Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Mole in the Ministry

Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Mole in the Ministry

Article excerpt

War has always been a breeding ground for spies and a boon for writers of espionage fiction. The Cold War proved to be an especially fertile period for British authors, some of who had actually served in MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. The most famous fictional agent is lan Fleming's James Bond. O07's more taciturn but equally effective counterpart is John Le Carre's George Smiley, the unprepossessing figure at the center of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The antithesis of the handsome, charming Bond, Smiley (played by Gary Oldman) is, in the words of Tinker director Tomas Alfredson, "someone you would immediately forget if you saw him on the street."

Set in 1973, Tinker foliows Smiley's attempt to uncover a double agent who has infiltrated the highest echelon of MI6, "We were not making a film about the glamour of MI6," emphasizes cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, FSF, NSC, speaking to AC from his home in Sweden.

Instead, he continues, the film "is about the lonely players of the Circus [the in-house name for M16], who operate in a desolate world where no one can be trusted. It is a melancholic world set in small rooms drenched in nicotine and bureauaatic sweat."

Tinker reunited Hoytema with Alfredson, his collaborator on Let the Right One In (2008). When they began prepping their new film, a key visual reference was London, City of Dreams, a book of photographs by Erwin Fieger that depict everyday life in 1960s London. "The images, taken with extremely long lenses, present 3 voyeuristic but also very poetic view of London," observes Hoytema. "They have a documentary feel but obviously were taken with great care and [precision]. I really got inspired by that."

He and Alfredson decided on a grainy, somewhat colorless look for ihe picture. "We wanted the grain to be visible, and I conducted a series of tests before choosing Fuji Reala [500D 8592] for day material and Eterna 500T [8573! for nights," says Hoytema. "With the Reala, I often underexposed the key by half a stop. Since the Eterna is slightly less grainy, I underexposed it a bit more."

The monochromatic palette, achieved primarily through production design and the digital timing, contributes significantly to the movie's claustrophobic atmosphere. Hoytema is quick to note, however, that this gray world is offsei with occasional hints of color: a green sweater here, an orange bedspread there. He credits production designer Maria Djurkovic with playing "a crucial role in creating the very specific design and feel of the film."

The 57-day shoot was primarily a one-camera affair, with Hoytema operating a Panaflex Millennium. His camera package, provided by Panavision London, included Primo prime lenses and Primo 3:1 (135420mm) and 1 1 : 1 (24-275mm) zooms, and he points out that he actually used the latter as zooms, in keeping with the style of 1970s cinema.

Hoytema notes that in Sweden, he often works with a zoom lens in conjunction with a fluid head that allows him to manually zoom, giving the movement "an organic fee!." For Tinker, however, he favored a mechanical zoom. "When I look at films from the 70s, I like the fact the zooms are so functional and solid. They have a beginning and an end, and I liked that idea for this movie.

"The primary reason I chose Panavision is its front-of-the-gate filtering system," he adds. "I have this strange love for shooting even bright exteriors as wide open as possible and stacking NDs in front of the lens - on very sunny days I used a 1 .2 and a .9 and was stopping down as much as 7 stops! "

Another stylistic decision was to frame characters through objects such as doorways, hallways and windows, or temporarily place them behind objects altogether. "We wanted to paint a world in which everybody is looking in on something and everyone is under suspicion," explains Hoyiema.

One notable example of this strategy shows Smiley entering his home. The camera is inside the house, two rooms back from the front entry, framing him through a few different doorways. …

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