Non - Stop

    Sean Bobbitt BSC / Hysteria, Byzantium  & The Place Beyond The Pines

Non - Stop

    Sean Bobbitt BSC / Hysteria, Byzantium  & The Place Beyond The Pines

If variety is the spice of life then Sean Bobbitt BSC has been having a very spicy time over the past two and a half years. His most recent films include a period romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator, a gritty crime thriller with an experimental twist and a contemporary vampire story definitely not for fans of the Twilight franchise.


The first of these, Hysteria, is due for release in the UK and USA during May. It tells the unlikely-but-true story of how Victorian doctor Joseph Mortimer Granville (played by Hugh Dancy) invented the vibrator as a medical device to treat 'hysterical' women.

This sounds a bit Carry On... but Bobbitt says it is really a love story told with humour: "There is comedic potential but it is carefully handled." Also starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Felicity Jones and Jonathan Pryce, Hysteria was directed by Tanya Wexler, who Bobbitt describes as a collaborative and decisive filmmaker. One of her decisions was to shoot on film, with the cinematographer primarily operating an Arricam LT and working with 3-perf Fuji Vivid 500T and 250 stocks.

"It was definitely a 'film' film," Bobbitt comments. A sense of the era was evoked by the "judicial use of Victoriana" - with rooms cluttered by plants and furniture and shooting on the Vivid stock. "I also used a bit of contrast," Bobbitt explains, "so everything was not too airy and bright. I didn't want it to be overwhelmed by the Victoriana so the density of the dresses was picked out. This gave a sense of a repressed society less through the design but more in the costumes."

Hysteria was shot on locations in London with interiors on a sound stage in Luxembourg. Bobbitt says the look of the sets was "very rich, almost heightened" but as well as this and "beauty shots" he also aimed for "an idea of realism" through the lighting.

Tanya Wexler is the niece of famed American director of photography Haskell Wexler, who continues to add to his long list of credits, which include In The Heat Of The Night (1967) and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975), by still working today. Bobbitt says Tanya "picked me to do what I do" and did not have preconceived ideas about the cinematography because of her uncle, although his shadow was cast over the production at one point.

"I was absolutely terrified when Tanya said she had invited Haskell over," Bobbitt says. "But he hates flying and didn't come. I would have collapsed in a fit of nerves if he had, so it was a great relief - although it was also a shame because he has always been one of my great heroes."

Another key tool on Hysteria was the Cooke Optics S4 lens range, which Bobbitt uses on most of his films. "I just know the S4s so well and I love the look," he comments. "There is a perceived softness but they are also spot-on sharp and the way the focus drops off is not as hard a contrast. There's also more to play with in DI."

These lenses, along with the Arricam LT, also feature on The Place Beyond The Pines, which Bobbitt shot in the US for director Derek Cianfrance. As he says, this is the "complete opposite" of Hysteria. It is a contemporary, gritty story of a motorcycle stuntman (Ryan Gosling) who considers crime as a way to provide for his family, which brings him into conflict with a former cop who is now a politician.

Cianfrance comes from a background of experimental cinema; Bobbitt describes him as a "very unusual filmmaker" and says the film has an "unusual structure in the way the story is told".

The unconventional approach extended to Bobbitt shooting 14,000 feet of film on a single handheld camera, using 400ff mags of 2-perf stock. "For Derek it is a generational family epic and so he wanted it to look like a film," he says. "From my point of view I'm glad we did shoot on film because a mag of 2-perf lasts eight and half minutes. The LT can be reloaded very quickly and I don't think digital wouldn't have been a greater advantage. It certainly would have been to my physical disadvantage. Digital tape is 23 minutes long and at that length I would have been a ruin."

"[On Hysteria] Derek it is a generational family epic and so he wanted it to look like a film."

- Sean Bobbitt BSC

The Place Beyond the Pines is still in post-production, as is Byzantium, Neil Jordan's first film to feature bloodsuckers since Interview With The Vampire in 1994. Jordan is the main creative force behind the Showtime/Sky TV series The Borgias, which is made on the ARRI Alexa digital camera and he was keen to use it for Byzantium.

"It was my first production that was not on film in many years," says Bobbitt, "and although initially I was not convinced it worked very well. We shot RAW data on to a Codex recorder and everything was quite quick. It's easy to get bogged down looking at the monitor, so I tried to keep things as film-like as possible, including not having a tent set up for me to sit in."

 The production began with two weeks on location in Hastings, which Bobbitt calls a "remarkable town, with so many incongruous things", before moving to Ireland for further shooting in Dublin, County Cork and at Ardmore Studios, County Wicklow. Bobbitt says Byzantium, which stars Saorise Ronan and Gemma Arterton, is violent and otherworldly but ultimately poses the question of whether an immortal creature like a vampire can find love.

A lot of RAW data was created during the shoot so Bobbitt worked with digital image technician Sean Leonard, advised by staff at Windmill Post in Dublin and ARRI, to build a workflow that could deal with it. "We kept everything as streamlined as possible and Neil watching on a monitor with a simple look-up table," he says.

Bobbitt describes the lighting for the film as "very naturalistic" despite the elements of fantasy. "We had the costumes and the sets as well as the lighting and camera settings, so everything is there to go into DI for finishing. I can't wait to get my hands on it and finesse it out."

Byzantium is being DI’ed at LipSync in London and as well as that Bobbitt is already gearing up for the next film by Steve McQueen, with whom he worked on Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011). Twelve Years A Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, tells the true story of a black free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery and will ensure that the cinematographer's "pretty much non-stop" working schedule won't be easing up any time soon.

Related Posts