Gotta Wear Shades

Meet the New Wave / Tom Townend

Gotta Wear Shades

Meet the New Wave / Tom Townend

Filmography (so far):

The Unloved, dir. Samantha Morton (2008/2009), Attack The Block, dir. Joe Cornish (2010/2011), Turk & Caicos / Salting The Battlefield, dir. David Hare (2013/2014) – and Hidden, dirs. The Duffer Brothers (2012/2014).


When did you discover you wanted to be a cinematographer?

For as long as I can remember I’ve been unable to understand why everyone doesn’t think that films are mankinds greatest achievement. Cinematography is the aspect of filmmaking that I’m most fully suited too, so that’s what I’ve pursued. There never was a decisive, Road To Damascus moment that I’m aware of.

Where did you train?

I studied photography and film at Napier University in Edinburgh and then cinematography at The National Film & Television School.

What are you favourite films, and why?

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (DP , 1968) – it has something for all the family. It looks amazing. It satirises the middle classes, religious devotion, teenage angst, sexual repression and art. It has a few laughs and ends in utter despair.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

“Never shoot a freebie.” On occasion I’ve failed to heed this advice, and it’s never led to any good.

Who are your DP/industry heroes?

Alwin Küchler BSC and Lynne Ramsay gave me my first big breaks. They’re exceptional talents, and being trusted by them was its own reward. The work I’ve done for them has also got me places.

Have you won any awards or received any nominations?

The ones I’m aware of are an MTV award and a UKMVA. There have been others over the years, but those are the ones that I got shiny trophies for.

What’s you proudest moment?

Pride comes before a fall, so I’m keeping that one to myself.

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

I shot four short films over a ten year period for someone who then inexplicably decided to sever all contact and not offer me their first feature. Not getting other gigs has never bothered me, but that was a monumental kick in the teeth.

What’s been your best moment on set? And your worst moment on set?

One of the worst was when someobody worked out that it was my birthday and decided to make a fuss and get a cake. They meant well, of course, but I find that sort of thing embarrassing. Good moments are usually ones of quiet satisfaction. I can’t think of a best one, which makes me sound like Eeyore, but I generally try to be as chipper as possible on set. It doesn’t help anyone to promote one’s personal miseries.

"[greatest passion] I like to watch films, read about filmmaking, and show films to my kids to guage their appraisals."

- Tom Townend

Tell us your most hilarious faux pas?

I really can’t say. Mistakes and indiscretions are always devastating, and one gets the luxury of wearing them in private.

Away from work, what are your greatest passions?

Away from work I worry about the lack of work. I like to watch films, read about filmmaking, and show films to my kids to guage their appraisals. Snorkelling on a tropical reef was one of the few occasions I can remember being fully-entertained and free from stress.

What one piece of kit could you not live without?

Sunglasses. Digital cinematography has lowered the status of the light meter. Sunglasses must have black frames and neutral density lenses to protect my eyes from the sun and bright lights. They also keep me one degree away from sartorial disgrace on set.

Which films are you most proud of to date?

There is always room for improvement; nothing is perfect. But, Attack The Block was my first feature film and I’m proud of it because it means a lot to others. I think it’s a charming film and some people think it’s disgracefully offensive, which fascinates and entertains me.

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

Truly there’s nothing weirder than standing on a studio set, lighting and composing shots of a familiar-looking domestic interior – all with a view to convincing an audience that what they see is some sort of reality.

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

Certain actors’ faces, but I shan’t say who!

Tell us your hidden talent/party trick?

Saying things I shouldn’t. It’s not a good trick.

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

I can’t answer that either. It’s tantamount to saying that I think I’m better or more deserving than the person who did shoot it. However, I would’ve loved snooping around Borehamwood whilst 2001: A Space Odyssey was being shot.

What are your current top albums?

I liken the total of recorded music to a deep ocean, and I’m perturbed by the idea of swimming on the surface and having miles of the unknown swirling beneath my feet. Recently I’ve been nodding off to Bruce Langhorne’s sountrack for The Hired Hand.

Can you tell us your greatest extravagance?

Shopping in Waitrose.

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

Fickle. Obsessive. Perverse.

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

I honestly don’t know. For 20 years I’ve solely accrued knowledge and experience to do with filmmaking, so I wouldn’t know where to start with anything else. I don’t really understand what the majority of people outside the film industry do – aside from butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.

What are your aspirations for the future?

If, as a child, I’d been told that I would’ve barely got started at the age of 40 I wouldn’t have believed it. But that is the case and it’s not unusual either. So my one certain aspiration is to live to a ripe old age to compensate for the inordinate amount of time it’s taken me to get traction.

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