Shooting THE HAPPY PRINCE in anamorphic
Cinematographer John Conroy turns to ARRI Rental for Rupert Everett’s Oscar Wilde biopic, using ALEXA cameras, Master Anamorphic lenses and a specially-built telephoto optic.
THE HAPPY PRINCE tells the sad tale of Wilde’s final days in exile, with the destitute poet and playwright returning to his lover Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, thus relinquishing any hope of seeing his children before his early death. Everett wrote, directed and starred in the production, which was shot in Germany, France, Italy and Belgium with a varied camera package from ARRI Rental EU. John Conroy speaks here about his work on the film…
How did you and Rupert want to evoke the period?
Rupert wanted the story in this film to play out in half-light and in the shadows. We talked about a handheld approach to the camerawork, although he was definitely after a cinematic look, and he wanted a widescreen aspect ratio.
What drew you to the combination of ALEXA with Master Anamorphics?
I know the ALEXA very well and I’ve often paired it with Master Primes, but on this film I used the Master Anamorphics and I really liked them. They’re so good that I used them on Idris Elba’s film YARDIE as well.
Master Anamorphics are wonderful on the skin; they’re sharp but not too sharp and they have a really nice creaminess to them, so I was very happy. They’re also fast and there were times when I shot wide open on the lenses. If you’ve got a brilliant focus puller—I had Ansgar Krajewski on THE HAPPY PRINCE and Tom Taylor on YARDIE—you can do that.
ARRI Rental built a special 800 mm anamorphic lens for the production. How did that come about?
I like doing long-lens wides, and we had shots of Oscar and Bosie walking along the beach. I wanted to do that from far off, as a compressed wide, because there were some nice cliffs in the background and it brought them out a bit more. That’s one of the hardest things to do with anamorphic: to get a really good quality long lens. So Manfred Jahn at ARRI Rental in Munich took a long Canon lens and put an anamorphic back on it for us, and it was lovely.
Did you alter the camerawork or lighting as the story progressed?
When Oscar first travels out to Naples at the beginning of the story, the light and the colors are a bit more vibrant and there’s an optimism there. But then when we find him in Paris, it’s dark and in the shadows, with just pockets of light, to reflect where he was personally.
How did you combine the ALEXA SXT and Mini—were you using each for specific things?
To be honest I used the Mini for everything, because it was all handheld camerawork. It was a bit like when the ARRICAM Studio came out and then the ARRICAM Lite—pretty soon people started asking just for two ARRICAM Lites. For me, the ALEXA Mini is like that, because it can do so much, and the advantages outweigh anything else.
Did you feel well supported by ARRI Rental through this project?
The support from ARRI Rental was brilliant, as usual. I know Manfred from my time as a focus puller, when it was all ARRICAM cameras, and I deal with Russell Allen of ARRI Rental UK a lot. Quite a few of us started out together as teenagers at Joe Dunton Cameras, so I can always pick up the phone and call Russell.
We took our truck of ARRI Rental equipment everywhere we went on this film, building our location moves into the schedule. If we were going to Naples we might wrap on a Thursday, so the equipment could be driven there, and we would fly there and do the prep. Then the gear arrived and we shot; it all worked very well despite the many locations.