Shane Meadows is known for his naturalistic style of filmmaking. Those who have worked with the director know that he likes improvisation from his actors and camera work that allows for a bit of serendipity.
Few are more aware of this than cinematographer Danny Cohen, who has worked with Meadows on multiple projects, including Dead Man’s Shoes and This Is England, as well as the TV spin-offs This Is England ‘86 and This Is England ‘88. So, when Cohen began work on Meadows’ new period drama, The Gallows Pole, he knew it would be a challenge to relish.
The BBC period drama tells the tale of a group of 18th century workers in Yorkshire, as they gang together and conspire to run the biggest fraud ever seen in Britain. The show is populated by recognizable faces from British TV and major cinema releases, as well as a host of new talent. Meadows wanted to give them all creative freedom with their performances, while making sure he could capture every moment possible. And that meant plenty of camera coverage.
Cohen chose for his crew to shoot on four Sony cameras: two VENICEs, one FX6 and one FX3. Designed to work together and complement each other, these Sony Cinema Line cameras have common strengths that made them ideal for Meadows’ period production: excellent latitude, natural skin tones and a filmic image.
The dynamic range, latitude and color science of VENICE have long made it a popular cinema camera with cinematographers like Cohen.
“What I’m impressed with is how good it is in low light,” he notes. “We’re lighting quite a few scenes, a chunk of the story, with just candles. You can take it to a more extreme look because you’re not trying to fake it. You’re literally lighting it how the situation would have been lit.”
This low-light muscle isn’t just down to its 15+ stops of latitude, but also its dual base ISO capability. VENICE can deliver beautiful shots in less light than other cameras, without introducing noise to the image. As focus puller Kim Vinegard remembers: “First week of the shoot, we came outside one of our main locations and the light was dropping. So we went to the other base rating of 2500 and it was remarkable what it saw. It looked great actually.”
Using these in conjunction with each other means we kind of don’t really need a DIT here... The color science between the three, I mean, I can’t tell the difference. With the amount of dynamic range they’ve got, it’s almost impossible to mess up a shot.
Camera operator Rowan Stothard
While VENICE provided the main shots, camera operator Rowan Stothard used the FX6, FX3 and a range of Sony prime and zoom lenses to capture additional coverage and angles. While the FX6 was his main tool during the shoot, the FX3 proved particularly useful—thanks to its compact design—for mounting on vehicles and horses. And these cameras worked together, in harmony with the VENICE, to simplify workflows without compromising on image quality.
Stothard appreciated the workflow benefits from working with this family of cameras: “Using these in conjunction with each other means we kind of don’t really need a DIT here, grading and things like that. The color science between the three, I mean, I can’t tell the difference. With the amount of dynamic range they’ve got, it’s almost impossible to mess up a shot. The highlight roll-off, if you do end up clipping your highlights, I think is lovely. I’m a big fan of it.”
In fact, the crew were able to get images that were so closely matched across cameras that Cohen created just one LUT, which was applied to all of the footage, regardless of camera.
While the Cinema Line rolled out gorgeous visuals, sound recordist David Mitchell had his work cut out for him: “On Shane Meadows jobs we have a lot of cameras, so there’s a lot of RF going on, because basically all the cameras are wireless. It’s a constant battle to get through all that RF soup in the atmosphere.”
However, using Sony’s DWX digital wireless audio series on location allowed Mitchell to avoid the pain of manually searching for available frequencies. From his sound cart, the DWR-S03D 2-channel receiver automatically scanned for available frequencies, then its Cross Remote™ control function let Mitchell set those frequencies remotely for the boom and belt pack transmitters. He found that this allowed him to run channels close together, without intermodulation or interference, giving him more channels within the standard frequency band.
“They’ve been really good for how stable the signal is and how clear the sound is,” Mitchell comments. “And also the fact that you’re not having to effectively take a pack off an artist to make adjustments. You can do it via the receiver. That’s really important on something like a Shane Meadows thing, where it’s all improvised. You never know who might speak at any moment.”
The stability and clarity of Mitchell’s audio signals held true over a particularly wide production area too, making the DWX Series especially well-suited to location sound. As he notes: “The range we’ve been getting out of them is quite amazing.”
Perhaps more importantly, Sony’s wireless audio tools worked perfectly with Mitchell’s Sound Devices recorders — both for his portable and on-cart set-up — allowing him to add wireless flexibility to his on-location kit without completely overhauling his entire set-up.
In fact, across cameras and audio tools, flexibility and the ability to adapt and deal with unpredictable moments was central to the entire production process of The Gallows Pole. As Mitchell notes: “It gives the artist freedom to do and say whatever they want, at any moment.”