BAFTA Craft Masterclass – Danny Cohen on Cinematography

On the 9th November I went to my third BAFTA Masterclass since starting my masters. This one was in York at Aesthetica Short Film Festival which focused on Cinematography rather than Production Design. BAFTA-nominated cinematographer Danny Cohen talked about his work on The King’s Speech (2010), This is England (2006 film and television series), Pierrepoint (2005), Dive (2010), and upcoming musical, Les Misérables (2012).

Danny Cohen began as a camera assistant, working in documentaries. He worked his way up by being resourceful and looking for simple solutions to problems. He says that ‘My job is to help the director realise what’s in his head.’

When describing his role he said:

‘The cinematographer creates a consistent look for the film and makes images that help tell the story. It’s what’s in the frame, the lighting, getting the mood right – getting images that push the story along and keeps the audience inside, not outside, the film.’

He describes how the cinematography style has to be appropriate for the film and that a cinematographer shouldn’t have a set style. Danny Cohen explained that he enjoys the need to experiment and change for the production.

Pierrepoint

The film was originally planned as a television special so it was shot on 16mm. Danny Cohen looked for the simplest way to tell the story, mostly concentrating on Timothy Spall with very close shots of his face. A functioning gallows was built for the film.

This Is England

Shane Meadows prefers to film a lot of unscripted moments. Sometimes the actors would rehearse but the cameramen weren’t allowed to watch so they had to respond to the action as it happened. A lot of the scenes were inspired by the locations which were found all around Nottingham and Derbyshire. They found it difficult to find places that were of the right period and they also only had around 5 appropriate cars that they reused throughout the film.

Dive

Dive was filmed using HD cameras although these were heavy and awkward, so the series had to use a lot of static shots. The swimming pool scenes were filmed so that the scenes felt comfortable and reflected the character’s sense of it being a safe space away from her problems.

The King’s Speech

Danny Cohen was nominated for an Oscar and BAFTA in Cinematography for The King’s Speech. The film was shot in winter so they had to struggle with the lack of light and short days. For some of the interior shots, artificial light was shone through the windows. The film was shot on 35mm using wide-angle lenses so that the background was still in focus. This was to give the scenes context. Danny Cohen described this as a ‘two for one’ shot.

Hollow Crown – Richard II

Richard II considered himself to be the god-appointed king, so unreal touches were used to reinforce this theme such as the hovering crown and the gold used in any scene with him in.

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