Andrew Dunn, BSC and his Guild camera team, gives the Atlanta-based romantic drama, Endless Love, a timeless look
Andrew Dunn, BSC is known for a varied resume, hopping deftly from period dramas like Robert Altman’s Gosford Park and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, to teen dramas (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) to studio rom-coms (Crazy, Stupid, Love). He says his versatility is key to his craft, noting that, “it’s important to work with new directors, or I can get into a rut, or be typecast. As cinematographers that can easily happen.”
Dunn’s most recent endeavor is the romantic drama, Endless Love, starring newcomer Gabriella Wilde and relative newcomer Alex Pettyfer, whom Dunn recently worked with in The Butler. Director Shana Feste, who wrote and directed The Greatest and Country Strong, co-wrote Endless Love and, according to Dunn, did not try to remake the 1981 Franco Zeffirelli-helmed feature of the same name. Rather she wanted to go back to the roots of the 1979 book by Scott Spencer, grounding the story in the reluctance of the father (played by Bruce Greenwood), the burgeoning love of Jade Butterfield – his protected princess – and David Axelrod – the boy from the wrong side of the tracks.
The ethos on the set of the Endless Love seemed a lot like falling in love: no obvious stepping stones, and a kind of surrender to the vagaries of the creative process. That’s not to say things were chaotic, which young love sometimes tends to be; but rather a place where creativity ran free. Dunn, who shot on ALEXA with Panavision Primo zooms, encouraged all to embrace the fluidity of romance unfolding through his lens.
First AC Larry Gianneschi IV, who partnered with Dunn for the first time, says, “the fact that he’ll lean on me as his first to run the department, coupled with his always cheery disposition makes him very easy to work for.”
Dunn’s experience was also invaluable in helping to teach the young leads how light and camera movement can enhance their performances.
“For me it’s about making [the young actors] feel comfortable,” Dunn describes. “I want them to know that they’re being looked after and being given the space to become that character. After all these years, I have a certain confidence about how to create that space around myself, so hopefully that transfers across to everyone else.”
Steadicam/B-camera operator Grayson Austin, who operated for Dunn on The Butler, says the DP, “let us do our own thing, even setting our shots to a certain degree. It may be a great shot I’ve thought up, but I still preferred to know what he considers to be the good angles for his lighting in a particular scene.”
Movement also played a key role in setting the look. Many intimate scenes between the young couple had no specific blocking. “[Wilde] especially is new to acting so a lot of times we weren’t trying to make her hit specific marks,” Austin recalls. “Often I was on Steadicam just so that I could be in the midst of the scene. I’d be aiming to get focus where the sweet spot is without dictating where they needed to be, and working within the parameters of what Andrew was trying to achieve through lighting.”
Part of that workflow came from using multiple cameras, which Dunn did with his A-camera (operated by Billy O’Drobinak) on a crane facing the fire, and cross shooting with two more. One of the pivotal scenes in the film – which was also in the original – is when the young leads make love for the first time in front of a fireplace.
“It’s very difficult for actors to feel comfortable while appearing to make love, never mind with all of us around them,” Dunn describes. “With three cameras covering the scene, and to keep it as intimate as possible, [gaffer] Chip Carey and I formulated a plan that would leave the floor space open and free. It wasn’t a very large floor area and had high ceilings, wood paneling and a large fireplace, which was our key light. We had minimal supplementation from three soft Kino Flo VistaBeams as a rim-light, and some Chocolate and Loving Amber-gelled flickering bounce lights.”
Dunn says that was necessary to make the actors feel as though they were in their own private place. “There were some pretty complicated focus racks in that scene,” Gianneschi adds, “because we wanted to follow hands sliding down bodies and lips kissing, etcetera. We needed a shallow depth of field in order to create that intimate feeling, so we chose the 4:1 Primo zoom.”
Dunn’s gripe with using a digital camera system to capture a moody drama is the amount of information revealed in the shadows that he might otherwise not want to be seen. “Keeping that darkness is enhancing that sensuality,” explains Dunn, whose warm palette paired the Primo zooms with Schneider Black Frost™ Filters and nets on the back of the lenses that he picked up in Istanbul a number of years ago.
