Benoit Delhomme, AFC, discusses his work on the movie adaptation of David Nicholls’ bestselling novel

Award-winning DoP Benoit Delhomme, AFC, has been responsible for some of the most visually striking films of recent years, including the stark revisionist western THE PROPOSITION, Anthony Minghella’s BREAKING AND ENTERING and Michael Radford’s acclaimed adaptation of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. Whilst in Atlanta filming THE WETTEST COUNTY IN THE WORLD with the ARRI ALEXA, which sees him reunited with PROPOSITION director John Hillcoat, he took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his work on ONE DAY, an adaptation by David Nicholls of his own bestseller. Directed by Lone Scherfig, it was shot with ARRICAM cameras supplied by ARRI Media and a lighting package from ARRI Lighting Rental.

ARRI Media: What attracted you to the project?

Benoit Delhomme: It’s an interesting movie because each scene takes place in a different year – always on the 15th of July – over the course of around 20 years. So it was a film in which every scene required a different visual approach and style, so as to recognize the period and to see the changes. Every scene is a new world, a new era, and that’s very special.

AM: Lone Scherfig emerged out of the Dogme 95 movement; did you find that she was very performance-focused?

BD: My greatest pleasure on a film is working with the actors; that’s why I work in the cinema and not in still photography. If I want more light for a scene or need more time, but I feel that the actors are ready to shoot, then I will accommodate them. My main goal is to put the actors in a comfortable situation and make them feel free. Working with Lone was easy in this regard because she loves the actors, so they were very relaxed and enjoyed what they were doing.

Behind the scenes: the cast and crew discuss       ONE DAY

On the other hand Lone was keen on designing good shots and transitions to take the audience from one year to the next. If you’ve seen AN EDUCATION, it was lit in a classical way, like the American comedies of the 1940s or 50s – with the actors very well placed in the frame. She never compromised the look of the film for the actors; she’ll always find a way to have both the performance and the visual excitement.

AM: Did you choose to operate a camera yourself?

BD: Yes I did – it’s something I enjoy doing more and more, operating the ‘A’ camera and designing the shots myself. I’ve done a few movies without operating and it was interesting to direct my camera operators, as if they were actors, but I feel I can give more to the film when I’m doing it myself. I’ll tend to watch the actors more closely and I can improvise during a shot if they do something different, whereas a camera operator might not be sure if I’d want them to do that. I also work with the slider a lot to re-frame and maintain a sense of motion; I like to compose shots with people in movement and it’s easier to do that myself.

AM: Were you often shooting with multiple cameras?

BD: Yes, a lot of shots were two-camera setups. Of course the director wants to capture the couple’s relationship as much as possible through the main shots, but I try to use the lighter camera for reactions. I’m always trying to capture something else with that camera and sometimes you can be surprised; the shot can be better because the unpredictable happens and it gives more life to the film. In those situations there’s no ‘A’ and no ‘B’ camera because the actors move and you get something you didn’t plan. It’s part of the surprise of filmmaking: when you work with two cameras you never know which one will be the best. A really good ‘B’ camera operator will fight to get the better shot and there’s a slight sense of competition; they try to impress me and show me something different, and I think that’s very positive. Having two cameras just makes the set more exciting.

What I really like about 2.35:1 is composing through doors or parts of the set, putting frames within the frame, and I do that a lot in this film – using the set to re-compose the aspect ratio.

AM: Was any consideration given to shooting the film digitally?

BD: I really wanted to use film to create this 80s/90s look, and I didn’t once think about shooting digitally. But I’m currently shooting THE WETTEST COUNTY with the ARRI ALEXA and suddenly ONE DAY looks like it will be my last movie shot on film! I think with the ALEXA we have everything we need – it’s so friendly for a DoP. I thought the texture was something new: I didn’t realise it before, but it’s more interesting than film. However, I don’t regret working with film for ONE DAY because it has a quality I really love, especially on the close-ups. And I love the grain. Comedies are often shot in a way that incorporates no shadow, no sky, no contrast – they seem kind of flat and I didn’t want that. I thought a lot about Woody Allen’s films when I was shooting ONE DAY – ANNIE HALL is one of the best shot comedies – they were lit in a special way, taking a lot of risks. I wish people would go back to this for comedy because I think you can convey mood, as well as making the actors look good; you can have both.

AM: What film stocks were you using?

BD: I was using the Kodak 500T Vision3 and the 250D Vision3, which was new at the time – it’s a beautiful stock. I did all the day exterior and interior shots with the 250D and all the night or twilight shots with the 500T.

AM: And what lenses did you have?

BD: We used a full range of Cooke S4 lenses and also three Angenieux zooms: the 15-40 mm, 28-76 mm and 24-290 mm. I was using all of them constantly, mixing everything up, because in the DI you can match anything. The 15-40 mm and 28-76 mm are interesting because they’re small and can go on a Steadicam; they’re good for getting the right coverage – not using the zoom as a zoom, but picking up reactions during a take. Now when I work with the slider and I’m operating myself, I put on the zoom and can get a lot more adjustment in one shot. I do like to use primes, but it can be difficult when directors want to do everything in one take, ending on a close-up. Sometimes this doesn’t work on set, so I’m using zooms more and more. I’m surprised how many films use the DI to zoom in; I think it’s better, and nicer, to do it myself.

AM: Were you involved in the decision about aspect ratio?

BD: We thought that 2.35:1 would give something special to the film; we didn’t want it to look too much like real life. I think Lone said, ‘I want it to be really beautiful, elegant – not like everyday life, but a bit magic.’ What I really like about 2.35:1 is composing through doors or parts of the set, putting frames within the frame, and I do that a lot in this film – using the set to re-compose the aspect ratio.

AM: Were there any particularly challenging sequences?

BD: The most challenging scenes were those at nighttime and twilight. One of these was a long dialogue scene where the two main characters go to an outdoor swimming pool; we shot all the wide shots in Dinard, France on two different days at dusk, and then I shot all the close-ups at Pinewood Studios, on a stage with a big Translite. This was a very difficult scene and an unusual one to attempt in a comedy – it was a challenge convincing production to do it, but I insisted. It was something I’d done in the past and it worked very well; I’m really pleased with it.

There was another tricky scene in London, where they talk on a rooftop at nighttime. I knew if we were shooting on a real rooftop at night we’d never get an interesting exposure of the London background, so we shot the rooftop against a greenscreen on a stage and afterwards I shot plates at 6 fps on location, which gave me the great background. It’s this kind of thing that I like to use visual effects for: the kinds of things you know you couldn’t have done for real as a DoP, but that the audience never notices.

AM: How involved have you been in the postproduction?

BD: I couldn’t make it to the grade because of the film I’m doing now, but during the shoot I was taking very precise stills of every shot to give the colorist a guide for the rushes. I also chose a colorist I knew very well to do the DI: Adam Glasman at Ascent 142 in London. I showed him the Avid version before I left for Atlanta and we talked with Lone about what we wanted to do. Adam did the first part of the grade himself and then I went to a DI facility in New York, while Lone and Adam were in London, and we spent two days adjusting things. It was the first time I’d graded remotely like that; it was incredible to be in New York and to say, ‘Zoom in; go there,’ and see Adam doing it. I’m very specific about colors and really enjoy creating a kind of scenario of colors in order to avoid things being neutral. I want the colors to progress and change in a film – that’s my style, in a way.

Photos: Giles Keyte. © 2011 Focus Features LLC and Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

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