'Eventually it will be all right' Ghost Stories cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkland on shooting films

Ole Bratt Birkland is a BAFTA-nominated cinematographer known for his work on hit TV shows The Crown, National Treasure, The Missing, Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams and Martin Freeman horror movie Ghost Stories. Here he tells Mandy News how he got started as a director of photography, the challenges of shooting film and TV and what aspiring cinematographers can do to get noticed.

29th May 2018
/ By James Collins

Ghost Stories movie GHOSTSTORIES

Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got involved in the film industry.
My name is Ole Bratt Birkeland and I work as a cinematographer in film and TV. I mostly do film these days but have done a fair share of TV as well as commercials and documentaries. I originally went to London Film School to do my training and that was great because when I started I knew nothing about filmmaking. When I finished school I worked as a focus puller for a while and then, through short films and building up contacts, I slowly got some commercials and did some very low budget features.

I always loved stories and used to read (and still do) a lot of books, but also comics and graphic novels and I guess that is what drew me to filmmaking in the first place (knowing that I can’t draw or write very well, I guess the last place left for storytelling is film - making.)

I did a lot of short films too and found this a great way to learn what I liked and how to do something that hopefully had an impact on a low budget. Mostly it was also a way of being able to fail without spending too much money.

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How did you get involved with Ghost Stories?
I originally got approached about Ghost Stories through my agent. I read the script and thought it was really exciting. It was trying to do something different with the genre while at the same time being aware of what kind of movie it is. That is always intriguing. I don’t really have a lot of horror film experience and this felt like a great challenge. 

I then went and met Jeremy and Andy and we sort of hit it off and I thought they had some fantastic ideas for the film. Especially the fact that we wanted to do all the effects in-camera as opposed to CGI.

What was the process of working on Ghost Stories? How long was the shoot and what were the challenges you faced?
Shooting Ghost Stories was great. We had five weeks which isn’t very much for something as potentially complicated as this film, but Andy and Jeremy were incredibly prepared and so my greatest challenge was to try and stay true to their vision. They had lived with the story for a long time and I wanted to help them achieve something cinematic.

I think the hardest thing was probably creating some of the illusions in-camera in a way that make you believe them without giving the game away.

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What are the different challenges from working on a series as opposed to a feature film?
In terms of working on a film versus TV, the hardest bit is usually time. Even on the smallest films, one usually has more time than on TV. This means that in order to keep a certain quality level up in TV, one has to be faster and more certain of the ideas. Usually on a film one can explore a bit more and evolve as we go along and this is not as easy in TV.

What is coming up for you in 2018 and beyond?
I have a few films coming out later in the year. American Animals is coming out in the summer and it is an exciting heist movie and after that another ghostly film called The Little Stranger.

What advise do you have for up-and-coming cinematographers?
When I started out, I just tried to do as much work as I could, because I needed experience and I need to meet people. I think that everybody has different ways navigating the film industry and that worked for me but isn’t necessarily right for others. However, I do think it helps knowing what one likes. That means that it is easier to meet other like-minded people and hopefully be able to work together and evolve together. 

Most of my crew are people I have worked with for a very long time and that is a satisfying thing I think. I always though that tenacity is a good thing. Hold on that extra mile and eventually it will be all right. Also patience and kindness I think are good things that we can all try to have more of as we move through this world.

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