BRENDAN GALVIN CREATES AN "IMMORTAL" LOOK

Brendan Galvin was born in Ireland, and attended the Dublin Institute of Technology. He began his career as a trainee, and progressed through the various classifications. He worked on several notable films including “The Commitments” and “The Crying Game” as a clapper/loader, “Far and Away” as a 2nd AC and in 1996 he operated on a film called “Curdled.” It was as a 1st AC that he began shooting on his own time, with short ends left over from various projects.

He shot several short films such as “The Metal Man,” “That’s Alright,” “Into the Abyss” and “The Stranger Within Me,” graduating to TV movies such as “Nana” and “Der Pakt: Wenn Kinder totten.” His first indie feature, “Rat,” directed by Steve Barron, launched his feature career. He went on to shoot “Behind Enemy Lines,” directed by John Moore, who he would team up with again on “Flight of the Phoenix” and garner his first Irish Film and Television Award (IFTA) nomination. His work on “Veronica Guerin,” directed by Joel Schumacher, would earn him his second IFTA award nomination. Brendan spent the next several years shooting commercials so he could be with his family, working with director John Moore (Sega, Guinness, Volvo), Laurence Dunmore (Cadillac), Andy Morahan (Fiat), and John Dolan (Heinz). He also began his long-running relationship with Tarsem Singh (Orange, Absolut, Nike, Pepsi, Coca-Cola), which would lead to their collaboration on “Immortals,” and more recently, “Mirror Mirror” (in post-production). He and his family currently reside between a small village in Provence, France and Los Angeles. Panavision caught up with Brendan to talk about his work on “Immortals.”

Q: How did you get started in the film industry?
BG: I took a course called “Communications” as part of the Dublin Institute of Technology; which was the closest thing to a complete course in filmmaking I could find. It was interesting because the course then was very freestyle and loose, and we did a little bit of Super 8 and some video. That was the first time I started working with film. I finished with a great education in life but no specific qualifications that would get me into working in films, so I joined the film union in Ireland as a trainee, moving up to 2nd AC, then 1st AC. I never had any intention of going through all the grades, but that was what happened. When I was working as an assistant, I was shooting small music videos that had no money, or at the end of a film, we would take the short ends and shoot something with it. Then, about 20 years ago, I shot a couple of very small commercials in Ireland. At the same time, I was also working as a camera assistant outside of Ireland, so I was hired as an AC on a commercial with Tarsem, Paul Laufer was the DP. I had worked with Paul as an AC on a film in Ireland, so he asked if I would do a couple of commercials with him. Then a Coca-Cola commercial came up in India and Paul couldn’t do it, so Tarsem asked if I would like to do it. It was one of those commercials that did really well. It is still something I would absolutely show today, and Tarsem still lists it as one of his favorites.

Q: When and where were you when you were first introduced to Panavision?
BG: Joe Dunton Cameras was in Ireland first and that became Panavision, That’s when I met John Higgins, who was my first introduction to Panavision. John has been a huge supporter then and ever since, as has Kevin Greene.

Q: What was your first project you used Panavision on?
BG: I was trying to remember that, I think it was a short film called “That’s Alright, Mama,” based on an Elvis Presley song. That was one of the first things that I shot. The first feature film I shot was called,” Rat,” which was directed by Steve Barron.

Q: What was it that influenced your decision to become a cinematographer?
BG: Before I joined the communications course, I was working as an office messenger at RTE (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) in Ireland. I somehow talked myself into a training course they offered, and it was only when I finished I found out that I wasn’t allowed to do it as an office messenger. I loved it because it touched on cinematography. When I was taking that course, I knew what I wanted to do was become a cameraman, so after college, I joined the film union. I definitely didn’t intend to become a camera assistant; that was a means to an end. In Ireland at the time, work for me was definitely piecemeal and the only route to becoming a cameraman was by working your way up through the ranks in the union. Coincidentally enough, a film I worked on as a 2nd AC, “December Bride,” Seamus McGarvey was the camera trainee. We’ve been friends ever since.

Q: How long have you been using the same crew in terms of gaffer, AC, key grip, operator?

