Yvette Reid in Dead Letters, 2005

Yvette Reid in Dead Letters, 2005

I really can't believe this was ten years ago, now - or at least, it will be in December!

In mid-2005, my friend Gemma Gracewood got in touch to say she was working on a short film called Dead Letters, with fellow producer Fraser Brown and director Paolo Rotondo, which was going to be shot in Wellington - and would I be interested in doing some stills for them?

I'd been working as a full-time photographer for a few years at this point, mostly in theatre, dance and opera rather than screen work; but I'd also been doing some work with the local film commission, Film Wellington (and had worked as an extra on Lord Of The Rings and King Kong), so I'd been around the local screen production industry a little - just not as part of the crew on set.

Gareth Reeves in Dead Letters, 2005

Gareth Reeves in Dead Letters, 2005

So I was interested right away, but the fact that they had Grant Major - already an Oscar winning art director for his work on Rings - as the production designer, and an equally great cast & crew on board, of course I was going to do it!

I'm not sure what they imagined when I agreed to do it, but my feeling was that I'd rather be there for as much of the shoot as I could, capturing the action as they filmed it but also the behind-the-scenes & making-of images that I always found fascinating myself, when looking at other films.

Gareth Reeves & Wickham Pack in Dead Letters, 2005

Gareth Reeves & Wickham Pack in Dead Letters, 2005

I'd recently got my Jacobsen Sound Blimp, so this was the first time I'd had a chance to test it out standing next to a proper sound recordist; and it passed with flying colours; it was really only in small rooms, with soft dialogue that I'd cover the rehearsal rather than a take.

So, over the course of our six day shoot, I captured about 6,000 images - quite possibly more frames than they shot for the film itself - and embedded myself with the production for the duration. I was on set the whole time, and if I wasn't taking photos, I was doing quick RAW conversions on my laptop in the corner.

Cinematographer James Cowley at work on Dead Letters, 2005

Cinematographer James Cowley at work on Dead Letters, 2005

What I found out later was that the cinematographer, James Cowley, was ever so casually dropping by to see how the stills looked, because it was the first time he'd lit & captured a film with a digital intermediate in mind - which meant he was lighting everything brighter and flatter than he usually would for film, in order to give the digital colourists at Park Road Post the best possible base to start from. 

And it was freaking him out a bit, because he didn't actually like how it looked! So my stills, even roughly colour-toned & tweaked for contrast, were showing him it would all turn out okay.

Yvette Reid in Dead Letters, 2005

Yvette Reid in Dead Letters, 2005

So after six days' shooting (including this amazing built set from Day 5, seen in today's images) we had a film in the bag; and I remember Paolo saying to me at the wrap party that he'd never known a stills photographer who was so much a part of the crew, which was great to hear.  I heard later from Gemma that the New Zealand Film Commission - who had funded the production - had never seen such great stills for a short film before, either.

Of course, out of those 6,000 frames, about 600 were what I'd consider 'keepers' worth showing to the company; but the final press kit for the film was more like 15-20 images, so the rest have only been seen at the wrap party, or in my office!  Which is a shame - so I might do a couple more posts about this project some time, just to get some of them out at last.

Dead Letters set, 2005

Dead Letters set, 2005

This last one is a true Lost & Found image - I'm not sure I even showed it to Fraser & Gemma! It was just a part of the set while they were busy setting up for a shot, and I liked the combination of light, colour and shadow that happened in this little corner of the room. It had little to do with the film, it just looked good to me...!

And if you're interested in seeing more of the production, the great folks at NZ On Screen have the whole thing available online - for free - right here...so, enjoy!

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