CINEMATOGRAPHER JULIE KIRKWOOD ON “HELLO I MUST BE GOING”

| 09/06/2012 | 0 Comments

Selected as the opening night film at Sundance 2012, Hello I Must Be Going, by director Todd Louiso, opens tomorrow at select theaters around the country. The film is a dark romantic comedy with characters you don’t often see portrayed in a love story — Melanie Lynskey stars as a 35-year old recent divorcee, who is forced to move back in with her parents, who aren’t exactly thrilled to have her. While wading through her depression, she falls for the teenage son of one of her father’s prospective business clients, played by Christopher Abbott, and a complicated romance ensues. It’s a story about finding yourself and about the power of human connection in the most unlikely circumstances. Shot in 20 days on location in Westport, Connecticut this past September, the film’s elegant look and thoughtful camerawork is by cinematographer Julie Kirkwood. I had a chance to speak with Julie while at Sundance, about her work on the film.

I’m really excited to talk with you because I’ve known you for awhile and it seems like you are evolving to these cool features, working with some really great people. Can you tell me how you came to the project?
I was getting a lot of scripts from my agent, and this one stood out to me. Even though I’m drawn to more dark, dramatic stories, I thought this script was so well-written, that I wanted to meet with the filmmaker and talk with him about his movie. It all happened very quickly. My agent set up a meeting and the director Todd Louiso and I had coffee, and it was immediately clear that we had the same ideas for the look of the film. Even though it’s a comedy-drama, we wanted to shoot it more like a drama. We both agreed that it had moments of bright, hi-key comedy, but the script also has its dark side as well. So I saw an opportunity to shoot some cool, dark stuff, and I knew if Todd was into that, that we would be a good match. So we had that one meeting — and he called me a day later and hired me — and we were in Connecticut a couple weeks later.

How did the production afford such million-dollar locations?
It’s crazy, because we had a very low budget but the writer, Sara Koskoff is the director’s wife and she grew up in Westport and that house that is the parents house in the movie, is actually her parent’s house. So when we got there, we were in the script right away. They were generous enough to let a film crew into their home. We couldn’t have afforded those locations if we had to pay the prices people pay, say in Los Angeles.

It’s so refreshing to see such lush environments of New England. How did you work with the location and integrate it into the look of the film?
If you look out one side of the house, it’s all the Long Island Sound. If you look out the other side of the house, it’s all trees and beyond those trees is more water. So this house is surrounded by nature, and Todd had this idea of having a reverse fishbowl feel to being inside the house. She’s confined herself to the house and there’s the whole world outside, until she meets Jeremy and she starts getting out more. We really wanted to have that beautiful nature outside and keep her away from that until she starts getting more back into “life.”

How did you come to choose the Alexa as your camera?
We knew it was either going to be film or the Alexa, and initially we were leaning towards film. But it came down to our producers who had more closer connections to getting discounts from ARRI, than all of the stuff that goes along with film. We had also gone through the Sundance Screenwriters’s Lab and they had an ARRI connection that helped us as well. I even emailed you about this project inquiring about film stock, and that’s when I found out you weren’t at Kodak anymore!

If I were still there, I would have helped you out!
I’m definitely still a film DP, but I was happy to try the Alexa — it was my first film with that camera —and I was impressed with it.

Were there any challenges that came with it?
The only challenge was learning a new camera and learning all the post stuff that goes with that.

What was your dailies and post workflow?
As far as dailies went, Robert, our media manager, just gave us each a drive at the end of the day and we watched footage on our laptops. We shot to SXS cards, ProRES instead of the 3K ARRI Raw because with our budget, it just wasn’t going to happen. Now that I’ve shot ProRES, I’m really curious to shoot with the recorder to 3K just to see how much more that gives me to work with. But I was pretty impressed with what I saw.

The biggest latitude test is looking out bright windows, and in your film, you saw everything.
It was great for us because we had almost no lighting budget — the biggest light we had was a 4K, and most of the time we didn’t have a generator, we were off house power. So we were in this big, amazing house on the Long Island Sound, and at noon you know the sun’s going to be hitting the water — which is why we couldn’t have shot on the RED because it just would have been white out there. A lot of the car stuff was handheld with available light. Melanie Lynsky was really driving around that town and we couldn’t rig lights. I was in either the passenger seat or the backseat, and thankfully the interior and exterior worked.

Another thing that struck me was how well you captured the intimacy of the two characters. In the house, there was a little bit of a distance thing, but when you went into the world of Amy and Jeremy, you felt what they felt.
We were trying for that. Part of that intimacy also comes from keeping them in that small car for so much of it. A lot of stuff happened with them happened in that car, and you don’t have any choice but have intimacy in such a small space.

So you did have a different approach for when you were in the house, and when you were with the characters?
It was sticks and dolly when she’s with the parents and all of that world, was just very stable and slow movements. And then when she meets Jeremy, and they start spending time together, we wanted it to feel more like life. There were a few things in there where I was like, “Can we just fix this little messy thing,” and Todd was like, “no it’s messy, it’s good. It should feel messy, life is messy, their relationship is messy.” It definitley gives more life to it. It gives their scenes more of a real feeling, less of a distance that we feel with the parents.

How much color work did you do in the DI?
When the film was cut, we took it to Company 3 and I worked with Shane Harris for about a week. He has a LUT that he starts with for the Alexa, and a lot of it fell right into place, but we did tweak it for every scene. When we were shooting, we had a media manager that was basically doing a one-light on set so that the dailies had a look and then they cut with the raw files.

This article first appeared on January 24, 2012 for Doddle News, while I was covering the Sundance Film Festival. 

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