Finally, we have a broader choice in the NSW Film Industry for film production space. Callan 201 is fully operational and at present inhabited with Blackfella Films and their successful, Logie award winning TV series, Redfern Now, now in its second series
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Why TV series Killing Time was shot on 16mm film rather than digital
[Fri 05/10/2012 11:19:39]
By Brendan Swift
The 1980s is a vivid era in many people’s memories – shoulder pads, big hair, and acid-wash jeans among them. Recapturing that flavour has its own particular challenge when technology adds its own distortions to the prism of memory.
TV1 crime series Killing Time successfully navigated the three-decade journey by taking an unconventional path.
“People don’t tend to shoot drama these days on film and it was a chance to strike out a different look really,” cinematographer Martin McGrath ACS says of his choice to shoot Super 16 rather than digital.
“You’ve got to admit too, in the back of our minds – even though it wasn’t often expressed – was that Underbelly was out there and it’s completely blanketed that genre to a degree. We just tried to clutch for something that would give us a bit of an edge, something visually arresting and something that set it apart.”
The 10-part Killing Time series tells the story of Andrew Fraser (played by David Wenham) as he rises from small-time lawyer in the ‘80s to defender of some of Australia’s worst criminals – a journey which led to almost five years in a maximum security prison before his eventual release in 2006.
The Killing Time footage recreating the ‘80s is characterised by grain, plenty of backlighting, harsh reds and oranges and fluorescent lights which are tinged with green, reflecting the fact that film stocks of the era couldn’t handle the colour temperature mixtures.
“Whereas now the stocks – and of course the digital cameras – they blend all the colours so beautifully,” McGrath says. “I’ve just been shooting the ALEXAs on Jack Irish and it pulls it all in and it just makes the palette sensational. I guess I just didn’t want that with the 80s – I wanted to feel like we were in it.”
McGrath says he could have achieved a similar colour palette and contrast with digital equipment but replicating the grain was another matter.
“Sometimes I look at it and think I went a bit too far but they’re the textures which really take you back.”
The series was shot on Kodak Super 16 (200 ISO and 500 ISO) with Lemac supplying two Aaton cameras, as well as an old Bell & Howell 16mm camera – nicknamed the pepper-grinder because the frame rate can be set with a windable hand crank.
“As Fraser hits the excesses of the cocaine abuse we’re relying on the camera as a means of expressing the deterioration and the paranoia which comes from his situation,” McGrath says, noting that the Bell & Howell’s frame rate can be set anywhere between 4 and 70 frames per second.
One last unconventional approach was also employed on the production – dispensing with slates.
The cameras and the sound recording device have sound codes and are jam-synced together twice a day. The process worked smoothly, McGrath says, with Deluxe Australia overseeing post-production. It is an approach that McGrath also used on seminal ‘80s crime series Blue Murder.
“It gives the actors a chance to really immerse themselves and not be snapped out of their character by someone putting a slate in front of their face and whacking it. A lot of the extremes of these characters is arrived at by a process for an actor which allows then to go into almost a trance-like state, and not wanting to keep reminding them that they’re sharing a room with 24 technicians is a good thing.”