First Dan

Meet the New Wave / Dan Atherton

Dan handheld operating

First Dan

Meet the New Wave / Dan Atherton

Filmography (so far): Features – We The Kings (DP additional photography, 2018). Shorts – The Passenger (2019), Ivy (2018), Love Pool (2018), Sweet Maddie Stone (2016), Fuel To Fire (2016), Barry Glitter (2015)

When did you discover you wanted to be a cinematographer?

At school my mates and I were shooting gangster films in our village in the DVCAM days. As the worst actor, my character often died very early in the process, which meant I was often lumped with the camera to film their scenes. I haven’t let go of the camera since.

Where did you train?

National Film & Television School.

What are your favourite films, and why?

A Prophet (2009, dir. Jacques Audiard, DP Stéphane Fontaine AFC) – it’s a masterpiece.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004, dir. Shane Meadows, DP Danny Cohen BSC) – the level of impact that film has, with such a tiny budget, deserves so much adulation.

Laurence Anyways (2012, dir. Xavier Dolan, DP Yves Bélanger AFC) – for the inspiration and example that Xavier Dolan sets for young filmmakers.

The Boat That Rocked (2009, dir. Richard Curtis, DP Danny Cohen BSC) – for its entertainment value and banging soundtrack.

What’s the best advice you were ever given, and from whom?

“KISS (keep it simple, stupid)” Brian Tufano BSC. I think cinematographers, especially in the early stages of our careers, can often over complicate set-ups, eating up a lot of precious time on-set.

Dan with Jessica Barden and the Alexa 65
Dan with Jessica Barden and the Alexa 65

Who are your DP/industry heroes?

Anthony Dod Mantle DFF BSC ASC – I love the energy in his camerawork and am very jealous of his eclectic filmography.

Yves Bélanger AFC – I reference his recent work with Jean-Marc Vallee a lot.

Seamus McGarvey BSC ASC – his work always blows me away and he seems like the nicest guy on the planet.

Have you won any awards or received any nominations?

The BSC awarded me the 2018 Emerging Cinematographer award for my work on Love Pool, directed by Asim Chaudhry.

What’s your proudest moment?

There have been a few times where I’ve been in a packed cinema watching a film I’ve shot. Listening to audience reactions and discussions afterwards on how the film made them feel, fills me with pride.

What’s the worst knock-back/rejection you ever had?

I had a film nominated in the student section at Camerimage when I was very young. The film screened in a packed Opera Nova, and was laughed off the stage. Looking back, I recognise the film is very bad, but it hurt at the time. I’m looking forward to returning to the festival one day with a different film (and hopefully a better audience reaction). The second is more recent, I recently got rejected for a block on a Netflix TV series, as I couldn’t convince the producers that I had enough longform credits. I gained a lot from the interview experience.

Dan Atherton shooting <em>The Passenger</em> on the Alexa LF
Dan Atherton shooting The Passenger on the Alexa LF

What have been your best/worst moments on-set?

Best: I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great actors, so my best moments tend to involve me behind the camera operating in the best seat in the house. Sometimes it can be as simple as having the camera in the right position to gift the audience the best access to the character these talented people are portraying.

Worst: Being seasick whilst filming on a fishing boat.

What was the biggest challenge on your latest production?

My latest production involved shooting at night in estates whilst working with child actors. It was a challenge to craft with this time restriction double whammy.

Tell us your most hilarious faux pas?

On Love Pool, three quarters of the film was set in the back of an Uber. We shot a lot of it handheld inside the car with the windows closed and aircon off. The shoot unfortunately timed with a summer heatwave. On the first day, I didn’t bring a change of clothes. My clothes were so drenched with sweat by the end of the day I looked as if I’d been for a swim.

Away from work, what are your greatest passions?

My dogs, Arsenal and skiing, plus a healthy balance between friends, family and filmmaking, keep me happy.

Dan car interiors

"I’m a big advocate of LED lights, which allow me to have the greatest amount of control in the shortest amount of time. For me, this is an invaluable formula when trying to craft something under strict time pressures."

- Dan Atherton

What one piece of kit could you not live without?

Skypanels. I’m a big advocate of LED lights, which allow me to have the greatest amount of control in the shortest amount of time. For me, this is an invaluable formula when trying to craft something under strict time pressures.

Which films are you most proud of to date?

Sweet Maddie Stone. The way that film affects audiences is everything and more that the director and I hoped for.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever shot in?

I once shot a short film in a working men’s club in Blackpool. We were struggling to find anywhere that would allow us to shoot, so the other HoDs and I played bingo with the locals to keep the owner sweet and convince them to allow us to shoot there.

What’s the hardest shot/thing you’ve had to light/frame?

A toilet with very tight cubicles and white tiling.

 Tell us your hidden talent/party trick?

I’m a black belt in taekwondo.

In the entire history of filmmaking, which film would you love to have shot?

I’m going to go with something more contemporary and say either Nightcrawler (2014, dir. Dan Gilroy, DP Robert Elswit ASC) or A Prophet (2009, dir. Jacques Audiard, DP Stéphane Fontaine AFC). They both have amazing scripts and complex characters that I would love to have brought to life.

Dan lining up shot 3
Dan lining up shot 2

What are your current top albums?

I love it when the director gives me a playlist of music that’s of the world of our film. So recently I’ve been listening to a lot of grime music from the likes of J Hus and Not3s.

Can you tell us your greatest extravagance?

Ski holidays.

What’s the best thing about being a DP?

Either breaking down the script with the director in pre-production or experiencing new parts of the world and meeting the people that inhabit them.

What’s the worst thing about being a DP?

Breaking down the script with the line producer and 1st AD.

Give us three adjectives that best describe you and your approach to cinematography?

Dynamic. Natural. Engaging.

If you weren’t a DP, what job would you be doing now?

A dog breeder.

What are your aspirations for the future?

To help tell some great stories with like-minded filmmakers.