Magazine article American Cinematographer

Crumbling Pillars

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Crumbling Pillars

Article excerpt

Mike Eley, BSC captures World War Is impact on England s aristocracy for the television miniseries Parade's End.

Parade's End, by Ford Madox Ford, is not one novel but four, a tetralogy published sequentially in the 1920s and onty bought together in a single volume after the author's death. It chronicles the disintegration of English society around the time of the First World War and centers on the character of Christopher Tietjens, an intellectual aristocrat whose outdated Tory values leave him ill to deal with the modern world.

Tasked with adapting the story for a five-part miniseries, screenwriter Tom Stoppard focused on the triangle of relationships between Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch); his adulterous, cruel wife, Sylvia (Rebecca Hall); and a young suffragette with whom he falls in love, Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens). To bring the .to the screen, director Susanna White tapped cineMike Eley, BSC, her collaborator of some 20 Together they have worked on TV shows such us Jane (2006) and Generation Kill (2008), as well as the film Nanny McPbee and the Big Bang (2010).

White began researching Ford and the period in Parade's End is set, a time that saw cataclysmic to almost every facet of society and culture. "I a way to be really true to the spirit of Ford as a writer was to draw on the modernist movement that was going on in the visual arts," she notes. "He was very close to painters like Picasso, Juan Gris and the Cubists, and the Vorticist movement."

Early in prep, White and Eley visited an exhibition of Vorticism at the Tate Modern. "It was quite inspiring," says Eley. "Parade's Ena is thought of as one of the first modernist novels, and Vorticism hit the world around 1914, slap-bang in the middle of our story. In particular, we were struck by the vortographs, which are photographs taken through a fractured mirror, and we decided to borrow that technique. We wanted to create it in-camera, so we experimented and decided to use three lengths of mirror, each about 6by-4 inches, taped together to create a triangular tube that we simply placed in front of the lens and adjusted by eye through the viewfinder."

The mirror rig split the image into triangular shards and was put to use for flashbacks, memories and time transitions. White explains, "I didn't want to get too tricksy in my overall visual approach, but this device added another layer without any kind of confusion. The use of three mirrors also seemed so appropriate for this story of a love triangle."

Parade's End was shot with Arri Alexa cameras and Cooke S4 lenses, with the majority of the shoot taking place at locations in England and Belgium. Neither Eley nor his gaffer, Paul Murphy, had worked with the Alexa before, and with about 150 different sets to squeeze into a tight schedule, they had very few pre-light days. "Our producer, Selwyn Roberts, gave us four full days of camera tests at the start of prep," Murphy recalls. "On a stage, we played with smoke effects, practical bulbs and various types of candles supplemented with minimal lighting, exploring what the Alexa could do. It was double the time we might normally have [to test], which was really beneficial; we knew the extremities we could go to before we went out to shoot properly."

Eley decided to hand over camera-operating duties to Ian Adrian so he could give his full attention to the lighting and spend time at the monitor with White. "It was an interesting experience to be at the monitor through the shoot and see something that pretty much represented the final image," says Eley. "Prior to shooting, I worked with our colorist, Peter Bernaers, to establish about six different look-up tables, which I had on an SD card. I ended up using just two, and, like all LUTs, they were just a working model, but it was good for us to see them on the monitor and have something to stay true to."

"It is extraordinary to see that level of precision in what you're getting, and I completely loved it," says White. …

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