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Glassland, photographed by Piers McGrail

Glassland Piers McGrail Red Epic

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#1 Miguel Angel

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Posted 14 April 2015 - 07:36 AM

Glassland

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3407428/

 

"Set in Dublin Glassland tells the story of a young taxi driver (Reynor) who gets tangled up in the world of human trafficking while trying to save his mother (Collette) from addiction."

 

Trailer

 

 

I had the opportunity to see the movie last Sunday and I am really disappointed as how it looked like. 

The script is a very interesting one, where we see how Jack Reynor grows as an actor and Toni Collette steals each sequence where she appears. 

 

It was shot in 3 weeks but it has very few locations and 70% of the movie happens in a house. 

 

However, the visual part of the movie is very very dull and boring and it affected how I watched the movie. 

Almost all of the movie is in silhouette, with no imagination regarding the cinematography and I mean NO imagination. 

No colours, no experiments, no practicals, just plain and boring light. 

 

80% of the movie is told with close ups and there is a mixture of hand - held and tripod which does not make any sense and it does not add anything to the story. 

 

The production designer, Stephanie Clerkin, and the cinematographer, Piers McGrail, had a very interesting opportunity to show a lot of things and create a more interesting and richer palette of scenarios and contrasts, however, they decided to be simple (which is not bad at all) and create a boring atmosphere. 

 

It is quite sad that they did not use a lot of things that they had to emphasize Toni Collette's ups and downs or Jack Reynor's journey to hell, instead, the movie looks like an Irish movie, which is sad, depressing and passionless. 

 

I can't believe that Piers shot it as Piers is a very good cinematographer and usually his cinematography is much better than the one seen in Glassland. 

 

I am very happy that the movie brought Ger to Hollywood, where he is working on a new script and a new movie which will be shot this year in NY and Canada but I hope next time he decides to rely on his new cinematographer more and contemplates "mood" options rather than plain areas. 

 

 


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#2 Piers McGrail

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Posted 28 April 2015 - 05:45 AM

Hi Miguel,

 

Sorry that you did not enjoy the photography in Glassland, although good to know you like my other work, I suppose!

 

Our aim with Glassland was obviously to keep thinks very simple and naturalistic, although I can't say that it was ever intended to have boring cinematography. Authenticity was undoubtedly the most important aspect to Gerrard, to the extent [in defence of Stephanie] that most of the locations are exactly as they were presented to us, with little or no embellishment at all.

 

Personally I am not a huge fan of 'realist' films that forego any aspect of striking photography, so it's disappointing that you found it so boring. Certainly, I avoided many of the normal tropes of what you might describe as 'exciting' cinematography - unmotivated camera movement, exaggerated colours, extreme focal lengths. To me that would have been highly inappropriate for such a humble, intimate story.

 

Apart from the aesthetic implications, it would have undoubtedly have interfered with the performances of the actors and - for a film that is so performance-driven, that would surely have had a negative effect. Believability was crucial here, and giving the actors freedom of movement was paramount.

 

On a practical level, the film was shot in 18 days, with an average of around 6/7 pages per day, and various locations - many of which did not make it into the final film. However, I still put a lot of work into trying to make the visuals both authentic and interesting. You criticise the use of silhouette, whereas I find darkness striking. I pushed to keep a lot of the film on the tripod - an antidote to the slew of handheld realism [that I myself have been party to in the past!].

 

There was never an intention to shoot most of the film in close up - in fact, I think 80% is quite the over-estimation - but it's probably true that we don't have many wide shots simple because the locations didn't allow for it. What I can say is that 80% of the film was shot on a 40mm lens, regardless of the location, which I hope creates a strong consistency. And I do think it's effective when, in the final act, we suddenly end up in this much larger location and the camera has the space to pull back and breathe - especially following the claustrophobia of the earlier locations.

 

Some of my favourite films are those 70s indie films - The Last Detail, Five Easy Pieces, etc. Perhaps it was down to lack of budget, but they epitomise simple storytelling. You watch those films without ever being aware of the cinematography, and because of that I actually find them more compelling.

 

In the end of the day, a lot of it comes down to personal taste. Glassland had generally very strong reviews, and a some of them were very positive about the cinematography. But there was one that shared your point of view, and criticised the lack of visual appeal. So I certainly cannot refute your criticisms outright, but I do hope there is some explanation of my thought process within this reply.

 

As I hope you'll agree, there is a lot of variety in the work that I have done. Alongside Glassland, I also have a couple of horror films being released in the coming months - which have a gluttony of camera movement, almost grotesque use of colour and endless practicals!

 

But I must admit, some of the greatest satisfation I have had at this early point in my career, was filming Toni Collette deliver a ten minute monologue in a tiny living room in Tallaght. The camera completely static, the lighting naturalistic - but so incredibly compelling in itself.   

 

Piers

 


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#3 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 28 April 2015 - 11:41 AM

 

However, the visual part of the movie is very very dull and boring and it affected how I watched the movie. 

Almost all of the movie is in silhouette, with no imagination regarding the cinematography and I mean NO imagination. 

No colours, no experiments, no practicals, just plain and boring light. 

 

On the strength of watching the trailer, I have to say that I totally disagree with that statement. What I saw was some lovely use of natural and available light, mixed color temperatures, great use of light and shade and the natural fall-off from overcast skies. The film is obviously a sombre character piece and I thought that the photography was entirely in keeping with the mood of the film.

 

Nice work, Piers!


