Simon Rowling has worked on a variety of feature film projects as Director of Photography (DP), as well as TV and online commercials. His past roles have included Head of Production at a media company and freelance Special Effects Technician, working on major blockbuster films, such as ‘The Woman in Black 2’ and ‘Snow White and the Huntsman.’ Simon has won two awards for I AM HENRY, winning Best Cinematography at the Los Angeles Cinema of Hollywood Festival, Winter 2016, and an Award of Excellence in Cinematography in the Accolade Global Film Competition.
Here’s an interview with Simon about his work on ‘I AM HENRY’.
Q. What attracted you to working on ‘I Am Henry’?
It was the script that attracted me to the project as it was very well written with clear characterisation. Experts say a strong script is the basis for a strong film, and that was certainly true in this case. I felt it was something I could really sink my creative teeth into as a DP, and that it would be a great film to work on.
Q. What was your overall concept as a cinematographer?
I had recently watched ‘Birdman’ with Michael Keeton and felt the dialogue in ‘I Am Henry’ was similar to this, in terms of the camera and audience being there with the character, but not being spoken to directly. I initially wanted to do it all in long Steadicam movements, much like ‘Birdman.’ The location, however, changed and it felt like the wrong choice, but I still kept the floaty feeling throughout the shoot, filming almost everything on Steadicam. The Steadicam not only gave Henry’s purgatory a dream-like feel, but also enabled us to roam around the characters and react to their actions. If we had used a dolly and track, it might have felt more rigid and less organic.
Q. What was the inspiration for the art direction?
In terms of the lighting and style, I really wanted to touch on Rembrandt (1606-1669) and his use of light through windows to cast shadows in the darkness surrounding the actors. Rembrandt is usually regarded as the greatest artist of Holland’s “Golden Age”. His compelling descriptions of light, space, atmosphere, texture and human situations are distinct. Using the art design that we adopted and on-set candles, brought a reality to the piece that was authentic to the period. As Joseph Cronenweth (DP from Bladerunner) once said, “It’s not what you light, it’s what you don’t light.” I felt that as much as this was a personal biopic on Henry VIII”s life, it was also a very haunting tale, so I really wanted to create a very moody atmosphere, especially as we were in a crypt. So I tried not to overlight the set or add too many lights.
Q. What kind of camera, lenses and lighting did you use and why?
We shot on the Arri Amira, with Zeiss Super-speed Mark II lenses, mostly all on Steadicam. This is a great camera which provides a lovely film-like quality to its images. The lenses are around 30 years old, and so for a period piece like this they add to the historical texture. The lens aberrations add softness in various places of the picture. We did a lot of blacking out of windows to control the darkness, pushing an Arri M8 (equivalent to a 1.2K HMI) through the windows as moonlight. Because of the dirty stained glass windows, we didn’t need to add much diffusion, especially as I wanted shafts of light in some shots. I was constantly changing the coloured gels for the moonlight, with Plus green or CTB. The candlelight was the main source of lighting for the actors during close-ups, however, as we went from wide to close-up in most scenes, we had dedo’s bounced into poly board to exaggerate the candles. I also added an overhead Chinese lantern in a lot of scenes to get the right exposure and for a bit of fill.We used Black pro-mists to give the candles a nice glow, as well as soften skin textures. The scene in the tower was supposed to show Anne Boleyn’s anxiety and the torment she faced. I lowered the frames per second to 7fps to give that dizzy sensation to represent how she was feeling.
Q. What was your biggest challenge filming ‘I Am Henry’?
The biggest challenge was to make the crypt seem like it was an outside courtyard, so I used the Arri M8 as the sun, and a Cineo Tru Colour light as a big fill light. The actress, Fleur Keith, blinked when looking into it which helped to make the scene look convincing. The scene had to look almost completely different to the rest of the film as it was sunny and bright. I did what I could on set, but it was the colour grading that added that touch of magic that you will see in the film.