Robbie Ryan’s diverse body of work — from music videos to independent films — makes him a go-to cinematographer for directors looking for distinct visual approaches.
His films with Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake), Andrea Arnold (Red Road, American Honey) and Noah Baumbach (The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)) have proven his versatility and ability to change modes on the fly. That proved a useful skill while shooting Yorgos Lanthimos’s dark period comedy The Favourite, set during the brief 18th-century reign of Queen Anne, for which the Greek director asked Ryan to use 35mm to create a stark and brooding look and mood.
What is it like collaborating with Yorgos Lanthimos?
He can be piecemeal with information. For instance, he loved the crew but he would also push their buttons. He is always cleverly getting you to up your game.
How did you find working with the minimalist lighting?
Yorgos said, “I’m not going to use any lights. You can have an empty truck.” Unless it was absolutely necessary, we used natural light. When we were filming Emma Stone, you couldn’t see her face with the naked eye if you were looking out the window. But he insisted he didn’t want light so we would just expose for the face, [and] the background would be super blown-out and wrap around the face in a beautiful way. I thought, “Wow, I didn’t know that.” It was about knowing what film stock does.
One of the key locations in the film was Hatfield House, a large period mansion in southern England. You shot there during an English spring, which can be quite dark.
Yorgos knows how to shoot backgrounds at their best. We had beautiful bay windows, nice days and the interiors were beautifully lit most of the time naturally. When we shot outside, I was worried — because it was England — that it would be dark. But there were only two days where that happened. Otherwise we had bright sunshine.
What was the relationship between the film stock you used and natural light?
We had to shoot slow stock and then pull process to get the correct exposure. It meant bending the rules of the film stock instead of compensating with filters. The lenses were just too big. Yorgos was my go-to reference man. I would tell him, “Yorgos, there’s no exposure here,” and he would say, “Push.” I would be like, “Push, push, push?” And he would say, “No, just push, push.” Most people would say it’s not done like this.
How did you manage all the handheld camerawork?
We used many types of gripology — the best was me on the dolly, operating on a head. We shot a lot of footage in a carriage so we used a double helix rig — the only gimble rig that can take a 35mm camera. We hung it on this bungee [cord], which takes the motion and steadies it. Another time I wore an exoskeleton vest with arms and we attached it to the gimble rig. It was exhausting. And on the last day, it kept turning off — it was powered by a computer battery. You can notice this in a few shots that are not so smooth. Luckily, Yorgos doesn’t mind it being bumpy.
Why are some of the scenes shot from the ground-up, particularly the final scene?
The [queen’s] rabbits. That [point of] view is from their perspective.