Q&A with Oliver Ledwith, Focus Puller on THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL

Q: Tell us a bit about what your job as a Focus Puller entails.

A: The Focus Puller or 1st Assistant Cameraman is the right hand man to the Director of Photography on the camera side, in charge of preparing the camera for shooting. This involves physically setting up the camera, changing lenses, adding filters and perhaps most importantly, keeping the actors in focus whilst shooting.

Although film cameras have experimented with auto focus systems over the years, they have rarely been implemented as it is important to have creative freedom over what parts of the screen are in focus, in order to direct the viewer’s attention towards those areas.

Q: What kind of training/on-the-job experience did you obtain when you first started?

A: I started out as a runner for the Camera Department in a small studio in London, learning the trade of a Clapper Loader, when shooting on film was still the norm for Commercials and Drama. In this capacity (2nd AC) you not only physically ‘load’ the film on to the camera but you assist the Focus Puller so also learn this role first hand. The physical aspect of ‘pulling focus’ I learnt from working for free on short films and practising on the job.

Q: How did you come to work on THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL?

A: The Director of Photography, Daniel Vilar, is an old friend of mine. We met about ten years ago, working together on commercials in Barcelona, where I grew up. He used to tell me about his projects with Fernando and what a joy he was to work with. Although I thought my assisting days were over, I couldn’t refuse this particular project.

Daniel Vilar and Oliver Ledwith on the set of THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL

Daniel Vilar (behind the camera) and Oliver Ledwith (centre right) on the set of THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL

Q: What kind of working dynamic did you have with Daniel Vilar?

A: Dani was keen to share his and Fernando’s vision for the film and sent me reference stills and films prior to shooting. We also spent some time testing with old lenses and various filters, in order to create a look for the piece. Although the Arri Alexa is probably as close as one can get to film on a digital format, it was important to see how the camera would behave under different conditions and how well it captured for black and white.

When it came to actually shooting, we worked very closely together, viewing the previous day’s rushes every night and evaluating the results.

Q: What was it like working with Director Fernando Trueba? How would you describe his working methods?

A: Fernando is extremely passionate about his work, but in a very calm and relaxed way. Once he has established the look and feel of the film and communicated this to his Heads of Department, he rarely formulates a day to day shooting plan outside of the basic schedule. If I ever asked Dani what was required for the next day’s shooting he would often reply, ‘we’ll see when we get there’. Fernando doesn’t like to plan things too far in advance when it comes to shooting, preferring to trust in the moment, his instincts and his actors to produce something interesting in the run-through or ‘blocking’ prior to rolling the camera.

Fernando is also probably the most generous director I have ever worked with, always aware of everyone’s needs on set and happy to explain anything that isn’t clear.

Q: Can you tell us about shooting THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL on location? What was a typical day on set? Are there any particular anecdotes you can share?

A: The best thing about working on a Trueba film is that Cristina, the producer, works very hard to create a family atmosphere in which all members of the crew become a part of that family. Everything from where we slept to the food we ate was meticulously worked out in order to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. This was made easier by the fact that we were a relatively small crew who often stayed in the same place and were able to share evening meals together.

Apart from the first week in Ceret, France where we shot the village square and interiors of Cros’ house, most of the film was shot in and around Olot in Catalunya. The majority of the crew stayed in a large converted farmhouse where we would share breakfast every morning at sunrise before driving a short distance through the surrounding fields to our main location, where we filmed the scenes that take place at Cros’ studio. We would generally roll cameras about 9am and work through to 1pm at a relaxed but constant pace before breaking for lunch, when sometimes up to fifty people would be sat at one long table, much like the annual Fiesta Mayor of any village in Spain or Catalunya! The working day would finish around 7pm when we’d head back to watch what we’d filmed together over a well earned glass of wine.

Perhaps the funniest anecdote was one involving Jean Rochefort and Aida Folch the day the press came to interview them. As journalists and camera crew gathered outside Jean’s trailer Aida, wearing little else than a dressing gown, decided to pay him a visit. Moments after she entered the trailer, it began to shake from side to side and cries of pleasure could be heard coming from inside. Passing members of the crew laughed at what was of course one of Jean’s daily pranks, but our guests appeared rather embarrassed as they shuffled around wondering what to do with themselves…

Aida Folch and Jean Rochefort on the set of THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL

Aida Folch and Jean Rochefort on the set of THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL

Q: When you saw the final film were you surprised by the results?

A: Having seen rushes projected every night, I knew we were making something special. As the days went by I would build a mental picture of the final film but there’s nothing quite like seeing the finished product on the big screen. More than surprised I felt proud of what we had achieved.

Q: How would you best describe THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL to someone who knew nothing about the film?

A: Set during the Second World War when half the planet was busy destroying itself, it’s a film about the beauty of nature in all its forms and the importance of art as a way of preserving it.

Q: Do you prefer working digitally (as with THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL) or on 35mm?

A: Having started my career working on 35mm film I still maintain a certain nostalgia towards the medium. However, digital technology has improved greatly in recent years and has come very close to reproducing the quality of film. On a production such as this, working digitally saved us a lot of time (and money) in that footage did not need to be sent to the lab every night for processing. We also had the luxury of being able to view what we had shot instantly in camera, which is always reassuring if there are any doubts regarding focus or continuity.

There is always something comforting about looking at a pile of film cans after a day of filming, rather than putting your footage straight on to a computer which somehow seems less permanent.

Nevertheless, in this day of increased awareness of all things ecological and demand for greater efficiency and speed of information sharing, I have to admit that working digitally makes a lot of sense.

 

 

 

THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL is available on DVD and VOD through AX1 Films.