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An Interview With – DOP Tim Fleming

Resources_DOP_139 - Tim FlemmingTim Fleming is and Irish Cinematographer who has worked on the films Once, As if I’m Not There, Hideaways and Citadel as well as numerous TV series including Luther, Silent Witness and is currently working on the upcoming BBC drama, The Musketeers. He spoke to Film Ireland about his choices when it came to photographing Citadel, the Irish thriller directed by Ciaran Foy.

What’s your background to being cinematographer?

I’ve been a cinematographer for the past 9 years and prior to that I worked as a teacher and a painter/sculptor for some time before joining the camera department as a trainee clapper-loader in 1993. I spent some years working my way through the grades in this department, ie. clapper loader, focus puller and operator before finally moving to cinematographer. Over these past nine years I have shot a variety of work including features such as As If I Am Not There and Once .

As a cinematographer, I work wherever the project of my choice brings me. I have shot in on location all over the world and it is part of what I love about what I do.

What project are you currently working on?

Right now I am finishing a one-off four-part drama series for BBC Bristol called Inside Men, directed by James Kent and produced by Colin Wratten. Just before that I was finishing on a feature film, Citadel , which was written and directed by Ciaran Foy. Citadel was shot in Glasgow and Dublin over a 6-week period during the end of 2010 and start of 2011.

How did you become involved with this project?

Citadel came to me while I was shooting a BBC Drama in Budapest. I had a call from producer Katie Holly to ask if I would like to see the script and speak with Ciaran Foy. I was taken by the script and the vision Ciaran had for it and after a 20-minute phone conversation he offered me the project.

And what about the director?

Ciaran Foy is a graduate of Dun Laoghaire College and has directed a number of commercials. I had seen a fantasy short film of his, which was beautifully realised, but this was his first feature.

Can you tell us about film’s style?

Though the film is considered in the horror genre, essentially it is also a personal journey so stylistically we wanted to keep within the personal journey of our lead actor. To facilitate this we opted to shoot handheld in the main. This allowed me to stay present in the performance and to track the journey. Beyond that or maybe coming from that our stylistic choices were quite intuitive. We set a limited colour palette on our LUT [look-up table] and knew where we wanted to go when grading.

Were there any particular references that you and the director kept in mind while shooting?

Ciaran had prepared a vision document and some tone and mood boards. I felt there were worthwhile visual references in the brilliantly photographed Dark Water as a notion of how I might distil Ciaran’s vision and notes and we departed from there.

What format did you use and why ?

We shot 4K with Red MX Cameras as the budget required we shoot digitally and this was the best format available at the time. There is also a VFX element to the movie and I feel our camera choice helped with this for the VFX workflow.

Can you tell us about your preference of lenses ?

I chose Cooke S4 primes, I’ve shot them many times and find them a brilliant all round choice.

Can you tell us about the style and type of lighting on this project ?

We had a tight lighting budget and so a tight lighting package. This was made up of HMIs, Kinos and various Tungsten heads. My gaffer, Scott Napier, made fantastic use of it. We would have some basic discussions around what I needed at each location and Scott had a great feel for where I wanted to go and allowed me to basically show up on set to tweak occasionally. The film is emotionally and tonally a dark piece so the lighting style was to be organic, winter in Glasgow, non-studio, yet on the edge of realism.

Did you try anything new on this project?

This is a low-budget movie and when you shoot intuitively, everything is new as you are constantly finding where the material and performance bring you. Movies at this level are exciting as they allow you to a degree to work outside studio or corporation-type control. Our producers allowed us the freedom to work this way within the boundaries of what the budget allowed.

Can you explain the workflow and post process?

We captured 4:4:4: on Red MX Cameras recording to hard drives. I had established a LUT that allowed me to change colour temperature yet stay within my contrast, saturation and peaking boundaries. My DIT, Minntu, is an experienced Red Camera user and had trained in LA with Red. She was brilliant with it all and she did a ‘cache’ of daily frame grabs, to which she applied a grade from our tests and conversations, thus keeping me within tolerance at the lower end of the curve, where I seemed to like. The duplicated rushes went to Eugene McCrystal in Dublin on Hard Drives and he will create a 2K film out master after grading.

What was the most challenging aspect of the film?

The most challenging aspect on all low-budget films is the schedule.

Thankfully we had a great 1st Assistant Director, Simon Maloney, who worked tirelessly on the schedule to allow us what we felt we needed yet kept talking with us about where we were and needed to be. Ultimately it was our choice whether we needed to stay longer on a scene knowing we would need to cut our cloth later.

What are you working on in the future?

Right now I’m in London grading, finishing a project from earlier this year and in discussions about another movie, but this is early days so I wouldn’t want to speculate.

What cinematographers have influenced you during your career?
The list is endless. As a child of the ‘70s, I guess cinematographers like Gordon Willis, Conrad Hall, Néstor Almendros, Haskell Wexler and most of their contemporaries in America. I watch Dion Beebe, Rodrigo Prieto and Phaedon Papamichael. I watch lots of World Cinema also, so Mark Lee, but the list is too long. Closer to home in Ireland and the UK, Roger Deakins, Chris Menges, Seamus Deasy, Seamus McGarvey, and Robbie Ryan are those I watch. I learn all the time from them and I rarely see a piece where some element doesn’t inspire or evoke interest.
What is the last film you saw that you admired/inspired you ?

The last film I saw that made an impact on me was a Vietnamese film called At the Height of Summer, photographed by Mark Lee.

Aneurin Barnard in Citadel

Aneurin Barnard in Citadel

This interview first appeared in Issue 139 of Film Ireland Magazine.