DP Mike Staniforth on Underwater

Feb 26, 2020
DP Mike Staniforth (centre)

Manchester-based DP Mike Staniforth wrote in with details about his work on Underwater for first-time director Michael Keogh. Underwater won Best Global Short at the Savannah Film Festival, and is airing on Sky Arts during 2020.

“After reading the script for Underwater, I knew immediately that I just had to shoot this film. As clichéd as it sounds, it had an overwhelming effect on me, so much so that I had to find my little boy and give him a hug.

The film’s protagonist is, on the surface, a very successful high school kid – an A-class student and championship swimmer. But as we go deeper, we see that everything isn’t quite as calm as it is on the surface!

The film was Michael’s directorial debut, and it was clear that his focus was 100% on the actors’ performances. He needed help in other areas – like shot listing, decisions on blocking and coverage. He placed complete trust in me after seeing my visual treatment for the film.

It was amazing to have such creative freedom. However, I still wanted to serve the story and not shoot things just because I could. The director did have a few pop-culture references in mind as well as some key shots, and we researched Michelangelo’s La Pieta for a key moment in the film.

We filmed over two weekends in January 2019 and a lot of interior scenes were shot night-for-day. Favours were called-in from MediaDog Hire in Space Studios, Manchester. They provided a full shooting kit including an Alexa Mini, dolly, monitoring and all the other bits. I used my personal set of Cooke Minis, and all lighting was supplied by Panalux.

Leighton Cox was my camera operator. He did a fantastic job on Steadicam too, particularly in the final scene of the film as I had him ascend a couple of stairs in a very tight hallway before tracking into a close-up. Our 1st AD was Alex Jacob, a very experienced director, and he helped Michael with blocking on some challenging set-ups. The colour grade was done by my good friend, Jorge Ortiz, at Deluxe in Barcelona.”

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