Lost & Found #30: Dead Letters, Wellington 2005

Yvette Reid in Dead Letters, Opera House, Wellington 2005

Yvette Reid in Dead Letters, Opera House, Wellington 2005

As I mentioned in last week's Lost & Found, I didn't need a lot of convincing to work on Dead Letters, the short film we made in 2005.  The film follows Ngaire (Yvette Reid), whose job it is to take letters from families during World War II and transfer them to microfilm before sending them overseas, to the New Zealand forces in Europe at the time.

I could tell from the crew involved that it was going to be beautifully done, and so it proved on the shoot - art director Grant Major and costume designer Lesley Burkes-Harding both did an outstanding job, which of course makes life much easier for the cinematographer - and the stills photographer!

The first day of the shoot was spent on location at Wellington Railway Station - which is certainly not a location that looks out of place in a film set in the forties, but of course there were a few modernisations that had happened along the way to cover up, as well as a train station's worth of people to costume.

Part of the first day on a film is always spent getting to know each other, trying to stay out of the way of the crew, and so forth - and also trying to gauge how close I can get before anyone notices, or minds that I'm there.  Of course, it always helps if the stills photographer can be right beside the camera while filming - often scenes only look right from the one particular angle they're being shot from at that moment, as equipment and crew can be just out of frame.

Mostly I was getting to know the sound recordists, to work out if it was going to be a problem for me to photograph during a take, with my camera inside the blimp I'd bought not long before the shoot - this was really my first close-up test with it while sound was being recorded, though I knew it had a long history in Hollywood already. Fortunately, the crew - Ken Saville and Corin Ellingford, both highly experienced in their field - were entirely happy and professional, and quick to let me know if they heard anything in rehearsals before a take. Generally, I found if I wasn't standing right next to Corin and his boom, we were all fine.

The following day was spent in two locations - Wellington's Opera House in the centre of town (again, a location that looked mostly right already), and a bedroom in a small house not far away.

If I recall correctly, the bedroom (which was an actual bedroom) was the one time on the shoot when I couldn't fit into the space to capture stills while we were filming, so I just crept in for one of the rehearsals before a take and got what I needed then.

As you can see in the first image above (also at the top of this post), one of the things I'm often thinking about is an eventual page layout - leaving space around the main subject so that an article later can be dropped onto it, whether it's for the opening spread of an article, or a poster for the film. It's not always something that's easy to do on a busy set, or during a performance; but when the opportunity is there, it's great to get an image that opens up options like that for future use.

Day three, we took over another theatre - this time the Paramount cinema, again a suitably vintage location, but an even more crucial day for costume department, with an entire audience packed in watching newsreels from the war overseas. I've mentioned the art direction and costuming already, but as you can see in these images, the hair & makeup folks were working extremely hard as well.

I do remember at one point in the shoot overhearing the lighting guys talking about the lovely Yvette; they couldn't get over the fact that she seemed to be able to 'soak up' any light they threw at her - which is to say, there was really no angle that made her look bad. I'm sure you can see what they meant from these images; but she's also delightful and hilarious to work with, and has been a friend ever since this shoot, so I'm sure she won't mind me telling that story again. We worked together a few years later on James Cameron's Avatar, and it was great to spend time with Yvie again (while we were waiting to be called to set, mostly).

Of course, I should put a spoiler warning on some of these images for anyone who hasn't seen the film. But hey, you've had ten years already, plus it's only 13 minutes long - AND, it's legitimately available to view online for free...! (With the filmmakers' blessing, so you don't even have to feel bad about streaming it!)