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Breadth of Support

30/04/2024

Now streaming on Netflix, Good Grief marks the feature-film directorial debut of Daniel Levy, well known as the co-creator and costar of the series Schitt's Creek. Offering an uplifting perspective on dealing with the permanence of losing a loved one, Good Grief follows Marc (played by Levy), who was content living in the shadow of his larger-than-life husband, Oliver (Luke Evans). But when Oliver unexpectedly dies, Marc's world shatters, sending him and his two best friends, Sophie (Ruth Negga) and Thomas (Himesh Patel), on a soul-searching trip to Paris that reveals some hard truths they each needed to face. Cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland, BSC and gaffer Chris Dowling made each of their decisions with the aim of embracing these realities, and here the two collaborators discuss their approach to crafting the film's visual language.

Panavision London supplied the production's camera and lens package, and Panalux London provided lighting services. The filmmakers also worked with Light Iron for dailies and finishing services, including VFX and final color. Light Iron's VFX contributions included 3D tracking, reflection maps, motion vector mapping, rotoscoping, paint, and multi-layered compositing; in the final grade, Birkeland reteamed with supervising colorist Ian Vertovec. Supported throughout production and post, the filmmakers were free to skillfully explore the bright spots of bereavement.

Panavision: Ole, how did you become involved in this project?

Ole Bratt Birkeland, BSC: I read the script for Good Grief and thought it was a really lovely project about coming to terms with difficult emotions and life situations. When I then met Dan, it was brilliant to hear his ideas and how he had a personal connection to the story and feelings expressed. We had many similar thoughts on how film can be a way of releasing complicated thoughts and give a release to ideas that are otherwise hard to process.

How did Daniel Levy describe what he had in mind for the project's visuals?

Birkeland: Dan was interested in exploring something real that had a sense of warmth towards our characters. One of the ways we approached this was to make sure the camera focused on the characters at all times but also had a feeling of not being static. It is subtle, but almost everything is handheld or Steadicam throughout.

Were there any specific references or inspirations that informed your lighting approach?

Chris Dowling: These were more discussed with mood boards and color tones rather than directly referencing stills from films. It's good to get a clear picture of how you see the look, but I think you can easily blur the lines if you copy others. I prefer to get a guide and discuss these things without referencing films if I can. There is a world of things out there that can help, like fashion, art, music, books, photos, scenery and landscapes. If you reference a film, then it's already been done, and where is the challenge in that? Taking a still image or a piece of artwork and translating that into a moving image, and making that work, is the challenge.

Chris, how would you describe the lighting style you, Ole and Daniel were trying to achieve?

Dowling: Enhanced natural.' I'm not a big lover of obviously lit scenes within this kind of narrative, and Ole is very much of the same mind, but with this particular project, in order to show the journey the characters go on, we needed to slightly extend the spectrum. So, when we needed a warm, happy scene, we went slightly past the normal warm and organic tones, and likewise when it was a cold, sad scene, we took it slightly colder and bleaker, enhancing the change.

The lighting setups had huge restrictions in each of the locations, so we knew we needed to allow the lighting to be as fluid as possible to enhance the mood within each scene. The only thing we tried to maintain was as low a carbon footprint as possible throughout the project. Wherever possible, we used the latest LED fixtures to try to keep the times we used a generator to an absolute minimum. We are at a point now in the industry where we can really start to make a difference. Having the newest tech also allowed us to have a huge amount of control at our fingertips. This gave us the advantage of speed as well as fine-tuning whilst the shot developed.

Did you have a favorite lighting setup on the production?

Dowling: My favorite lighting setup normally ends up being the one that caused the most issues and headaches. Those are the ones that test you and push you forward. Being able to solve the issues and sell that it was done easily is very satisfying. On this project, I would say it was the studio shoot. We were in a tiny studio in the back of Acton, with no height, no space, no rigging, no mains. It really was a challenge given the scale of the sets required in it the Paris bedroom scenes were shot there. We needed two lighting setups as well as a Translight, and the set had huge windows. When I saw that on the screen, I thought, Yes, we smashed that.' The lighting and Ole's clever use of lens and camerawork absolutely shows how it should be done. Even with huge limitations, you can achieve amazing results.

Ole, you'd worked with Ian Vertovec at Light Iron before Good Grief. How has that relationship and collaboration evolved over time?

Birkeland: The first time I worked with Ian was on Tales From the Loop. He did such an amazing job on that, so when it came time to grade Good Grief, I jumped on the opportunity to work with him again. He has such a beautiful eye and a great sense of story. It was brilliant to have his expertise to fine-tune the visuals. We are currently doing it again for another movie, and it's very exciting to keep exploring ideas with him.

How does this project differ from others in your respective careers?
LINK: https://www.panavision.com/highlights/highlights-detail/breadth-of-sup...
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