Tell us a bit about yourself Stuart.
At the moment I am the acting head of cinematography here at the National Film and Television School. I have been a cinematographer from around 1980 and I have done commercials, music videos, feature films, sort of everything really. I think a creative career was what I wanted to do and I found myself doing lots and lots of commercials which I really enjoy doing and music videos which I also love as well. But we're all storytellers and I don't think at the end of the day whether the film or the card in the camera knows what you're shooting it is what you put on there, that's the most important thing.
So what led you to the NFTS?
I was invited here about ten years ago. I was asked originally to do a master class and I've stayed ever since, and it's great great place to be. The students are studying a 2 year MA and it's a full on cinematography course.
We've been with the students this morning in the studio where they have been recreating a masterpiece.
Can you tell us a little about the task and what they gain from it.
The exercise we're seeing today is a set recreated on stage one here at the NFTS of a painting by Pieter de Hooch. It's a beautiful set painted by John Davey, one of the great artists and painters in this industry who retired some time ago, who comes in to do it because he's just passionate about everything, which is what we all are. Something cinematographers have to do as well as create the mood and the image is sometimes having to follow other areas, in other words if you're a second unit cinematographer you have to follow the main cinematographer and light in that style. This exercise is a master class in attention to detail in recreating this work of art.
So what we are doing is making this painting come to life. But it's got to be photographed and it's got to be lit exactly as Pieter de Hooch lit it even though when you study a painting it is not like a photograph because he paints during the day and the light changes a lot. So you've got to build a lot of that in but the mood will be exactly the same as he did it and the students are looking and analyzing something to make that come to life.
We do it with the Arri Alexa digital camera and we do it on film as well so they can compare both. The DPP (Digital Post Production) Department will do their own as well and there's a green screen and blue screen element that's quite important because they're putting in what's on that screen.
As for the set, and the lighting in particular, who is rigging this and setting it up?
In cinematography we have a gaffer who's been helping us and I've been taking over all charge of the cinematographers. So they've all been putting their feelings in and is left open to them so they'll say "Stuart, that doesn't look right because on the painting...."and we'll say go and do it then.
Lighting is obviously the key thing about the whole set.
What type of lights are you using and how are they placed?
The most important thing for me on the set is the look of it and the mood and everything about it. If I can achieve that with coolness and keep the set cool so the actors aren't perspiring as they're wearing costumes that are very heavy and very thick. Years ago you'd have lit that set and everybody would be sweating and they look at you as if they could kill you.
These days we think very carefully about what we do and if you look at the blue and the green screens they are lit with Kino Flo tubes which are a godsend because they take very little energy and you have the purest light you could possibly get. Yes you can do it with the tungsten lights and gel them but it's a jerk off. This is how to do it. You do it the right way.