By Order of the Peaky Blinders – MPS 2018
Earlier this month, Amy and I flew down to London to attend the Media Production Show, where we caught several interesting talks throughout the day, as well as having the opportunity to try out the latest kit. My personal highlight from the day was a fantastic talk from the creators of Peaky Blinders. One of the most intriguing points to come out of it was listening to David Caffrey (Director of Season 4) and Cathal Watters (DoP of Season 4) discuss their “run and gun” approach to filming, avoiding potentially overused cinematography toys such as cranes/Steadicams/drones/etc. They opted to allow the actors to do their thing and focussed more on the emotion. This style also allowed the film-makers the freedom to quickly switch things up and react to what’s going on around them – for example, drastic changes in natural light.
Recent films like Call Me by Your Name, Columbus, Paterson, Lady Bird and The Big Sick all took a similarly uncomplicated cinematic approach and resulted in heavily emotional storytelling. While modern blockbuster films like Dunkirk and Baby Driver are highly impressive and immersive, it could be argued that the emotional pull is weaker. Of course, it completely depends on the story being told, but it was refreshing to hear that even with a highly stylised show like Peaky Blinders, simplicity can be the best option.
This approach can be seen in other areas of filmmaking, for example this Haim music session from Paul Thomas Anderson. No big steadicam moves. No drone footage. No dramatic slow motion. Yet, the stunningly simple, long shots allow the viewer time to soak in the Haim sisters’ talent while feeling like you’re right there with them. In a similar vein, Ana Lily Amirpour’s recent short film/ad for Kenzo took a simple approach and while it doesn’t knock you over with emotion, it creates a mesmerising atmosphere that stays with you long after.
Perhaps there’s a lesson here for smaller production companies and independent filmmakers who make their bread and butter in the corporate/commercial world. Should we be thinking twice before hiring that drone? Will we improve more as filmmakers by keeping a smaller toolbox and allow the story to do the talking?