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TV Production
n the hugely successful BBC drama
series Life on Mars, 21st century
Detective Inspector Sam Tyler (played
by John Simm) is hit by a car and
mysteriously transported back to the
1970s. The confused time- travelling DI
finds himself in a Manchester he doesn’t
recognise in the era of flared trousers, Mark
III Cortinas and cops straight out of The
Sweeney who expect him to solve crimes
with their out-dated methods. And if that’s
not enough, he sees weird apparitions and
hears strange voices in his head.
Four Directors and four Directors of
Photography were each responsible for two
but not as 60 minute episodes. DP Adam Suschitzky,
grandson of Wolfgang Suschitzky (Get
Carter), worked with Director Bharat Nalluri
he knows it on episodes one and two. They had
previously collaborated
on Hustle and The
Hunters. “Bharat was
very excited about
the script and when
I read it, I knew why,”
remarks Suschitzky. “It
was tonally different to
anything I’d seen before,
with action sequences,
highly emotional passages
and comedy within each
episode. I realised it would be a
challenge to bind the real with
the bizarre, the comedy with
the tragedy and the modern
day with the 1970s.”
“Our visual approach was
influenced by the bold staging,
composition and colour
palette of Get Carter and
Taxi Driver and we watched
Catch Me If You Can
for elements of set design
and Janusz Kaminski’s
magnificent mix of hard
and soft light.” Suschitzky
chose Kodak VISION2
200T 7217 as his primary
stock: “Its contrast range
is fantastic, the colour
rendition is natural and
its sharpness and lack of
grain is a delight!” He
used Kodak VISION2
34 InCamera April 2006
TV Production
100T 7212 for all exteriors and Kodak Eastman EXR 50D 7245 with its wonderful Alexander collaborated on episodes six and
VISION2 500T 7218 for some night interiors. ‘Kodachromy’ quality for daylight scenes. eight. “John and I have great shorthand
Suschitzky chose Panavision Primos for When properly lit, the added contrast and and when we work together, it’s always
their “amazing resolving power, contrast bite gives the shots real drama with the enjoyable. We love 1970s music and the “Our visual
and overall clarity” and introduced flares silkiest of textures.” tracks of that era in Life on Mars gave
by placing large lamp faces in shot. “Bharat us a bond,” says Cameron. “I didn’t try to approach was
likes to move the camera a lot and work Director McKay was delighted when stray too much from Adam’s original set
quickly and I take pride in achieving a look Palmer came on board. “I chose Tim because up, but was actively encouraged to do my
at a pace. It creates a buzz for everyone to Life on Mars is a very strong genre series own thing. I had ample scope for expression by the bold
feed off.” with a clearly atmospheric look and he is and took the opportunity to find bold and
always extremely good with visual dramas. dynamic solutions without feeling restricted staging,
“Working with Adam is always an I was also aware that Tim and Adam have in any way. I absolutely loved it.” composition
amazing experience; he talks drama first known each other for a long time and, as
and then looks at how lighting can enhance Adam had set the look for the series, I knew “I’d like to mention ‘returning’ Camera and colour
the script and the characters’ journeys,” they would liaise very closely, which boded Operator Nick Beak-Saunders’ incredible palette of Get
notes Director Nalluri. “We are both keen well. Tim and I have a lot of shorthand at contribution to the series,” remarks McKay.
on very precise camera movement, blocking the coalface, but we spent time talking “He allowed each director and DP time Carter and Taxi
and using the camera as another character. about the scenes, their look and references and gave them whatever they wanted". “I
Having grown up in the north of England, I for them and watched a lot of films, must give him credit too,” agrees Palmer.
was determined to recreate the world of my including The Sweeney and Get Carter to “Nick’s skill, finesse and gutsy operating
youth. The 1970s was grimmer than most get a whiff of the era.” contributed enormously to the distinctive
people remember and I created a slightly style. He brought fresh and inventive ideas
darker edge. I’m really pleased with the end DP Balazs Bolygo’s first encounter to each scene, which really impressed John
result; it’s retro without being pastiche, with Life on Mars was with the scripts and made my job easier.” “He was a vital
which is an incredibly difficult thing to pull of episodes five and seven, which he was part of our team,” adds Nalluri.
off. It’s hard to create stylish television at a asked to read before meeting Director
fast pace, but Adam did it with aplomb.” S.J. Clarkson. “I loved the concept of a “Kudos Film & Television (Spooks, Hustle)
contemporary perspective on the 1970s managed the series “in a clever way”,
DP Tim Palmer and Director John cop drama genre. It created an exciting admits McKay. “They cared deeply about
McKay were fellow students at the atmosphere in which S.J. and I explored a the quality of the visual image and, in spite
National Film School and worked together range of dramatic storylines and stylistic of the tight budget, whenever there was a
on The Canterbury Tales. They joined ideas and had fun with the nostalgic comic genuine need for specialised equipment or
forces for episodes three and four. “It’s a tone." a particular location or time of day to shoot,
groundbreaking script,” exclaims Palmer. they happily obliged,” reflects Palmer. “With
“What attracted me was the sheer energy of "We stayed true to Sam’s subjectivity. such active encouragement, a great script,
the narrative and how well the characters The Life on Mars world is his creation, so an inspiring director, an amazing cast and a
were written. It demanded bold lighting and even in scenes where he wasn’t the primary hardworking crew, what could be better?”
powerful camera angles, often well below character, he still had a place. We gave the
the eye line, and there was a visceral quality police station a subtle feeling of heightened Marcus Wilson, Kudos Line Producer
to the action that could be realised very reality, subconsciously reminding the acknowledges that “Panavision and Kodak
effectively through the camera. I was keen audience of everything that’s unfolding in went the extra mile. Martin Hammond
to use hard light to give the characters and his head.” Bolygo used Kodak VISION2 200T suggested which stocks would suit the
backgrounds a really sharp, defined quality 7217 for night and day interiors, Kodak nature of the project and liaised closely with
and make the colours stand out, as well as VISION2 100T 7212 for daylight exteriors each DP to accommodate their preferences.
drawing the viewer more readily into the and Kodak VISION2 500T 7218 for night One day when we had virtually exhausted
period.” exteriors. “HD would have been the wrong our stocks of 7217 due to a great deal of
format. It’s a modern tool which would coverage on a long and very difficult scene
“Thankfully, the decision was made at have inhibited our efforts to capture the where each take was using a roll of film.
the outset to originate on film rather than nostalgia, style and essence of the era that Kodak rushed replacements up to us before
HD and it suited me that Adam had chosen is at the very core of the series,” states the next day’s filming. We couldn’t have
Kodak stock. I opted for Kodak VISION2 Bolygo who used 10kW tungsten Fresnels wished for better treatment.”
500T 7218 for high speed shots and night rigged through windows, with pre-rigged
exteriors for its impressive colour rendition fluorescents on set and floated 5kWs, 2kWs Life on Mars will be distributed
and grain structure. I also used Kodak and Pups, as well as Rifa lights on the floor. worldwide. A second series has already been
VISION2 200T 7217, which delivered exactly commissioned. ■
the right look for the studio interiors and DP Grant Cameron and Director John
April 2006 InCamera 35

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