Q. This is your most prominent feature to date, what has it been like?
Daffodils was a huge challenge for me.
In its simplest form, the idea is that the songs are the internal, private thoughts of the characters. What they think, but what they wouldn’t say. So when a character sings, other people in the scene don’t hear them. The way we approached this is to essentially shoot the scene twice. Once as a pure drama pass, and a second time as a singing pass, and these are cut together in the edit. It sounds pretty straight forward, but this approached evolved through a long process from the adaptation of the stage play to a film script, then through early discussions with the Director, and then we shot tests to see how this would work in editing.
In addition to the creative storytelling approach, the complexity around shots and editing was quite difficult to keep clear in your mind. You have a number of songs that go across many different time periods, so you can have a character in one scene, singing a particular lyric, then they step into another time period and set and they are singing the next lyric in the song. So a lot of the typical control you have in editing, to shorten or lengthen scenes, is something you don’t have as much control over.
The hardest part was probably the schedule. I’ve done a fair bit of fast turn-around TV and I’m used to working within the constraints of time and budget, but Daffodils was hugely challenging to get everything done in the time available and to the standard that everyone expected. There were never any simple days. We were bouncing around the time periods with extensive wardrobe and makeup changes, lots of sets, lighting and location changes every day. We had car scenes with low loaders and rear projection, ship exteriors in studios, lots of extras, and almost every day had significant music performances. All the music had been pre-recorded, but we also recorded all the singing live, to give a more natural dramatic performance. Often, we had musicians playing instruments live on-camera or off-camera, so the music could be more interactive and responsive to the actors and directors needs for the scene. All of this stuff together meant every day was a big challenge to complete the callsheet.
Q. Why did you choose a high key lighting style?
My approach to lighting for this film was quite different to things I have done in the past. Essentially, the main story is about the two characters Rose and Eric, but it is told through the eyes of their daughter Maisie. That offered us freedom to embrace the idea that when you look back on memories and you see someone else’s story, it becomes your own version of events that is filtered through your particular view of these people. Coupled with that, I really liked the idea of making movie stars out of this story of typical kiwis. So many classic movies and movies stars come from the American Hollywood system. They took their own stories and they elevated these people beyond the ordinary, into stars of the silver screen, and I loved the idea of taking a story about ordinary kiwis and making them look like movie stars. We aimed for lighting and lenses that made them beautiful and gave a real romantic, cinematic feel.
I also had huge input from some key collaborators. Adrian Hebron (Wookie) who was the gaffer on this film was a big piece of the films look. We had a large numbers of sets, a huge amount of locations and we were busting though a lot of setups every day. Wookie was the guy who always had his eye on what was coming up in the days ahead, as lighting resources and crew size would often be changing to keep pace with the variety of scenarios.
Also the input of the colourist, Claire Burlinson, was a huge creative part of the final look. Her artistry, energy and opinion really elevated everything. Claire brought a lot of colour tones and colour combinations that I would not normally ask for. I love the colour grading process, and I like to utilize all the tools we have at our disposal these days in the digital environment. I want that stage of the film to work just as hard as everything that has gone before it to make everything as good as possible, and I want a colourist that is an artist with their own opinions that engage deeply with the emotional subtext of the story, and marry that up with how an audience is going to experience the film.
Q. What were the most satisfying aspects of the film?
Working with Production Designer Brendan Heffernan was a hugely rewarding experience for me. The process of bringing this world to life came from Brendan’s production design. He produced a few key pieces of concept art that really helped define the world for all of us, and between David the director, Brendan and myself, we were able to go through this iterative process to slowly build a world that was working for all departments.
Q. How was it working with the Director, David Stubbs?
David and I have worked a lot together over the years, and we have established a pretty good way of working together. The relationship between a DOP and Director can take quite different forms. Some directors have every shot of the film in their mind and the DP’s jobs is to logistically make that happen. David has a really good instinct for storytelling and drama and I love working with that at the forefront of everything. As a DP there are so many choices technically, how to move the camera, lighting, when to cut, lenses, cameras etc, and my approach is to always be about story and acting first. If you don’t understand the underlying emotional subtext of a scene you can’t make technical choices that fit. If you have a shared understanding of what the important storytelling elements are, you can suggest alternatives that still deliver the story points. I approach everything from story first and acting first. Like most DP’s, I love the hardware of cinema. I’d fill my house with obscure lenses if I could, but I’m also a real believer in technology comes second. First is storytelling and time and space for the actors and director to work. Getting that drama working in front of everyone’s eyeballs onset is the most important thing, rather than starting with fancy camera moves and having everyone follow that.
~ Mathew Knight