July 7, 2021

Cinematographer Stuart Biddlecombe on The Handmaid’s Tale Season Four

As a filmmaker, director of photography Stuart Biddlecombe wants to visually put his ideas on screen, telling stories that he genuinely connects to with true creative collaborators who listen and contribute. When Stuart came aboard to shoot part of season three of The Handmaid’s Tale, he knew he was taking on the mantle of what has become an iconic show. He had read the book in high school, and feels that the television series does an incredible job of putting the book into pictures, continuing to tell a meaningful and important story. Stuart was fortunate enough to begin working on the show with former cinematographer and Emmy winner Colin Watkinson, who had moved into directing. He was able to learn the ropes from Watkinson and continue the look of The Handmaid’s Tale smoothly into season four.

Stuart was very involved in the production of the fourth season of The Handmaid’s Tale, and he loved the extraordinary creative input he’s had on the show. He would meet with lead actor and executive producer Elisabeth Moss and showrunner Bruce Miller to talk though each episode, discussing with them what they wanted to shoot and what direction each episode should go. Color on The Handmaid’s Tale plays a very important role- Gilead is presented with strong red, blue and black costumes while the colors and tones representing Canada are muted and softer. In season 4, as the story follows the main character, June (Elisabeth Moss) as she escapes to Canada, Stuart knew they needed to change the color palette, shifting into stronger colors and contrasts to push the look forward.

Stuart began working in television in the UK before he went to film school, on game shows such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, but felt no love for the job. He decided to attend college at the National Film and Television School in order to learn more about the art of telling stories using a camera. He was in a very small film class with fellow cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen. After film school, he shot several episodes of Call the Midwife and Doctor Who. Working in television taught Stuart how to shoot quickly, creating storytelling in the purest form, without the need for a lot of coverage. Stuart finds working on many of today’s television shows such as The Handmaid’s Tale to be very satisfying, as the lines of quality storytelling are blurring between television and film, with many television shows matching or even exceeding much of what can be seen in the cinema.

Find Stuart Biddlecombe: https://www.stuartbiddlecombe.co.uk/
Instagram: @stuartdop

You can see The Handmaid’s Tale season four streaming on Hulu

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep131/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

May 19, 2021

Adam Somner, first assistant director, on Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alejandro González Iñárritu, movies Black Hawk Down, War of the Worlds, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Revenant, and more

The job of the assistant director is to work in concert with the director and the DP to get everything done on a movie set. As a 1st AD, Adam Somner is trusted by the industry’s top directors to anticipate their needs, motivate the crew, figure out the schedule, and drive the entire production forward to finish each day on time. He finds the best way to keep everything moving smoothly on set is though humor, high energy and uniting everyone as a group, persuading people to do things on the schedule and timeline needed to complete the job.

Adam’s father, Basil Somner, worked for MGM Studios in England, and through him, Adam got a job as a runner/production assistant at age 17. He began working on movies in the late ’80’s, like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Superman IV, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He worked under many assistant directors, observed how they took charge on set, and decided he was really interested in becoming an AD.

Adam has worked on eight Ridley Scott films to date, as well as several of the late Tony Scott’s films. He was first hired on a Ridley Scott film as a third assistant director on 1492: Conquest of Paradise and White Squall, then moved up to second assistant director on Gladiator, where he learned how to manage a huge crew of extras and background action from the 1st AD, Terry Needham. On Black Hawk Down, Adam was promoted to first assistant director for the second unit. Black Hawk Down was shooting in Morocco, and the second unit was responsible for most of the helicopter sequences, with lots of moving parts and extras, involving real Black Hawk helicopters and real U.S. military soldiers. After Black Hawk Down, Adam got the call to begin working with Steven Spielberg on War of the Worlds, where he quickly learned to read Spielberg’s mind and keep an eye on the details. He’s worked with Spielberg on ten films now, including Munich, Lincoln, and Ready Player One.

A 1st AD is responsible for coordinating most of the background action. Adam’s ability to work on big sets with lots of action, extras and special effects led director Paul Thomas Anderson to hire him for There Will Be Blood, and Anderson has since become a personal friend. Adam finds Anderson’s on-set approach to be very thoughtful and measured. Unlike the action-heavy films Adam has worked on, he knew it was important to keep the crew and background actors quiet and subdued on Anderson’s films with heavy dialog, such as The Master and Phantom Thread.

For The Wolf of Wall Street, Adam was thrilled to work with director Martin Scorsese. Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto had Adam sit in during their preproduction shotlisting process, so they were all thoroughly prepared. Scorsese loves shooting scenes with complex background action, and Adam delivered. He carefully rehearsed all the extras in different stages of panic as the brokers watched the stock market crash. For the famous in-flight orgy scene, Adam wasn’t totally sure how he wanted to deal with not just one sex scene, which is hard enough, but several at once. So he decided to hire a choreographer to help rehearse and plan all the action, making sure each background player knew exactly what they were doing and taking care that everyone was comfortable with their role in front of the camera.

Adam was excited to work with Alejandro González Iñárritu on some of Birdman, and as the 1st AD on one of the may units shooting The Revenant, where Iñárritu and the DP Emmanuel Lubezki “Chivo” wanted everything shot and rehearsed during magic hour. Rehearsals were incredibly important on both Birdman and The Revenant, since Iñárritu and Chivo shot many scenes in one single shot.

Adam is currently working on Killers of the Flower Moon with director Martin Scorsese.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep125/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

Website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz