TEEN SPIRIT

Denis Crossan BSC/Our Ladies

 

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TEEN SPIRIT

Denis Crossan BSC/Our Ladies

Cinematographer Denis Crossan BSC had previously worked with director Michael Caton-Jones on a brace of movies, plus a hit TV series, before linking up once again to shoot the Hollywood veteran helmer’s personal passion project, Our Ladies, releasing later in 2020 by Sony Pictures.

The forthcoming feature, sees the Rob Roy director return to Scotland with a boisterous take on Alan Warner's ‘90s cult novel, ‘The Sopranos’. The action follows the misadventures of a group of Catholic schoolgirls who get the chance to leave their west-coast homes in Fort William, in the Highlands, and enjoy a day-trip to Edinburgh for a choir competition. However, they are far more interested in drinking, partying and hooking-up with boys, than winning the singing contest.

Set to a nostalgic ’90’s soundtrack, the movie combines a sense of teenage naturalism with musical montages. Critics applauded its riot of girl power and teen spirit when the film premiered at the 2019 London Film Festival.

“It is always good to work with Michael. We trust each other, so the filmmaking part is always quite easy,” says Crossan who previously shot Urban Hymn (2015), Hitman Redemption (2018), and Scott Free Productions’ TV series World Without End (2012) with Caton-Jones.

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“It is always good to work with Michael. We trust each other, so the filmmaking part is always quite easy,” says Crossan who previously shot Urban Hymn (2015), Hitman Redemption (2018), and Scott Free Productions’ TV series World Without End (2012) with Caton-Jones.

“I read the script several years ago, and although Michael had TV options, I think for him it was always destined to be a feature. I thought the script was a really funny and gutsy adaptation of Alan Warner’s original book, and knowing how passionate Michael was about it, I was keen to bring it to life”

Crossan says neither he nor Caton-Jones considered any references for the look of the movie.

“I tried for weeks to think of a stylistic approach, but finally decided it was best not to impose a particular impression of a 1990’s aesthetic on the visual storytelling, other than to imbue the production with a certain cinematic quality, based in naturalism,” says Crossan. “We always intended to shoot in Anamorphic, so I chose Cooke Xtal Express lenses, made by Joe Dunton in the 1970s, and to let the costume and locations work their own magic.”

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“Lester Dunton put a great set of Xtal Expresses together for me from his collection that was stored at ARRI. I felt the idiosyncratic nature of the lenses, their aberrations, flares and fall-off would have great visual resonance with the girls’ energies and help to drive through the narrative.”

- Denis Crossan BSC

Our Ladies was originally planned as a breezy, summertime film, but through changes of schedule, principal photography ended-up taking place during October, November and December 2018.

“The story is set over a 24-hour period, and I was concerned about keeping a continuity of look, especially as we were shooting in Scotland at a time of year when the weather can be variable to say the least,” Crossan recalls. “But we lucked-out and the weather, for the most part, remained dry and consistent for our day and night exteriors. There was only one day when it absolutely poured.”

Crossan had four weeks of prep prior to the 33-day shoot, which took place at locations in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fort William and the rural Scottish Highlands. Although there were a couple of six-day weeks, a five-day regime prevailed, which the DP describes as “most agreeable”.

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Initially, some of the locations proved to be either basic, such as a shop front with nothing visual about it except a large pane of glass, or problematic, such as the concert hall exterior, which was plastered with scaffolding at the time of production.

“Michael was sold on the concert hall, and as we never found a better location, we had to go with it,” he says. A solution, of sorts, saw Crossan having to perform judiciously-angled framing and use a parked bus to obscure the offending metalwork.

“We had lots of crazy things like that, or many locations still missing, which isn’t the best way to start a shoot, although it did make things interesting day-by-day,” he says. “But, the opening scene in the movie, of the girls in white dresses by the waters edge, which we shot at the same loch where Michael had filmed Rob Roy, was absolutely stunning, despite it being mid-December and freezing.”

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Regarding his choice of lenses, Crossan says, “I like the whole feeling of Anamorphic, using the wide aspect ratio to capture a group of people constantly interacting with one another and letting the action play out. For his part, one of Michael’s many strengths is the way in which he composes in widescreen. He is very good as evolving a scene, with a flowing camera that moves round and between characters, to tell the story through foreground and background action, without needing any establishing shots or cutaways later in the edit. The framing is always interesting.

“Lester Dunton put a great set of Xtal Express’s together for me from his collection that was stored at ARRI. I felt the idiosyncratic nature of the lenses, their aberrations, flares and fall-off would have great visual resonance with the girls’ energies and help to drive through the narrative.”

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Crossan shot Our Ladies in ARRIRAW using ARRI Alexa XT and Alexa Mini cameras, rated at 800ISO for both day and night work, with a quarter Tiffen Black Satin filtration to encourage halation on light sources at the many club and barroom interiors.

“I very seldom use LUTs, and rarely do any colour grading on-set,” says Crossan. “I generally monitor Rec709 on-set and make any changes to the look through the lighting during production.”

The main DI grade on Our Ladies was performed in SDR by Thomas Urbye at The Look in London over the course of two weeks, with three extra days used to match VFX shots into the final pass.

“Normally I ask the DIT to send me frame grabs of different scenes during production and later use these as reference for the DI colour timing, and Our Ladies was no exception. Generally the look we see in post stays close to how I shot it originally.”

Crossan concludes, “I am very happy with the finished film, especially my work in helping Michael make the film he wanted. He got so much fun and pathos from the actors, and putting that on screen for him was another memorable experience.”