Meet The Industry: Director Peter Hoar & Cinematographer David Katznelson (It’s a Sin)
Praised for its vibrant style, numerous stellar performances and emotional impact, Russel T Davies’s It’s a Sin, broadcast on Channel 4 in January, quickly became this year’s first ‘must-watch’ series. It has since become the online streaming service All4’s most binge-watched show to date, viewed in its entirety more that 6.5 million times over its first few weeks. To get some insight into the making of the hit-drama, we were pleased this month to welcome director, Peter Hoar, and director of photography, David Katznelson, for a Virtual Masterclass discussing their collaboration.
In addition to It’s a Sin, Peter Hoar directed the first series of detective drama Shetland for ITV Studios/BBC, which premiered to almost 7 million viewers. He has since gone on to direct episodes of The Umbrella Academy and big-budget Marvel TV series Daredevil.
David Katznelson is a well-known director of photography who has worked on Downtown Abbey, Game of Thrones and MetFilm Production’s 23 Walks, winning several awards throughout his career including an EMMY, a BAFTA and an RTS Award.
Here’s what Peter and David had to tell us about It’s a Sin, planning for a shoot and dealing with the unknown…
COMBINING EMOTION AND FUN
Peter: I was sent the script very last minute, but I knew it was set around the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s. I was not expecting to laugh so much in the first 45 minutes of what I was reading or expect to be so drawn into a project so quickly! Luckily David and I agreed to tell this story through colour and joy.
Episode 5, however, is very different to all the other episodes. It’s quite sombre. It just happened that way, we didn’t plan it, but the sets turned out more muted etc.
David: When working with something set in the 80s, you can either portray it through black and white or colour. When it comes to mood and humour a lot of it was in the script, but each of the individual actors brought life to the scene despite the subject being quite tragic. The shooting style definitely reflected the true mood on set.
FINDING THE RIGHT STYLE
David: We shot the scenes of the young people differently to the way we shot the world of the older people. Peter and I talked in depth about the style of shooting. We felt there was one world of the more established people like the parents and those set in their ways and, in comparison, the world of those in the pink palace.
We thought about how we could bring these different worlds to life and our vision to do this was through movement of the cameras. During testing we also looked at using different lenses, some of which gave a softer quality to them.
MANAGING LACK OF NATURAL LIGHT
David: I really like natural light and think it’s very hard to create any light that is as beautiful as natural light. You hardly ever get your filming schedule and the hours of light to work in your favour on set. On It’s a Sin, we were shooting from October to February, so you have lots of elements that you have to factor in.
Choosing the right camera equipment is so important when you come up against obstacles of light. We used the Sony Venice camera which you can dial up to 2500 ASA, meaning you can shoot in very low lighting and get a decent image.
CAPTURING EMOTION IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
David: It’s a combination of the right script and casting actors who are prepared to give that emotion. As a DOP you have to have the patience to capture emotion, follow your instinct when it feels right to let the camera run on and keep filming, doing more than one take. Often, you’ll be on set and discover moments as you go, they are spontaneous and come about through experimenting!
David: On It’s a Sin, the process was slightly different as both Peter and I started very late.
1. Read and re-read the script several times, so when you go to your location you know what you are looking for.
2. Annotate your script!
– Mark up certain challenges you may face.
– Whether there is a sunset or a dark/moody room.
– Any aspect that requires technical assistance e.g., shooting from above, someone running where you will need a Steadicam or a bike following.
3. Once the above is done, sit and work with your director to get an understanding of how they work and what they would like the next step to be.
4. For Peter and me, the next step was visiting locations and deciding how we were going to shoot the scenes.
5. When I am on location, I first visit on my own to get a feel for it, my second visit is normally with the director and on the third visit I bring my gaffer, and then the whole crew will follow at a later date.
IMPORTANT QUALITIES FOR A DIRECTOR
1. Sense of humour
3. Listen to everything you are being told!
4. You learn so much by doing so it’s important to collaborate with everyone in your team/on set
If you loved It’s a Sin as much as we did, check out our recap from our masterclass with star Lydia West here.
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