January 12, 2024

Poor Things cinematographer Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC

Poor Things is a brilliantly imaginative, comedic and visually stunning film about Bella Baxter, a young woman who is brought back to life by mad scientist Godwin Baxter. She experiences a personal and sexual awakening as she travels the world, discovering what it means to be a confident woman free of societal constraints. Director Yorgos Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan had previously worked together on The Favourite. They wanted to push the boundaries of how Poor Things looked in every possible way. “He’s so prolific with ideas that you go, ‘Okay, you want to try that? Okay, let’s try that!’ And, he gives me a lot of challenges that I go off and find a lens that he’s trying to talk about,” says Robbie.

Robbie shot Poor Things in a variety of different formats and with a range of unusual lenses. The film is a period piece, so he and Lanthimos decided to use the 1:6:6 aspect ratio, which is closer in composition to portraiture. They also chose to shoot entirely on film, using KODAK 35mm black and white, color negative and Ektachrome Reversal film stocks. For Bella’s reanimation sequence, Robbie used a Vista Vision camera, which is a special widescreen format from the 1950’s. The 35mm film stock is turned on its side, so that the picture is ultra-widescreen and high resolution. The film is energized with purposefully intrusive cinematography, lenses and zooms. Robbie selected a Petzval lens once used on old projectors. He also placed a 4mm lens, made for 16mm cameras, onto a 35mm camera, to create an extreme fish-eye, vignetted frame. “Yorgos wanted even wider fish eye lenses that created a vignette, with a dreamy focus bokeh on it. We wanted another era feeling to it, with a painterly quality to it, and to have a lot of character. You’re jumping between so many different lens choices that would, they would definitely jar, but that’s what the attempt is- to jar the audience.”

On set, Lanthimos prefers to be able to use all 360 degrees of the entire space. He also didn’t want any lights on the set, so it had to be completely built and lit with every direction shootable. It was more freeing for the actors and for the camera, but it did present a challenge for shooting on film, which needs a lot more light to make images. Robbie had to use many practical lights throughout the set, with sky lighting in the ceiling, especially for the outdoor scenes.

Robbie is very proud of Poor Things, and he thinks it’s funny and more accessible than some of Lanthimos’ other work. “The universe that Yorgos has created is the one you want to enjoy and get into with this film,” he says.

Find Robbie Ryan: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0752811/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Listen to our previous interview from 2019 with Robbie Ryan on The Favourite and his other work. https://www.camnoir.com/ep32/

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