Everything starts with the script. Cinematographers, just like actors and directors are always looking for rich, layered scripts to sink their teeth into. So when Wayne sent me season one of After Nightfall my first reaction was “We have to make this!” Two weeks later we began filming.
THE NOIR LOOK
The visual aesthetic was there from the start. I don’t think we ever had a conversation about a gritty noir look, it was just there on the page. The closest conversation we’ve ever had about an aesthetic was a music reference; Wayne said he is very Madonna, I said I’m more Kurt Cobain and we decided to meet somewhere in the middle.
With limited resources and ten shooting days to film sixty minutes of drama, we were never going to have time to over-light and so a gritty noir look was both practical and the right aesthetic choice. The black and white noir films of the fifties were born of this necessity. Expressionist filmmakers with lower budgets were getting out of the studio and filming in dark, gritty locations. In a similar vein we used a lot of prac lamps for indoors, streetlights for night scenes and available light for our daytime scenes.
FILMING AFTER NIGHTFALL
Most shoot days would have one daytime scene followed by three or four night scenes. So we would arrive on set at around two or three o’clock in the afternoon, shoot with available light until dark, have dinner and then do all the night scenes. This allowed us to use a lot of nice late afternoon sun light for our daylight scenes.
Most of our shoot days were location based, so we didn’t shoot episode by episode, in fact we would often shoot a scene from each episode in a single day. For instance we shot all of the conversion camp scenes together, even though they are spread across the whole season.
Wayne and I would do a quick location scout a few days before, then on the day we’d let the actors block and rehearse as much as possible. I’d then light around them and we’d shoot, rarely doing more than two or three takes. We were often shooting in small, cramped locations that necessitate small lights, which is lucky because all we had were small lights.
We filmed on the Sony F5 on the Cine EI mode at 4k, which locks the iso at 2000, something I was quite happy with because of our limited lighting options. I used my set of Schneider Xenon FF cine lenses with the Hollywood Black Magic Filters, to help take us out the video look. I would usually shoot wide open at T2.1.
The 25mm was my favourite lens on this shoot and was my absolute go to Lens. We shot everything on location and the compact size of the FF primes as well as the identical size made them so easy to use. We could swap them out really quickly and the follow focus always matched up. The lenses have a lovely look wide open, they’re not to contrasty and I love the bokeh.
We cobbled together an odd assortment of small lights, two LED panels, the type usually used for filming interviews. Three LED Fresnels used with soft boxes for lighting people, or barn doors for hard lights and wall slashes. And finally a small 4 bank Kino. Everything was set at daylight colour temp, including the camera, with gels and diffusion to match moonlight or lamplight. I also used as many prac lamps with dimmers as I could get my hands on.
We were going for a low key, high contrast chiaroscuro effect, which can be tricky when you’re short on lights. With a small crew, lighting large areas was never going to work so instead I tried for pools of light. To keep these pools of light upstage of the actors I would try and always light from the next room. In After Nightfall it always feels like the lights aren’t on in the room that the audience is in, the light is always spilling in from the next room.
Harmonious shoots don’t always lead to a great end product but After Nightfall is definitely an exception. Everyone was donating their time for free, from actors to camera assistants and they were all incredibly generous. Shooting drama especially is impossible without really good ACs, filming night scenes at T2.1 is especially taxing on a focus puller. So with an amazing crew we shot the entire series in ten days, including a few solo missions to the local park in the middle of the night to capture full moon shots. A Big thank you must go out to my camera crew; James Blackley, Lakme Iyengar, Claire Harmer, Zeke Collins and Yaozi Lu. They were all amazing.
So when you shoot log footage on a high iso, with mixed lights including all of the crazy green lights that local councils are putting into their street lamps, you need a great Colour Grader. Luckily I know Sydney based Colourist Keiran Lee, who did a wonderful job for us. Embracing the gritty noir look he pushed the footage as much as he could, de-noised it and added some cine grain to help with online banding issues.
For the indoor night scenes I tend to punch in bluish light from outside and then mix it with warm tungsten light on the actors faces. We pushed a lot of this warm orange light to more of a yellow colour, which I loved. We also didn’t worry too much if the actor’s faces got lost in the shadows, because all the characters have something to hide, so again it suits the mood of the story.
We then uploaded the biggest 4k master we could to YouTube to get the best possible image after they compress it for streaming.
At the time of writing this we have just uploaded the fourth episode and the reaction so far has been amazing. People seem to love the look and the mood of the series, and of course they love the writing. I still don’t know who the killer is so I love hearing everyone’s thoughts on #WhoKilledTroyMcLeavey.
Dave settles a score, Nathan’s family discovers his secret, Kobie breaks the law, Angela phones her ex, Hayden worries for his Mum, Ursula sees something in her tarot cards and the McLeavey’s prepare for dinner. Meanwhile, the body of student, Troy McLeavey, is found.
The McLeavey family learn the devastating news of Troy’s death, the police launch their murder investigation, Kobie and his Mum hide evidence, Hayden waits for Troy’s call, Oscar worries his secret will be revealed and Nathan and Colin both receive surprise early morning visits.
Colin finds evidence, Isobel hides a secret, Hayden hears the truth, Nathan wakes up in an unexpected place, the police turn their focus to Kobie, Viv doesn’t trust Oscar, Dave’s business ramps up and Justine worries for her husband’s mental health.
Nathan meets his captors, the police search the McLeavey house, Kobie and Oscar meet, Dave threatens Hayden, Isobel discovers a secret and Colin finds out his mother shares his gift.
Nicholas Price is a director dop, working in Sydney, London and Japan. He makes TVC’s, documentaries, films and music videos.
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