Giving ‘Love’ A Digital Edge

The Edge of Love opened in the UK on 20th June 2008. Starring Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Matthew Rhys and Cillian Murphy, the film tells the story of the tempestuous relations between famous poet Dylan Thomas (Rhys), his wife Caitlin (Miller), his lover Vera Phillips (Knightley) and her husband William Killick (Murphy).

Set mainly in the 1940s, the action takes place in London and Wales. Directed by John Maybury, with cinematography by Jonathan Freeman, the film was produced by Rebekah Gilbertson and Sarah Radclyffe. Framestore created the film’s Digital Intermediate, using some ground-breaking new on-set techniques as part of the process.

Maybury had already brought an earlier film of his (2005’s The Jacket) to the Framestore Digital Lab team, and they were delighted when he returned with this new project. Director of Photography Jonathan Freeman would be using a Panavision Genesis HD camera, one of the new generation of electronic cameras that are gradually revolutionising film making, and Panavision had recommended Framestore’s Digital Lab as the best facility to monitor and grade Genesis footage, based on the company’s track record with earlier Genesis movies. As with any innovation, the new cameras have their own set of quirks and idiosyncrasies. In response to this, one unusual feature of the film’s London location shoots was the presence on the set of Framestore Colour Management Technician Kevin Lowery. Working with colleague Eric d’Souza, Lowery had devised some ‘field-kit’, created to address the changing film making environment, and this was its maiden voyage.

“Having Kevin on location during the entire shoot was invaluable,” says Colourist Brian Krijgsman, “He made sure the captured data was usable in the grade and worked closely with me to ensure there was enough latitude in the data to work with in the digital grade. Having him on location with a calibrated monitor and Truelight box meant that potential issues could be addressed on set.”

Lowery’s experience of taking this new and, to many, quite alien technology into the heart of a busy movie set was overwhelmingly positive. “I called it our digital village,” he says, with not a little pride, “At the start there was just me and the one monitor, but as word gradually spread about just what it was possible to see of the process, interest grew exponentially. By the end we had three or four monitors being checked out by the director, the cinematographer, the focus pullers, the continuity people, the make-up people, and so on. It was a completely new experience for many people there, but I think that ultimately it gave the crew a lot of confidence that what was being shot would come out well.”

Being involved in an early stage during the making of The Edge of Love also enabled Krijgsman to start developing looks with DoP Jonathan Freeman. Of special concern were dusk/night shots, and day for night sequences. Among the shots that Krijgsman was concerned with during the DI were some close-ups of Caitlin (Miller) lying in bed at night, wherein there was a real, but minimal light source on her eyes. “It was good to see how well the Genesis handles shadows and generally darker areas of the image to create the effect of Sienna Miller’s sparkling eyes staring at you in the darkness of a blackout,” he says.

In another shot Vera Phillips (Knightley) performs in a bomb shelter whilst being lit by alternating red, green and blue lights. “The challenge,” recalls Krijgsman, “Was to enhance the stylistic look further by bringing up the seductive eyes and lips and pulling up other colours in the background that were being drowned by the primary colours of the lights used on location.

For the day for night shots, Krijgsman worked closely with Jonathan Freeman to advise the cutting room on which setups and shots would work best. The main day for night shot is a long panning shot of William Killick (Murphy) building up his anger outside Caitlin’s cabin prior to an explosive act of rage. “Jonathan always intended this scene to be a shadow play, much like the old Indonesian Wayang theatre,” comments Krijgsman, “In order to help achieve this subtle effect of Cillian Murphy silhouetted against an evening sky, I applied several tracking layers to take all the separate elements down and created a faux light bouncing out of the window.”

The sort of on-set procedures developed during the making of The Edge of Love are likely to become increasingly common. A parallel might perhaps be drawn with the changing role of digital VFX supervisors, who in just a few short years have moved from behind their desks in post houses to being an integral member of the on-set crew; because his or her technical expertise will ensure that the best possible raw material can be captured for the film’s VFX. Not only was Lowery able to contribute valuable visual information to the shoot on the spot, but he also found himself called upon for technical advice about the new technology from a broad range of team members. At the same time, having and taking the time during the shoot to experiment with looks and film out selected dailies gave Freeman an opportunity to start a dialogue and exchange ideas with Krijgsman and get the creative juices flowing long before the actual grading sessions.

The Edge of Love was shot primarily on the Panavision Genesis HD camera, with the exception of a few scenes which were shot in the 35mm 3perf format.

A Lionsgate release of a Capitol Films, BBC Films presentation, in association with the Wales Creative IP Fund, Prescience Film Partners, of a Sarah Radclyffe, Rainy Day Films production, with the support of the U.K. Film Council Development Fund.

Producers: Rebekah Gilbertson, Sarah Radclyffe
Director of Photography Jonathan Freeman
Director: John Maybury

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