Having worked closely with James on previous projects we were only too happy to collaborate on his latest script – PANIC. From the very beginning we had some strong ideas for the cinematography that would be vital in making his script come to life. For me the story has 3 main concepts that I wanted to challenge: Dylan’s state of mind, his relationships and his surroundings. It was clear that the script was full of subtle story plots that weren’t in the dialogue making the visual aspect of this project an exciting film to work on.
Often people are too afraid to approach the subject of mental health which is sometimes a taboo subject over looked in both society and the media. It’s only now in 2016 that I feel it’s getting the attention it deserves. It’s even becoming something of a hot topic with the young Royals being the latest celebs to spread the awareness and begin the conversation of mental health with their new charity Heads Together. So, keeping this in mind and with pen and paper in hand, off to work we went!
After jotting down some visual ideas, sketches and storyboards, a few things became apparent. We wanted Dylan, our protagonist, to feel trapped and alone in his own world. Experimenting with ideas of filming with a narrow aspect ratio of 1:33:1 and using a greater amount of depth of field to single out Dylan’s world, was an idea we have since seen used incredibly powerfully on the recent release of the searing drama ‘Son of Saul‘.
However, we wanted to use wide angles when we could to express Dylan’s loneliness and distance from other characters. We also didn’t want to miss any of the beautiful Pembrokeshire countryside, especially in wintery November when nature was visually depicting Dylan’s character. Instead we opted to film with a 2:4:1 aspect ratio. This allowed us to still get the Welsh vistas and to make the most of the great farm locations, yet still heightening Dylan’s sense of being trapped.
Dylan only faces a few characters on his journey, but his feeling towards each is polarised. Using movement in the camera we were able to enhance this feeling of comfort, love and anger. Often with Jenny the camera’s movements are more subtle and less abrupt unlike the heavy hand held fell introduced with Thomas his father. We also wanted to let some scenes breath. Wide angles enabled us to create space between characters and let scenes build on their own tension.
A Steadicam was used to enhance some of the nightmare sequences that Dylan experiences. At times this gives the effect of another character. One that’s there with him, following him, pushing him, especially early on when the audience isn’t sure who or what’s moving around. At times the effect was enhanced with slo-motion.
Colour from the outset was something we wanted to incorporate in every aspect not just in the grade. It was important to film any exteriors at dusk, to get that magic hour feel throughout the film. At that time of the year the evening mist has a wonderful blue tone which was perfect with the feel of the film. The only down side to this was the daily 30 minute timescale restriction we had to capture what we needed. The overall tone of the film is blue to match Dylan’s state of mind.
Colour was an incredibly important aspect of the film. The warmer red tones used with Jenny really helped to show his love towards her while the colder blue tones between him and his father indicate their deteriorating relationship. The earthy tones from the farm and Welsh countryside were very important to help cement Dylan’s hated link to the farm. Working closely with Anna (Production Designer), we were able to implement the earthy tones on set and also in the wardrobe. For me this was the greatest element of the film, seeing all the different departments working closely to create a single vision to tell a story.
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