During 2021, I worked as the Director of Photography on the narrative short Prima. This narrative followed three ballet dancers as the pressures of the industry begin to strain and fracture their friendships and ultimately change their lives. Production took place under the umbrella of Situated Creative Practice, a QUT program where artists in various fields come together and collaborate to create artistic works. I worked as part of a large crew, particularly the director and on set crew.
Director of Photography Responsibilities
Being the Director of Photography for Prima involved working extensively in pre-production alongside the director to develop the visual style and shooting techniques for the film. On set, I was responsible for every shot filmed, and they were either handled by me or the Camera Assistant. Before production, I wrote a shotlist based on the script, then before each shoot day I compiled notes and sketches to make shooting more efficient. Coordinating and planning the lighting and working with production design to build the world of the film were critical responsibilities.
From Pitch to Production
I have been attached to Prima since the idea was first pitched. Since then, I have worked on it and continued to help ideate and develop the final project. After I moved into the role of DoP, I began to plan the overall look of the film. Collaborating with the director, Bella Moore, I built the visual language of the film from lighting to shot composition. We decided that a well-lit, bright lighting style with traditional three-point lighting for our subjects would give a manicured look, and harsher shadows used to communicate big emotional shifts. Likewise, keeping much of the scene in focus was a method of adding to an artificial constructed feel, as though each shot is part of a stage production or painting. The technical challenge of shooting with a very open aperture was the inverse of the more traditional closed aperture blurry bokeh background effect, and just as difficult to pull off. With all of these techniques and intentions in mind, I developed a shotlist for the film which was then used to develop the schedule. Then production began.
Dancing with the Camera
Movement and tension define visual cinema. And a film about ballet heightens these, with Prima using sweeping camera moves during dance scenes to add to a deeply emotional underpinning to the film. Using equipment like the crane and dolly to achieve those moves was the responsibility of myself and the Camera Assistant, and I had many other things to do on set as well. From coordinating and communicating lighting to the lighting department, discussing with the 1st AD the timeline for setups and shots and trimming shots if needed, and to finding the best possible shot composition and framing – Prima really allowed me to flex my creative muscle on-set.