Irish DOP Robbie Ryan talks to Niamh Creely about Andrea Arnold’s second feature Fish Tank, which screened at Cannes and as the finale of the Galway Film Fleadh.
NIAMH CREELY: So Fish Tank was the closing film at the Fleadh this year – it went down extremely well.
ROBBIE RYAN: Yeah, well it’s a tough thing being the last film in a festival. Everybody is a bit weary of films at that stage. But it was very nice when people came up after and were very appreciative of it.
Your brief was to make the footage look as natural as possible. Was that more difficult than, say, going for a particular ‘look’?
No, not at all. Well, there actually was a particular look – the only stipulation was that it was to be as close to a photochemical sort of look as possible. As close as what you would get if you just shot it – if you know what I mean. So that’s the approach we took. What we hoped to do was to finish it all like the old – I hate saying it – but like the old way, which was just do it photochemically. Film it on film and then process it through a laboratory and not through a digital grade suite. But we ended up going with this 4:3 format. We thought ‘Oh, this is going to be great,’ because we shot a test and we watched the rushes in a cinema. And the cinema we watched it in could show the rushes on 4:3 and they looked gorgeous. Because it actually had rough edges to it. It wasn’t sharp, you know. And it looked… it looked exactly like we wanted it. It was amazing.
So we said, ‘Right, that’s the way we’ll go.’ And then the technicians all had a bit of a sigh. Unfortunately, cinemas do not project 4:3 anymore. They haven’t got the capability to project that – the full term is 1.33:1 Academy – anywhere in the world anymore. They can only project 1.85:1 or 2.35:1. It was really quite a depressing moment. So we said, ‘Alright, we still like the shape of this 1.33:1 so we want to finish it on that. What does that mean?’ And it meant that we had to go through a digital process to reduce it. It’s almost like if you’re on your computer and you have to reduce a picture. So we had to reduce the image to fit 1.85:1 projection. So it’s quite a roundabout way of doing it, when it looks so lovely just raw. In a way, it’s a bit more polished than we wanted it to be.
As far as the brief to look natural is concerned, Andrea’s stuff is always quite naturalistic, you know. So it just comes naturally. I suppose a very simple rule would be that you don’t try and add too much unnaturally to it, you know. Because it’s there already. With lighting, if it’s very dark and there is a window, you might have to put a light through a window. There is no dogma, as such. It’s not like: ‘You cannot do that.’
This is your third collaboration with Andrea: her Oscar®-winning short Wasp, her debut feature Red Road and now Fish Tank.
Yes. It feels like we’ve done more together, but it’s really only three films. Though they seem to have been well received by the public. And in a way that makes it feel like they have more of a life. They feel a lot closer to you.
And so how did you get involved in Wasp, then?
Andrea was looking for cameramen, because she had done a couple of shorts previously. She was interviewing a lot of cameramen and we, we just got on. We had a coffee in… Where was it? Somewhere in Soho, anyway. We both have very similar outlooks and we were obviously comparing films we enjoyed and – well, you just spark. We got on right from the start.
The full article is printed in Film Ireland 130.
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