Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Duke of Burgundy: the focus-puller's viewpoint

The Duke of Burgundy
A friend of mine, Robert Dibble, was on the camera crew of The Duke of Burgundy which has screened at Borderlines at The Courtyard in Hereford and at kinokulture cinema in Oswestry. I asked Rob what it was like working on the film.

"The film was shot in Hungary. My name was put forward by the Hungarian First Assistant Director, with whom I'd worked on Birdsong, which was also shot in Hungary. The  house that our lead characters inhabit was apparently once owned by the state, and during the communist regime was used by the president to entertain visiting dignitaries. It's about twenty kilometres outside Budapest. The vast majority of the six week shoot was spent at this one location, but we spent a couple of days at a town quite a bit further away, where we shot the cycling through town sequences, and the 'pastoral' stuff.

"It was shot digitally, on an Arri Alexa camera. I think the 'carpenter' character was also in Berberian Sound Studio. The actor who plays the neighbour, an unfriendly character we see occasionally, sweeping leaves in the courtyard, was apparently once a regular player in the 'Euro erotica' films of decades past, that Peter was nodding to. As I'm sure you know, there are no men in the film. When you watched it, did you see the mannequins that were amongst the audience at the Entomology talk? I wasn't sure if that was a mistake, or an example of Peter's sense of humour.

"For the majority of the time I pulled focus on the basis of 'where's the obvious place to put the focus in this shot?' There was no particular style of focus dictated by Peter. With the exception of a scene of the two making love on a bed. We used a series of small mirrors to fragment the image, and Peter asked me to hold the focus and then let it go, then bring it back. I think he was after a woozy, dreamlike quality.
The Duke of Burgundy
"Peter was a lovely man to work with. He seemed quite shy and almost deferential, but you could tell he had a very clear idea of what he was trying to achieve. We would sometimes spend too long on un-crucial stuff early in the day, only to find that we were rushed to complete the day's schedule as evening approached. I wasn't sure sometimes whether Peter was well aware of this, but enjoyed the slightly feverish quality that occurs when you're running out of time.

"Anyway, a very pleasant shoot, with a lovely Hungarian and Brit crew. I'm glad you enjoyed the finished product. I was really happy to have been involved."

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