BG: I don’t use the same crew every time. There are certain people, like operator Des Whelan, who I have worked with on several films. The reality is that most of my work involves getting on a plane and going to shoot somewhere else than where I am. I enjoy new countries and new experiences. I am very happy working with local crew when possible but there are times when it is necessary to bring crew members and this I have done many times too. On the last two films, “Snow White” and “Immortals,” I used the same A-camera crew, the same gaffer and same grip. If I’m in Los Angeles, there are people I prefer to work with; in Europe the same. I always like to have the best crew possible. The other fact about crew is that good crew are usually busy since so many DPs want to work with them. That’s part of every job. If I was doing one film after another back to back, it might be different -- I might be able to work with the same crew. I bowed out of films for several years, because I didn’t want to be away from my family, so I did hundreds of commercials. And I like doing them. I like doing different things because it helps/forces you to think differently. It stops me from getting lazy.

Q: As someone who shoots internationally, what are the benefits of using the Panavision system?
BG: That, to me, is easy, it’s the Panavision network. It’s that wherever you go, even in a country you’ve never been before, you can be confident you will be looked after. I just shot a commercial in Vancouver, and I gave Lisa Harp at Panavision Hollywood a call, and everything was waiting there. The director wanted to use the Alexa, and it didn’t matter, it was waiting there. It’s less about equipment and more about the people; especially when you only have a certain amount of hours to work, and the people around you make sure it’s not going to break down. We did a film in Namibia in 2003, and we had a camera go down. The next morning, we had a replacement body. Charlie Todman, from Panavision London, was put on the plane, with the camera as hand luggage. You need to know that when there is trouble, they are going to be there for you. I have worked with other camera companies too, and have had good experiences more often than not.

Q: What is your decision-making process between shooting spherical or anamorphic?
BG: The first thing I discuss with the director is the aspect ratio; it has to be a conversation between the DP and the director. Sometimes the producer may have input too. I think each film is different, but one thing I would never do is make my mind up beforehand without talking to the director.

Q: How much of that decision is related to your artistic take on the script vs. that of the director?
BG: Absolutely a shared decision.

Q: Do you have a different approach in how you shoot anamorphic vs. spherical?
BG: I know anamorphic lenses are faster than they used to be, but I like a little more depth in anamorphic, unless it’s for a specific storytelling point. I am very practical when it comes to work, so there are certain considerations: like how available are the lenses where you are shooting? I want good equipment that works. One thing about anamorphic is people like the flares you get which you don’t get in spherical, and if that’s required, I prefer to do it in camera. I’ve never shot anamorphic digitally. 

Q: The last film you shot, “Immortals,” was shot spherical on the Genesis. Were any other formats under consideration? Anamorphic? 3D?
BG: We knew we were going to release in 3D, so we discussed whether to shoot in 3D. Again, practical elements decide an awful lot of things. Knowing we had a 64-day shooting schedule, and knowing the speed at which Tarsem likes to shoot -- and when he shoots, he shoots fast -- we very quickly decided against shooting 3D. We were shooting 50-70 setups a day, so I told the crew they needed to be ready…to have their newest running shoes on! There is no way we could have shot that film in that schedule if we had shot stereoscopically. I was a little concerned about the conversion process beforehand, but Prime Focus and Dave Stump -- one of our lead stereographers -- along with his team, put me at ease. Until we were happy with a shot, it was not accepted. I personally was very happy with the conversion and would absolutely do it again. Tarsem was very happy with the results too. To me, the technology cannot dictate how you make a film. It’s there to assist you in the process. I do not like when equipment and technology dictate how a film is made. Tarsem likes to have a lot of freedom on set to achieve the best scene he can get with the actors. The crew were great in supporting him. It’s quite an entertaining process to watch him work on set: he cuts the film in his head, and has a remarkable memory for every shot. He would sit with the editor and he would tell the editor everything that would happen in the shot, and this was after 50-70 setups per day.

Q: Knowing that “Immortals” was going to be released in 3D, how much did you and the director discuss the staging of each shot?
BG: The freedom and intuitiveness is a given when working with Tarsem, but we did discuss the general plan. Many times the camera is actually static, although the action isn’t, so his natural style is to let things happen in the frame. Since every camera was on a slider, after we finished a take, we would take the actors out, slide the camera six inches to the left and six inches to the right, so we could capture that extra information if the 3D team needed it. Sometimes we got it as the actors were walking off. We did respect certain things about having them break the frame, and the lens choice we used suited 3D, which was roughly about 21mm to a 40mm. Every now and then there would be a tighter lens.

