The Innocents DP David Procter reveals how he shot the Netflix show in two countries

The Innocents is the latest Netflix original series to hit the streaming service and get everybody talking. The supernatural, Romeo and Juliet-esque love story, follows gifted teenagers Harry and June as they run away from their repressive families to be together. Here Mandy News sits down with award-winning DP David Procter to talk about the challenges of shooting the show, how he started out as a cinematographer and what aspiring DPs can do to succeed.

31st August 2018
/ By James Collins

the innocents dp david procter tv MARILYNNPAUL

Please introduce yourself and tell us how you first got involved with the film and television industry.
I’m a London based cinematographer, working internationally in commercials and film, but recently ventured into television. It wasn’t until I was 19, studying a diploma at Ravensbourne, that I even knew what a cinematographer was. After three years at film school, I moved to London without a single contact. Working in a camera house, a stint as a terrible focus puller and paying the bills selling coffee machines on the side, I cut my teeth in documentaries. In 2006, I was fortunate enough to receive a BIFA nomination for the doc Red Sands. That attention was the start of my journey.

***** Read our interview with Fear the Walking Dead DP Adam Suschitzky *****

How did you get involved with The Innocents?
I was invited in to New Pictures to meet director Farren Blackburn and producer Chris Croucher. It transpired that Farren was introduced to my work around 2015 and had been keeping an eye on it. His vision of a Scandi, sci-fi drama, firmly grounded in reality caught my interest, and here we are...

What was the process like to shoot the show? What kit did you use and what timescales did you have to work with?
Our primary package from Panavision was two RED Helium, shooting 2:1 ratio on a mixed set of vintage Zeiss glass. We shot in 8K for a 4K Dolby Vision HDR delivery.

Our lighting package was supplied by Pinewood MBS. Farren Blackburn directed Episode 1-4 and 7-8, and Jamie Donoughue directed episodes 5-6. We had just six weeks to prep and tech scout multiple locations across two countries for eight one-hour episodes, which equated to roughly four days prep per episode. This was extremely challenging and with only one break in the 125 day schedule our prep was in broad strokes. It was a very heavy schedule considering the 450+ pages, substantial VFX sequences, doubles, reflections and motion control. The shoot was scheduled around locations and cast availability, meaning nothing was shot in continuity and, if I recall correctly, on day 100 we hadn’t yet completed a single episode! I tip my hat to our script supervisor Phil Trow. 

We had five weeks on location in Yorkshire, six weeks in remote Norway, five weeks London studio at Gillette and Pinewood and the rest on location across London and the South East. Our primary Norwegian location was an island deep in the fjords. The logistics of an isolated island location, with cast and crew traveling by boat were a challenge, but the rain was something else – biblical rain, unrelenting for all but a few moments of our time there.

Our unit base was two industrial barges floating in the fjord, nicknamed "Waterworld". Moving machinery around the quagmire without a trace was a daily spectacle, as was hauling lights up cliff faces to light the vast mountain walls at night! Did I mention the rain?

Aesthetically, Farren and I felt that naturalism would give the show integrity and we designed our visual language meticulously during prep, as we knew we wouldn’t have time once principle photography started.

I was very fortunate to have Damien Pawle on board as 2nd unit DP. We worked together on features Bypass and Blood Cells so there’s an amazing short-hand in place and synchronized sensibilities. Due to scheduling, we required a period of double banking with director Jamie Donoughue. As Damien’s involvement was substantial we shared the credit on episodes 5-6. His work was consistently stunning.

***** Read our interview with Lucifer DP Tom Camarda *****

You also worked on the DJ Shadow and Run the Jewels music video Nobody Speak, both great artists. How did you get involved in working on this project and what was the process like?
Director Sam Pilling and I had been aware of each other’s work for many years, but never collaborated. Given that I personally own all of DJ Shadow’s vinyl, when the call came through it was a no brainer. I loved how politically engaged the narrative was, a piece that transcended entertainment, into provocative social commentary.

Sam’s casting and direction were flawless and our single 19-hour shoot day on location in Ukraine was one to remember. I mean, 25 stunt performers, three languages on set and a load of farm animals, what could possibly go wrong? Huge respect to my lighting team, it was an enormous setup.

What are you currently working on, that you are allowed to talk about, and what is coming up next?
I’m currently shooting commercials, with several films on the horizon including two with directors Luke Seomore and Joseph Bull. Heaven is Dark is an atmospheric drama about the current refugee crisis, and Pigs Disco an autobiographical exposé about the realities of drugs, raves and violence in army life during the late '80s Northern Ireland conflict. 

Also imminent is a dystopian short, This Is The Winter with Michael Fassbender’s DMC. Directed by Peter King, against the backdrop of a UK civil war, the political thriller explores a young girl’s conflict over ideology and family.

What advice do you have for cinematographers wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t obsess over new technology: anyone can master equipment but storytelling and the craft of lighting is what makes us!

Expect knock backs and don’t expect a big break. Accept criticism, learn from it and keep shooting.

Be selective, even if it means not working.

Be calm; be good to your crew. Work hard, play hard and keep it fun!

Legendary cinematographer Donald McAlpine, ACS, ASC, once said to me, “calm seas never made a skilled sailor” – I live by that!

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