump had been to the book but still adapted it in a way that could be very much shot as a film. The book is typically JG Ballard, brutal and unforgiving but ultimately tender at heart so it’s not an easy read but a fascinating possibility of what could happen. I loved it.
MitD: What are your thoughts on the metaphor of the high rise building in the story and the parallels that can be drawn to so many aspects of modern day, whether through technology or economical and social inequality?
LR: There’s a definite relevance of this story now I think, with great socio-economic divides, austerity and extravagance, indistinguishable politics, no real sense of a common good. It’s actually very scary stuff.
MitD: How were you able to influence the way it was portrayed through your job as DoP?
LR: In terms of look, the director Ben Wheatley and I have always started with a sort of documentary feel to heighten the sense of reality but we developed that with High-Rise principally in terms of camera movement. We had slightly more time to move the camera differently that might not get noticed by an audience but gives the story a very definite look. Combining tracking and crane shots with intense close-up handheld work make for a story with subtle contrasts that hopefully help tell the story in an arresting way.
We shot on a digital cinema camera system but with vintage lenses with all sorts of interesting imperfections that I hope give it at least an unconscious feeling of the 1970’s but along with the strong production design, the costumes and hair & makeup. It was very much a collaboration to convey the period and characters in the film.
MitD: My site has a lot of Tom Hiddleston fans. Any good stories about him on set?
LR: Tom Hiddleston is officially the nicest man you’ll ever meet! Tom would come to our house and hang out, he’s just lovely.
He takes his work very seriously but he understands that it’s a collaboration and he really enjoys that too.
He would spend time with everyone, knew everyone’s name, and was appreciative of what everybody did. As a crew you have to make an environment for the actors to do their best work. All our cast and crew had such incredible commitment to this project and Ben, the director, that it was really inspiring for everyone to give their all.
The shoot in Summer 2014 was amazing, something happened, the planets aligned, it was what film-making should be – hard work but an out-of-this-world exciting and creative thing to be part of, with people you really enjoy being with.
For Ben and I, High-Rise is our 5th film together and we’ve been lucky enough to grow with a brilliant team so it really is like going to work with a family.
MitD: What were your favorite and least favorite parts of working on the film?
LR: My favorite part was having so much control of our environment and the incredible performances we got from our cast – Tom, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Elizabeth Moss, Keeley Hawes, James Purefoy, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Augustus Prue – all of them and more, just amazing.
I really loved working with this crew, they’re very much like family now.
My least favourite part of any project is being away from home, and my wife and children. They did come to stay and hung out with Tom and Luke for the weekend which was pretty cool!
MitD: If you were an actor, what character would you have wanted to play?
LR: I’m no actor – there’s a very good reason why I’m comfortable behind the camera! But if I had to, it would be a tiny background appearance – a rioter, a drunk at a party or unconscious in the hall (you’ll have to see the film 😉
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