MOTHER’S DAY – filming drama with AMIRA

The ARRI AMIRA has a well-earned reputation as a tough and adaptable documentary camera, and as a tool for wildlife filmmakers. But it also has a role in features. DP Johann Perry has received critical acclaim for his work on the BBC film MOTHER’S DAY. He spoke to ARRI about the project and how the AMIRA helped him realize his artistic vision for it.

Johann Perry has spent most of his twenty-year career making documentaries, but he successfully ventured into feature territory with AGAINST THE LAW, which was nominated for a British Film Academy Award (BAFTA) last year. He’s an AMIRA enthusiast, having bought one soon after they first came out. “I just want a good camera with a great sensor, a well-made matte box and a beautiful lens,” he says, “and ARRI always delivers that simplicity, which I find very reassuring.”

DP Johann Perry with his AMIRA: “It’s a great tool – I love it”

“I would feel lost as a DP if I wasn’t touching the camera. I like to strip everything down to bare essentials – I like my camera set-up to be sparse and clean. I don’t like ‘gubbins’,” he adds, using a very British colloquialism meaning paraphernalia.  

“For my whole career I’ve been shooting in the real world, with real light, in small spaces – documentary filming makes you make the best of things. The AMIRA allowed me to do that, and when I moved into features it allowed me to carry on doing what I do normally – but in a more controlled environment.”

MOTHER’S DAY tells the story of the IRA’s bomb attack on Warrington in 1993, in which two boys were killed. It was a pivotal moment in “The Troubles” that claimed the lives of more than three thousand people in Britain and Ireland over a thirty-year period. The deaths of the two boys – Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry - caused a wave of revulsion that lead to a new dialogue, culminating five years later in the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.

Johann went to great lengths to capture the authentic feel of the north of England and Ireland a quarter of a century ago for MOTHER’S DAY.  “I asked myself ‘what do the 1990s look like?’”, he says. “The fifties, the sixties, the seventies have a ‘look’ – but the nineties? I spent a long time looking at archive film from the nineties, from Belfast and Dublin and Warrington. I wanted to project the time and I didn’t want to apply any gloss to it, in fact I wanted to strip out any glossiness and get down to the real. I designed my own LUTs to match that – to create a dirty, dingy look.”

“I asked myself, ‘what do the 1990’s look like?’”

“I chose 25 pantone colors, taken from archive of clothes, cars, interiors… there were tans and yellows and blues and burgundies. I made an A3 ‘Mood Board’ and fed it into set design, costume, make-up. That enabled us to stay within the color palette of the time.”

The film opens with the lead-up to the bombing, and the explosions that caused panic and death on that day in Warrington. It is beautifully handled, combining the brutality of the event with a profound respect for the victims. It also manages to convey the abrupt sudden savagery of explosions and the way in which time can seem to expand in the short, fragmented moments that follow a blast, when lives are snuffed-out, or forever changed.

Johann’s work is rooted in the gritty realism of the British documentary tradition.

This, and the fine performances of the cast, are well served by the AMIRA’s Super 35mm depth of field, which captures every detail, and every grimace and tear. But, above all it is the versatility of the AMIRA that appeals to Johann.

“The ARRI system allows you to make each project distinctive, different. My work is rooted in the British documentary tradition, a sensibility based on realism,” he says, with heavy emphasis on the last word. “I love to recreate that, the naturalism I’m used to – I think that’s a very British thing. But a huge range of aesthetics is possible using ARRI cameras – you can go from Bollywood to Belfast, with everything in between. The AMIRA’s a great tool. I love it.”   


Top Picture: Anna Maxwell Martin as Wendy Parry, the mother of one of the boys killed in the Warrington bombing.

PHOTOS: Johann Perry.