Oct. 7, 2016

"The Girl on the Train"

The thriller starring Emily Blunt was shot on ARRICAMs with Master Primes.

Oct. 7, 2016

In "The Girl on the Train," alcoholic Rachel Watson (played by Emily Blunt) is devastated by the end of her marriage, obsessively taking a train passing her old home, day after day. She begins observing a beautiful woman Megan (Hayley Bennett) two doors down from her former house, and imagining Megan’s life with her husband as the perfect life she longs for. One day, she sees something she shouldn’t have seen and starts drinking again. It all comes to a head inside a tunnel. Rachel blacks out, and when she comes to, Megan is missing.

Tate Taylor, an actor who has also directed ("Get On Up," "The Help"), helmed the psychological thriller, which was shot by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (§Far From The Madding Crowd," "The Hunt"). When Christensen first sat down with Taylor to talk about the look, they agreed it should be “very truthful” and “realistic.” “Rachel’s world isn’t very pretty, so it can’t be too commercial,” she says. “But we are making a movie, so it was a balance between finding the cinematic look but keeping it real and raw.” Producers referenced old Hitchcock thrillers. “`Rosemary´s Baby` was another movie we spoke about in terms of a thriller,” she recalls.

The next task was choosing the camera and lenses. “Obviously there was a discussion of whether to shoot film or digital,” she says. “I was fighting a bit for film, because we have such a raw-looking character, and I thought film would be a good option to keep the cinematic look.” The production shot 35mm on the ARRICAM, with a full range of Kodak film stocks. The complete camera, lighting and grip package was supplied by ARRI Rental NY. “We were also lucky to find a good team that was familiar with film,” says Christensen. “People aren’t being trained the same way anymore and it’s not easy to find film loaders nowadays.”


Lenses were the next choice. “We tested [most of the lenses out there], and the look they gave was very clean, raw and very sharp,” she says. “But the combination of the Master Primes and film balanced out to create the look we wanted. It couldn’t be too soft and pretty, but we had to stay with some cleanness to it.”

“The Master Primes are also very reliable and have a fantastic range,” Christensen adds. “We wanted to work especially with the 27mm lens, because it allowed us to go very close to Rachel and still have good focus. The lenses were a good choice all around to show the story elements we wanted for this movie.”

The most challenging location was the tunnel, around which the key action of the movie revolves. “We had to shoot a lot of material where Rachel is trying to remember what happened,” says Christensen. “We were there many days, the action took place at dusk and it was very cold.” 

Another tricky set-up involved the two hero houses: the house where Rachel’s ex-husband lives and the one two doors down where Megan and her husband live. “We found the houses in White Plains, but the train and tracks were along the Hudson River,” she explains. “We also built a train carriage on stage. So we had three elements: one west, one east and the interior of the train. To link all those was tricky. The exterior of the houses were the key shots and we shot them first. We had a second unit shooting the reverse, trying to match the lighting. And then we used the takes we had for reference to shoot the train.”

Christensen credits her “amazing gaffer” Billy O’Leary with helping her to achieve the look. “We spoke a lot about this being a real look,” she says. “We talked about lighting through windows and not going with too much backlight. All the time, we were working towards simplicity – that was a big word for us. We would have one key light and not too much else. We’d use key lights for any day exteriors, and either through big frames or windows was an HMI. We did very little lighting from inside. Then we did night interiors using covered wagons quite a bit, all very soft.”

When the production wrapped, Christensen moved to the digital intermediate at Technicolor New York. “[DI artist] Michael Hatzer is amazing,” she says. “In the DI, we are just very much supporting everything we did on set. It’s very subtle, but I think we are continuing to enhance the idea. It’s very difficult work when you want to be so detailed!”

Christensen hopes that audience will “get into Rachel’s head.” “I hope I managed to get them to understand her dynamic and struggle,” she says. “I hope we create empathy, because she doesn’t have many smiles in this movie. And then, I hope we give people a bit of a thrill as well.”

Related link: