Roger is Director of Photography on HORIZON.

Roger Pearce – Answer our questions!

Roger is an award winning camera operator with a career spanning over 3 decades in the film and television industry, and one that has seen him work with some of the biggest names in the business.

He has extensive experience in feature films and television dramas, including "Casino Royale", “The Mask of Zorro”, "Maleficent" and "Game of Thrones". Roger kindly stepped in to lend his expertise and shoot four episodes of Horizon, including two of its biggest set-pieces. Roger also acted as director of photography on his episodes, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to the look of the show. Here he talks about what it was like working on the series.

What challenges did you find working on the episodes you shot?
Well the biggest challenge was definitely time. I believe the intention was to shoot each episode in a day in order to maximize use of a location or particular actor, but that meant a lot of coverage and we were often working with a small crew which made things difficult. In fact on one occasion, because of location costs, we actually shot two episodes in a day which was particularly tough – not least because we were working in such a big space, so for a small group of us to have to run around and set up lights took a lot of work.

It was a large warehouse space we were shooting in and our biggest light was a single 2.5, so we were often working on the edge of the exposure.

I had to rely on Paul and the cast’s knowledge of the script a lot too, again with a low budget project like this, time for things like rehearsal and prep were a luxury we couldn’t afford – so as the DP I wasn’t able to plan ahead as much as I’d like. It was just a case of working shot by shot almost. I also had to be mindful of the fact other people had shot other episodes, so my work needed to complement and be consistent with theirs.

Another difficult space we had to contend with was the opposite extreme to the warehouse – it was a small kitchen in someone’s house, and eventually the cellar. Even though we were only shooting two cast-members we had to be mindful of space, and the cellar in fact turned out to be flooded so then there were various concerns regarding electrics and safety. In fact we ended up shooting our actors with torches as the keylight!

So each location brought it’s own challenges. The supermarket was probably the easiest for me actually, as it was a pre-lit set, we had a gaffer who knew the space, and it was a large space to work in! So, even though it looked chaotic, it was much more straight-forward to shoot.

Overall we had a very enthusiastic crew though, so everyone was chipping in to get it done.

How do you approach shooting action scenes? Anything that you're always trying to do or add to the mix?
Well I would always start by getting a clear idea of what the director wants from beginning to end, then we decide on what technique we’re going to use – is it on tracks, handheld etc… we look at how much ground the scene will cover, is it possible to cover it all in a master or do we take in different rooms that require it be broken into smaller sections… these sorts of things.

Other than that, I just try to keep it fluid, keep the camera moving as this enhances the action, keep the frame busy, so have the characters and their movements fill the frame – but also make sure when it comes to particular effects gags you’re keeping the camera wide so the audience can follow what’s happening.

When lighting, what approaches do you like to adhere to if you can?
Well the natural yard-stick would be – what’s God given you? Is there a window/door/fluorescent tube in the ceiling, I always start just by looking at a space and seeing what naturally we have to work with, then you can think about the best ways to enhance this photographically and make it practical – the light source might all be very ‘toppy’ so you decide to supplement from the side and so on… I think if the designer/director has picked a suitable location, then you should just be enhancing that.

How did you find working with C300 camera? Good, I think it was very well suited to the handheld nature of the show as it is light and portable – I found the on-board monitor a little tricky to work with as it’s not necessarily ideally placed for those sorts of scenes where you’re working off the shoulder. So, perhaps not as user friendly as it could be, but again for what we were doing it was a good fit.

How do you keep the scenes and shots cinematic? What techniques do you like to employ?

I like to go wide if I can – a lot today tends to be done in close-up which isn’t necessarily as dynamic or as cinematic as it could be, and of course if it’s over-used you end up losing the impact when you do want to cut to the close up for a story beat.

Otherwise it’s just looking at each shot and seeing if there’s a way you can make it more interesting – does a low angle work? Can we shift perspective, move one side or another to maybe look down this corridor or through a door in the background, as opposed to just shooting against a flat wall. If you can’t get that is there some foreground you can shoot through? So it’s finding ways to make the frame as interesting as possible, but also in a way that serves the story or purpose of the scene.

Also, don’t be afraid to use wide lenses when you’re in close, it can give you a greater depth, and keep the camera moving if possible, particularly for action stuff.

Finally, just think about your coverage, again you don’t necessarily need to cover each moment from all these different angles – does it play in the wide? If there’s a lot going on this will often be the more interesting frame. I remember there was a moment during episode 8 where we didn’t have time for coverage, so we kept the scene in a two shot which I think was not only more interesting to look at, but also enhanced the idea of these two characters having to work together. Unless there’s a pointed line, you don’t have to go in all the time.

In your opinion what mistakes do newer filmmakers make in their works?

I’d say maybe not moving the camera in order to make more interesting images – so say they’re on a tripod for the wide, they would then just zoom in to get the close-up, whereas actually if they were to move in physically or change angle slightly, they’d get a better shot. Always have a look around your space to see if there’s a better angle to be had, again think about things like perspective.

As I said before, I think the close-up can get over-used a lot, this is a very modern trend so just really think about when you might want to use it in your cut, what is the reason you’re moving in for that line/look?

There are obvious differences between making a small film and a larger film. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working on both?
Well the obvious advantage is you have a bigger budget, so you have more time and more labour, and almost anything goes. With a small budget you’re nearly always fighting time – so you have to be more specific about what’s required – what are the basics you need to tell the story, and that’s what you get. So it can force you to be more economic and stricter with yourself in thinking about what you want.

The other Directors of Photography on the show were Paul Dudbridge and Sarah Edwards.

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