Q: There are a lot of visual effects shots in the film. How closely did you work with the visual effects supervisor, and at what point in production?
BG: We started working together in pre-production, as much as we could. The whole film was shot on stages, and the wide shots had a lot of extended sets, so the visual effects team used a pre-visualization system called MO-SYS, which allowed us to previsualize a lot of shots as a guide. The VFX team worked with Tarsem in prep to generate rough storyboards for any VFX shots. It was quite an easy, organic approach. We had a very easygoing relationship with Raymond Gieringer, the visual effects supervisor. If there was anything he was concerned about he would talk to me, and vice versa.

Q: When shooting “Immortals,” what can you tell us about how you designed your lighting to photograph key actors?
BG: The first thing was that it had to be simple. It always has to be simple if for no other reason than when I run into a problem and it’s complicated, I will have a more difficult time finding the solution. The simpler, the better. “Immortals” was all shot in studio; every studio was rigged with every light back to a mixing console. Gaffer Jean Courteau and grip Alain Masse have done enough big projects together in studios; they are very experienced. We approached everything so that it had to be ready to shoot when we walked in. Because of schedule and set turnaround we didn’t have much time to prelight, so we used anything from an equipment point of view that helped make our schedule: every stage was rigged back to the mixing deck, all set-ups were saved for us and the second unit, and any light that was in the sky was always left there by us for the second unit. The only lights that moved for us were on the floor. Because we had exact lighting setups and records from our DIT -- using the waveform monitor and a still picture from the frame --  it made it very easy for second unit to come in and do anything we did. We were fortunate with our second unit DP, Colin Watkinson, who is a good friend and also had worked with Tarsem on his previous film. And Tommy Turtle, Tarsem’s producer, added another layer of familiarity between all of us. Other than that, there was nothing fancy or complicated about the lights we used. The aesthetics for the whole film was Caravaggio meets “Fight Club.” It was approached with the idea that the light should look like a Caravaggio painting, and the ‘fight club’ was the action and the camera movement.

Q: Are there any particular scenes in “Immortals” you can talk about where you really pushed the envelope on lighting?
BG: There were a couple of night scenes that we had to shoot in a white marble quarry, which was created on stage. All the people are wearing dark clothes, in a white quarry, at night. That was challenging. If there was one thing slightly different about this shoot, we had our colorist onboard, Lionel Kopp, before we even shot. Lionel has worked with both Tarsem and myself before. We approached the studio about bringing him on early, and of course, since it’s not a normal request, we had to give up certain thing to make it work. The people at Relativity were very supportive with this. We talked about colors for different scenes, and the costumes in the quarry scene. We had specific ways to try and achieve the quarry scene which involved shooting it a certain way to a point and then continuing it later with the color timing. That was a pretty difficult thing to do because it was pushing the digital technology; it would have been easier to shoot on film, I think. Another scene in the film involves a tsunami. Think of the sea as black oil. After the tsunami, the actors are covered in black oil, and the sun is shining reflecting off this black oil. It was an idea that I thought could be interesting, and I was very happy with the results.

Q: Do you have any favorite Panavision lenses? If so, why?
BG: Not specifically. In general, I like the C-series anamorphics, the Primo anamorphics and I do like the spherical Z-series. I haven’t used the G-series. There are two lenses that I like a lot: the two little lightweight zooms. Actually, let me change my answer. I always look forward to the next lens that Panavision will bring out.

Q: Out of all the projects that you have shot, what was your favorite? And why?
BG: I’ve enjoyed these last two films, “Immortals” and “Snow White” because it was pretty much the same team for both films; there was a continuity about it that was very nice. I enjoyed and was very happy with “Behind Enemy Lines;” and “Veronica Geurin” was another great experience because of Joel Schumacher and Cate Blanchett and it was the only film that I ever shot at home, in Dublin. I really don’t have any favorite films, because if something is my favorite, it means the others weren’t that good and quite honestly that’s not true. I have no idea how any film is ever going to do, so for me, the process of making it has got to be enjoyable. That’s the responsibility I give to myself, in the whole process of making film. With the last two films, it was especially important, because over the years we (Tarsem and Tommy Turtle) have spent an awful lot of time together: they know my whole family, and I was with them in China when my mother died. On another film I did, I met producer Hawk Koch, and ever since then, our families have remained close friends. When I shot “Flight of the Phoenix,” we shot in Namibia and my whole family came with me for three months. With every film I have shot, there is always a good story that comes from the experience.