Black Swan 2011 Season Programme

The funnest shoot I’ve done all year is how I’ve been characterising the work we’ve just finished for Black Swan State Theatre Company. The whole thing was a gas from start to finish. I really loved working with Geoff Bickford and Esther Lee from Dessein again and meeting new clients Nancy and Kate from Black Swan.
Geoff and Esther had visualised concepts for six of the seven plays that form a part of the programme. The seventh, “Ninety”, a play by Joanna Murray Smith about a woman given 90 minutes by her ex-husband, to persuade him to come back to her instead of marrying a younger woman, had been making one direct hit after another in the too hard basket.
As always good pre-production pays real dividends on shoot day, especially when you’re dealing with interstate stars like James Morrison and Cheree Cassidy. Aside from performing in Boundary Street Morrison (right) is its composer and musical director. He’s also a jolly nice fellow and a real pleasure to work with!
The shoot was chock full of technical challenges including flying fairies from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and an underwater shoot for Tim Winton’s first play Rising Water. I asked Clay Bryce of Precision Images to handle the subsurface side of the Rising Water shoot. Since I had asked him politely he agreed. Just goes to show.
The Damned is the only piece that was executed with available light only.

Leederville Skate Park.


Goth chicks.

Does it get any better?

The greatest creative challenge was “Ninety” (right). With no actors cast we were unable to show faces, and as the play is dialogue driven we didn’t have any key scenes we could lift and illustrate. The final image captures the emotional distance between the couple. Geoff and I agreed that a sense of urgency was important and that we needed to tie the image back to the element of time that is central to the play. This was the last image of the shoot and, with no location set until late in the day preceding the shoot, I was feeling tense and nervous, finding it hard to relax…. the shoot went quickly though; working on the south side of a massive glass wall we needed just one battery powered light inside the location to give us a bit of the old rim light to lift and separate our actors. We disguised them with sunglasses for the ex-wife (model’s own I think) and a generous dose of out of focus-ness for the ex-hubbie.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was the first cab off the rank. We shot this in an event hire shop, fair bit of furniture got moved.
Picture this though – the art director shows you a few pics that set the mood they’re chasing, OK, that’s they way we collaborate and establish a shared visual language. Except, what if the pics are stills of Elizabeth Taylor from the film with Paul Newman and of Kate Moss with a couple of fey fellows in a hotel room. Talk about raising the bar.
Cheree Cassidy was wonderful and patient. And importantly, able to re-conjure a fleeting moment again and again while we fiddled with our miriad gobos and flags positioned in front of the single light source we used for this shot.
After an initial pre-pro meeting the bulk of the pre-production hard yards were shouldered by Black Swan’s unstoppable Nancy Hackett. Geoff from Dessein handled all the image post-production for all the shots – any photoshop junkie would be in a rapture over his endless carefully labelled layers!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the most complex shoot we did. Shot entirely in our Subiaco studio we had the tortured actors limping out the door by lunchtime. Think I heard one of them muttering on the phone to their chiropractor as they left…
Steve Turner is a God! The water we poured over him was warm and the A/C was set to compete with the heart of the sun. Evaporation is a powerful thang though and he was getting cold. This studio shoot was very componenty. There’s a dry umbrella shot. There’s Steve wet through holding a fish while someone empties a watering can overhead shot. A skirting board shot, clouds and a light switch.
Just to be sure we stood Steve back in the pool and shot a few more of him getting rained on.
And then a few more after that.
Then just one more.
Then we treated him for hypothermia.