December 29, 2021

Seamus McGarvey ASC, BSC on the musical adaptation of Cyrano, shooting in Sicily during the pandemic and on an active volcano

Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey is very happy about being a DP, and his love of the job always takes him through the difficult times. When he sees a movie that actually works beautifully on screen, it makes everything worthwhile.

The new musical Cyrano is based on the stage play by Erica Schmidt, which caught the attention of director Joe Wright, who knew he wanted to adapt it into a film. Stars Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett also reprise their roles in the movie as Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxanne. Wright used the stage play as a guide for what the film should look like, and hired his frequent collaborator, Seamus McGarvey as the cinematographer. The two have now worked on five films together. Seamus wanted the film to feel more intimate than a play, so he chose close up portraiture of the actor’s faces, capturing sensitive performances. Because of the pandemic, Wright felt even more strongly about the story of Cyrano being an outsider, craving love and human connection. They began shooting in the fall of 2020, creating a bubble of performers in the town of Noto, Sicily, with many background actors playing a few different parts. Since Sicily was still locked down for COVID with no tourism and few people out and about, most of the town became the entire set- the locations were all real houses and buildings. The crew was able to shoot with little distraction or interference, and with no bars or restaurants open, they became a tight-knit group.

In his adaptation of Cyrano, Wright was guided by the musical and wanted the dialog to roll naturally into song, which were recorded live during the shoot. Playback had to be done through earpieces for all of the performers so they knew when to sing and dance. Fortunately, all of the actors were such good singers that they didn’t have to do a lot of takes, and they had time to focus on rehearsals and blocking first. Seamus had previously shot the musical The Greatest Showman, and he enjoyed the experience on Cyrano of playing with the rhythm of photography with song, creating a beat to the pictures themselves. The “Every Letter” song sequence in Cyrano reminded him of working on music videos in his early career, and he and the crew had fun creating lens flares with flashlights throughout the scene. They worked with lots of candles and torches, with some LED torches with CGI flames for a nighttime staircase fight scene in the film.

The filming of Cyrano literally ended with a bang. Mount Etna is an active volcano, and Wright chose to film the final battle sequences up the side of it. The weather had turned unseasonably cold and it started snowing, creating a real problem for the set which had to be relocated. The snow would start to melt because the earth beneath was hot with molten lava. Finally, within days of completing shooting and beginning to wrap out of the location, Mt. Etna erupted and the sets were covered in ash. The entire crew quickly evacuated.

Find Seamus McGarvey: Instagram @seamiemc
Twitter: @mcseamus

You can see Cyrano opening in theaters December 31.

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