Academy-Award nominated cinematographer Barry Ackroyd discusses the philosophy and merits of his multi-camera shooting style.
A theme of the English cinematographer Barry Ackroyd's career is collaboration. First, there is the matter of his work with directors like Ken Loach, with whom he has shot ten films, Paul Greengrass (with whom he has shot four), and Kathryn Bigelow (two.) There is then the fact that for films as diverse as Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award), the DP has brought a unique and team-work heavy style that involves the use of three cameras, extensive handheld work, and artistic use of focus, a style that he expounds on in the below video from CookeOpticsTV.
Check out the video, as well as three insights from the mind of the cinematographer who compares focus-pulling to jazz.
1. Less is more
For someone who uses three cameras, Ackroyd is insistent about keeping their presence (as well as the lighting) as minimal and unobtrusive for the actors as possible. As he explains it, "if [the light]'s not in their view, not in their way, then that actor now has this freedom."
Ackroyd notes that often, actors who work on more traditional sets will approach him about marks on the floor, inquiring if this is the mark he wants them to hit. "We've put a little piece of tape down it's because the focus puller needs to know the distance from the camera...absolutely not, that's where an actor goes." This approach, which Ackroyd uses consistently, gives the actors space, and he says they consistently give him positive feedback.
2. Focus is "Better than a Dolly or a Crane"
For Ackroyd, focus is king, and not just when it comes to movies. "Focus is the best tool we have..it's better than a dolly, a crane, or a tripod. Focus tells me more about humanity because that's what we do, what our eyes do...it's the zoom of the brain...I can switch between you and I could pull focus between here and here [and] those are great weapons to use for telling stories."
3. Have it unfold a little bit like jazz music
Working with multiple camera operators and ACs (otherwise known as focus pullers) is a team-oriented process, one which Ackroyd is quick to remark is nothing like a quest for perfection. He's the first to admit that during a take, the shots "will slip in and out of focus" but says that the dynamic between him and the members of his team can at times take on an almost musical feel when filming: "I'll be tighter, or they're tightening up...they're giving options all the time, so you're kind of playing...it's a little bit like jazz...you put three musicians together who know what the the vibe is, and they would improvise [and] it's a real exhilaration."