HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

June 1939 and it's mid-summer in New York State, where the household of President Franklin D. Roosevelt is preparing for the arrival of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. This historic visit of the British Royal Family to the United States preceded WWII by only three months and marked the beginning of the 'special relationship' between the two nations; it forms the backdrop for HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, a new biographical comedy-drama from British director Roger Mitchell, starring Bill Murray as FDR. The film was shot in the UK by cinematographer Lol Crawley, who recently spoke with ARRI News and shared his thoughts on working with ARRI ALEXA cameras, which were supplied to the production by Take 2 Films.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON trailer

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON is a new biographical comedy-drama from British director Roger Mitchell, about the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New York home in 1939. It was shot with ARRI ALEXA cameras by DP Lol Crawley.

ARRI: What were some of the factors that led you and Roger to choose ALEXA for HYDE PARK ON HUDSON?

 

Lol Crawley: From our first meetings one of Roger's big concerns was the day-for-night element. The majority of the story takes place over one weekend, but it culminates in a sequence where lots of people are racing about in the middle of the night and Roger specifically wanted this part of the film to have a stylized night look to it. He wanted to avoid actually shooting at night because he wanted to see this world, so quite early on we started experimented with day-for-night. Films like MELANCHOLIA by Lars von Trier became reference points, where you have this heightened look of a world lit by a full moon, so we had to pick a format that was strong enough to cope with that. We tested anamorphic and spherical on film, as well as ALEXA, but the way the ALEXA held up in low light conditions and the fact that it allowed us to apply a day-for-night lookup table (LUT) on-set were big factors in why we chose it. As well as the day-for-night LUT, we also developed two more: one for day exteriors and another for day interiors.

ARRI: Did those day-for-night scenes involve much in the way of lighting?

LC: We didn't actually light them that much. Traditionally the way day-for-night has always been done in the past is that you take an image lit by daylight -- ideally on a day where it's a nice bright source rather than being overcast -- and you then turn that sunlight into moonlight by underexposing a couple of stops in-camera and some more in post, twisting everything towards a cooler look with increased contrast. What we did was to expose normally and apply the LUT, which is the equivalent of creating the look in the grade, but with the advantage of being able to monitor it on the set.

Shooting ARRIRAW allowed us to really dig into the color space of the final image and take the night scenes somewhere else completely.

One of the concerns was that a big part of the sequence was a chase through the woods and I knew it would be very difficult to light such a large area. We decided to light specific dialogue scenes, which were static, but the rest of the time we had to rely on whatever the available light was, and obviously that changed because we shot over a number of days. My rationale behind accepting this was that the moon was going behind the clouds, so we felt we could intercut these different lighting conditions and it would still work.

 

ARRI: Were there other situations where the ALEXA influenced your lighting approach?

 

LC: We had a dinner party scene that took a full day to shoot, but it needed to feel like evening outside for the whole thing, so we spent time testing how we could put up to 15 stops of ND on the windows. We ended up using a sort of Perspex with tinting on one side and a mirrored tint on the other. It took a long time to get that right; what I wanted to do was to light the actors from outside, so it became a juggling act between blocking the natural light with all this ND and then throwing light through with 18K PARs in order to get any sort of light on the actors.

My approach to a lot of the day interiors was to light from off set. We were shooting Borehamwood in the UK for New York State and we needed this bright, direct summer light penetrating into the interiors, so we had a lot of walls of 12Ks and 6Ks outside the house.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON featurette

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON is a new biographical comedy-drama from British director Roger Mitchell, about the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New York home in 1939. It was shot with ARRI ALEXA cameras by DP Lol Crawley.

Roger and I looked at the work of Andrew Wyeth, an American modernist painter whose paintings often have a very steep light penetrating into houses, with patterns of hard light on the floors. Wyeth also made use of big skies, which we would try to emulate with our exteriors to capture that same sense of scale.

 

ARRI: Did you deviate from EI 800 for these and other scenes?

 

LC: We did deviate from 800; in fact we tested everything up to about 3,200 ASA. Even at that setting we found there was not the noise that you'd expect. I sat in the large screening room at Deluxe 142 with Jeff Roth, our very supportive post guru from Focus Features, and we signed off on it. We said we could potentially shoot at 3,200 without any issue, which was remarkable; I don't think anybody quite expected the image to be that clean at such a high ASA rating. At the other end of the scale, we would sometimes shoot at 400 ASA outside, just to minimize the amount of ND required.

ARRI: Did Roger want a fairly classical approach to camerawork?

LC: I think for this film he was looking for something that had a bit more spontaneity through the use of handheld, although he also had fairly classical ideas about dolly moves and Steadicam moves. There are quite a number of driving sequences, specifically with Bill Murray driving an old 1930s Ford. Roger wanted Bill to be actually driving it rather than using low loaders, so Bill would be madly driving this car around with me in the back, sitting either with Roger or a focus puller, or sometimes I was on my own with three actors. There was also a lot of handheld camerawork when Daisy, Roosevelt's mistress, first arrives at the residence; I think Roger wanted the feeling of intimacy and connection that handheld can give you. It was very subtle, but just gave a bit of life to the images.

I think ARRI's long history of ergonomic design comes through with the ALEXA; it tucks itself into the shoulder and the weight is distributed nicely.

ARRI: What was your recording solution?

 

LC: We were shooting ARRIRAW with the Codex Onboard recorder. I was slightly nervous about the Codex to start with because I wanted to work handheld. Initially I was toying with the idea of just shooting on the SxS cards, but there was definitely a desire from Focus Features to shoot ARRIRAW for the benefits of future-proofing and capturing as much information as possible. Shooting ARRIRAW allowed us to really dig into the color space of the final image and take the night scenes somewhere else completely, without it falling apart. We were able to key into the skies -- including the minute areas between branches -- and take them to a very dark blue, even adding stars.

 

Our 1st AC, Derrick Peters, created a backpack for the Codex and the battery power, so even though I was cabled up I didn't really notice. For the way we needed to move the camera on this job it wasn't a problem at all. I think ARRI's long history of ergonomic design comes through with the ALEXA; it tucks itself into the shoulder and the weight is distributed nicely.

ARRI: What was your image workflow?

LC: Rather than having an on-set DIT doing the data wrangling, our DIT was purely concerned with applying the LUTs. We set up a digital lab at Elstree and the Codex recorders would go there for downloading and verifying before being sent back to be re-used. So all the data wrangling was happening at our digital lab, which was right next door to editorial. For dailies we started with an online system but in the end I found it easier just to have QuickTime files put on a DVD. I like to be able to take frame grabs and play with grading them, so this was the quickest way to drag those files onto my computer and pick out some frames.