Gerry Floyd won a Golden Frog at the 2016 Camerimage Festival for his cinematography on the docudrama Notes On Blindness, the first feature co-directed by James Spinney and Peter Middleton.
The acclaimed production dramatises the life-changing experiences of theology professor John Hull (played by Dan Renton Skinner), whose audiotape diaries of his journey into blindness formed the basis of his 1990 book Touching The Rock.
“John’s journey is one from light to dark, and then from dark to a different light,” said Floyd. “Where possible we wanted a strong light which would fall away into shadow and darkness quite quickly, accenting John’s loss of sight. We were also constantly looking for ways to interrupt the field-of-view, partially obscuring or distorting the frame with objects, or handheld diopters and shooting into reflections and glass to heighten the sense of loss.”
Floyd and the directors looked closely at Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, shot by Janusz Kaminski, and Gordon Willis’ use of Balthar lenses on The Godfather, as well as an extensive and disparate mood-board of still images.
The production shot using a RED Dragon running at 6K with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio based on the desire to let large areas of the frame fall off into darkness. The lenses used were a re-housed set of Bausch and Lomb Super Balthars.
“Since the film is set in the 1980s we wanted something to give us a bit of a period feel,” explained Floyd. “We tested various lenses and the Balthars combined with the Dragon gave us something quite special – particularly as I ND’d everything back to wide open to give the audience a sense of John’s need to touch, feel and search for things. We also used diopters extensively, frequently handheld in front of the lens for effect and had a Zeiss 135mm macro. We hired in a zoom for a couple of days and a set of Cooke S2s for second unit.”
The camera came from Archers Mark, with other camera equipment supplied by One Stop Films in London. The production shot for two weeks at Halliford Studios, London, where the interior of Hull’s house was built. Locations included West London, a disused school in Carmel, Oxfordshire, Pembrokeshire, Borth and Parys Mountain in Anglesey. Lighting equipment for location was supplied by Glo Film Lighting and supplemented in the studio by Halliford Studios.
“Apart from the approach there wasn’t anything particularly radical in the lighting,” adds Floyd. “We just wanted to keep it strong and dark. I exposed more for highlights throughout and used negative fill where necessary. I shot into the light as much as I could, often using silhouettes for effect.”
Floyd operated on the production, assisted by focus puller Mark Gee, loader Emin Atilgan and gaffer Salvador Gomez Perez. Steadicam operators were Andrew Bainbridge and Yiannis Manolopolous, and second unit DP was James Rhodes.