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#4 Miguel Angel

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Posted 28 April 2015 - 04:18 PM

Hi Piers, 

 

First of all, thank you very much for all the insights, very appreciated! 

 

I am glad you came to the forum because it is a forum for discussing things and it is always fantastic having a superb cinematographer like you on here, even if you came because I created a post where I was critic with your work in Glassland, which, of course, it is a personal opinion. 

 

I hope you stay tho ha! :) because I will keep creating posts of movies I see, in fact I was going to create a post about "The Canal" soon, when I get my hands on a copy in bluray! 

 

In fact, I think I commented another of the movies you photographed on here with a very different outcome! 

 

Definitely I love all your other movies and all your commercial work, that is the reason why I found Glassland so disturbing, because it is absolutely different to the rest of your photography (well, one of your first short - films, the one in the pub / restaurant was kind of like that too) and it was very disappointing to see that you could have done so much (under my point of view) but you decided to stay "real".

 

However, when you try to stay "real" you can achieve a photography full of details and subtleties such as in "Kelly + Victor" which is a different story but it is a "real" story too. 

 

I even watched Glassland twice because of the cinematography! 

 

Let's take a look at "Biutiful" a "real" story with "real" characters and "real" light, it has a different look and maybe it was because of that movie that I was expecting something different for Glassland. 

 

-

 

Obviously it is a matter of taste as you said, and all the things that you point out are part of your vision as a cinematographer in this movie, however, as a spectator I found the decisions very dull, I'm sorry I can't help!

 

In fact, the things that you name as "exciting" photography I find them very akward too. Bela Tarr is one of my favourite directors and Gabor one of my favourite cinematographers so you know :).

 

I was expecting you using colour as part of the character's narrative as you usually do, and there was a lot of room to do so in the movie as both the mother and the son have such an interesting relationship with a lot of ups and downs. 

 

Probably because I am into your other work and into other kind of photography, which is not "real" at all and I love colours (not super strong colours) and etc. 

For example, the commercial you shot in Cork was very interesting. 

 

Maybe it was down to Ger also, who knows! 

 

I don't know! I think it could have been more striking or you could have told more things about the characters with your photography as you usually do. 

And if we ever meet up again I will tell you this again straight away! 

 

I am very happy that you got fantastic reviews on Glassland's cinematography as you are an amazing cinematographer as I have stated before but this movie I don't like! 

 

I really liked the scene where the girl "does what she does" tho and the one that you comment too. 

 

- EDIT to add one thing - 

 

You say that you tried to keep the camera on a tripod but it does not look like that when you watch it, although your hand - held camera work is excellent there is more hand - held than tripod in the movie and there is no relation between them under my point of view. 

 

For example, you know that some people say: Ok, let's shoot this with hand - held and another part with a dolly because we want to tell two different stories. 

 

In Glassland it looks like the camera work is related to the shoot itself, I mean, it seems as if you decided on the day if either hand - held or tripod was going to work for the shoot rather than creating an arch with the camera work itself too. 

 

If I can resume Glassland in one sentence it would be: 

"From the very first shoot you know how it is going to look like until the end

 

If that was what all of you were looking for, that's great!, because as you said it is consistent. 

 

By the way, congratulations on the nomination for the IFTA! :) 

 

Stuart

 

Looking forward to reading your thoughts about the movie once you watch it! 

 

Eh maybe I am the one who is wrong! 

At the end of the day, who am I but a 2nd Ac? :)

 

Stuart, you changed your website!!?? It is fab! :)

 

Have a lovely day both! 


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#5 Piers McGrail

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Posted 06 May 2015 - 12:18 PM

Hi Miguel,

 

First of all, your opinion is just as valid as anyone. It's enjoyable discussing these things!

 

It's interesting that you differentiate between Glassland and Kelly + Victor, as the approach was quite similar. In both cases there was no intention of having a strong visual arc, both used a small selection of focal lengths. Both used basic camera movement, although K+V was certainly more handheld - I would have preferred a more static camera there too but the director preferred handheld.

 

But for both films, my approach was very similar. Any differences you might see are probably down to the locations. For sure, there was more natural colour in some the locations in K+V - but that's natural given the fact that they were going to nightclubs, parks etc. The world of Glassland is more sedate - council houses, taxi offices, AA meetings. It would have been unnatural to add colour where it didn't already exist.

 

You mention Biutiful as an example of strong naturalistic photography, and although I agree that there are some really striking scenes in Biutiful, I much prefer Prieto's lower-key work, such as Brokeback Mountain. I don't like how Biutiful feels constructed - changing from 35mm to anamorphic etc. It just feels like the technicality is overbearing. To take the example of a different approach, I thought Foxcatcher was one of the finest looking films of 2014. The photography is effortlessly subservient to the narrative. It never leads the story and yet it's completely beautiful in its simplicity. Not that I intend to draw comparisons between it and Glassland, but certainly it is a level of photography that I would aspire to!

 

See, I tend to disagree with you about the camera work reflecting the narrative arc. I think it can be really predictable when the style of the camera is dictating a scene, when the audience is lead by how the camera is moving, or how a scene is lit. Of course it depends on the film, but in a character-led piece like Glassland, where the actors are more than capable of defining the emotions - I find that a visual style serves only to interfere.

 

So we certainly weren't ignoring the opportunity to create a visual narrative, but we were consciously avoiding it. Your quote about the film looking the same at the beginning as it does at the end - yes, I would genuinely consider that a compliment! I think consistency is one of the most difficult things to achieve, especially in a low budget film.

 

Thanks for the discussion!

 

Piers


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