ALEXA on trial: GARROW'S LAW

Cinematographer Tony Coldwell is currently at work shooting the third series of GARROW'S LAW, a BBC legal drama inspired by the life of pioneering 18th century barrister William Garrow. Set around trials at the Old Bailey in Georgian London and based on real, historic cases, the series was created by Tony Marchant and stars Andrew Buchan as the eponymous Garrow, champion of the unrepresented and enemy of social injustice. Three weeks into the shoot, which is based in Scotland, Coldwell gives his impressions so far of working with ALEXA.

Low lighting in candlelit interiors is handled so perfectly that the footage looks like oil paintings.

This is the third series of GARROW'S LAW. The first series was shot on the F35, the second with the RED camera and this series is being shot with the ALEXA.

 

The producers had heard about the ALEXA and wanted to shoot with it. The ALEXA I had ordered earlier in the year wasn't due for delivery until August, which would have been too late for the start of filming, but after a series of conversations with the people at ARRI they delivered early, just in time for shooting. We're now into our third week of shooting on our stage at BBC Scotland in Dumbarton, near Glasgow. The camera has been a huge success with director Bryn Higgins and producer Nick Pitt, neither of whom had used it before; they both love the beautiful pictures it produces. I had shot with the ALEXA on another BBC series, THE BODY FARM, prior to starting GARROW'S LAW and I knew it would be perfect in recreating late 18th century London, mixing candlelight with daylight.

 

I utilize the varied ISO (EI) range every day according to what I want to see. The latitude range is amazing, and coming from a film background like I do, the loss of detail in the highlights with previous HD cameras was always a drawback. Now, it's like changing film stocks, but with no worries about grain if I want to shoot in lower light. Equally, the ergonomics of the ALEXA are just like a film camera. I spent years shooting handheld documentaries with both the ARRI SR and the Aaton; the ALEXA feels just the same on the shoulder, if not better.

Production also love it in terms of cost savings. I shot last week in the Playfair Gallery in Edinburgh University - a huge space - and we used very little light. On the recce I knew that the ALEXA rated at EI 800 would render the beautiful interior in such a faithful way that we didn't need a costly pre-rig. The results speak for themselves - the camera has such a subtle range. We are also shooting 422 HQ on this production to get more shooting time out of the SxS cards. We have long courtroom scenes to shoot in one go that can sometimes last 10 minutes; with two ALEXAs shooting at the same time, that's a lot of data.