“With film it’s easier to keep the dark area velvety black with a little bit of information,” he adds. “But digital wants to read into the dark areas too much. That is great for shooting night exteriors with only available light. But when you’re trying to create a mood in a romantic situation, we need to help that along a bit.”
Part of what attracted Feste to the three-time BAFTA winner, who also shot the Oscar nominated drama Precious: Based On The Novel “Push” by Sapphire, is Dunn’s eagerness to throw out past techniques and start each film completely fresh.
“Some filmmakers [cinematographers] do adopt certain styles,” he reflects. “But I try and forget everything before each project. Shana knew my work and liked the fact that I take on a variety of projects.” In fact, their first conversation was via Skype, when Feste was four-and-a-half months pregnant, and they didn’t meet in person until Dunn flew to Atlanta five weeks prior to principal photography.
Dunn always makes sure that he spends a lot of time with the directors, to find out what they think they want. “There’s a certain intuition that I’ve honed over the years, and with that I can hopefully interpret it into our collaboration,” he adds. “Going on this journey with her was very easy [because of the time we spent together in prep].”
This is Dunn’s fourth film in Atlanta, but the first one where the story actually takes place in Atlanta. Twenty years ago he shot Simple Twist of Fate with Steve Martin, then Sweet Home Alabama in 2002, and Life As We Know It in 2010.
“Twenty years ago,” recalls Dunn, “there was not a lot of filmmaking infrastructure [in Georgia]. Now, it’s a healthy place to make movies with lots of good union crews and more equipment rental houses [U.K-based Pinewood Studios is set to open their first U.S. facility in the Peach State early this year]. We didn’t have to anticipate what we might need in order to get it from New York or Los Angeles this time around. Panavision has a base and there are great lighting companies, so help is now at your fingertips.”
Virtually all locations for Endless Love were practical, except for David’s bedroom and the house that gets set on fire. One such location was an outdoor pool in the affluent Buckhead, where the fictional Butterfields reside. Despite the rainy and overcast day, underwater DP Marc Dobiecki says he was able to capture many moments of the young lovers frolicking to evoke innocent romance.
“I wanted to serve the beauty of the characters in and around water,” explains Dobiecki, a former Navy diver who taught diving for 15 years. “It could have been difficult [considering the weather] but this was one of the few productions that really let me do my job. Underwater photography can be tough because a lot of times production and even the director think they know how it is to be done. In terms of getting the shots they want in the end, that’s usually pretty far from the truth.”
Dobiecki’s primary light source was an 18K Fresnel with very little bounce under water in a dark-bottomed pool, which can be hard to come by but production made sure they found one for him. “Production will often order a lot of underwater lighting and tell me what they want and how I should do it,” adds Dobiecki, who recorded to a Gemini that they skillfully jammed into the underwater housing with the Alexa in order to get the RAW 444 higher-end imagery instead of recording off to a Codex. “But I’m all about lighting from topside to the extent that I can, and I like to take away light, which is the reason for the dark-bottomed pool. I’ll add negative fill if I have areas of the pool that are lighter and I’ll drop black bounces into the water to try and control the light.”
The water shooter relies heavily on his skilled focus puller, Bobby Settlemire. “I had a great team topside, who kept it moving and getting us set up every time,” Dobiecki adds. “Production got me big tops on lighting because of the rain, which is what made that scene beautiful.”
As for Dunn, he says that whatever the subject matter, the most important thing is for the audience to embrace the story from a photographic standpoint. “I want them to feel at one with the way we’re trying to tell the story – through all the aspects of filmmaking,” he concludes. “So whatever medium we use has to invite the audience in, even suck them in, to want to be involved in the story. Audiences, humans in general, have a need and passion from early years to old age to be told stories, and we are lucky enough to be able to do that with whatever tools we have at our disposal.”
Director of Photography: Andrew Dunn, BSC
Underwater Director of Photography: Marc Dobiecki
Assistants: 1st AC A-camera: Larry Gianneschi IV, 1st AC: Suzanne Trucks, 1st AC: Bret Lanius, Courtney Drewes, 2nd AC B-camera: Dwight Campbell, 2nd AC: Josh Gilbert
Operators: A-camera: Billy O’Drobinak, B-camera/Steadicam: Grayson Austin, C-camera: Stephen Campbell
DIT: Chad Oliver
Unit Publicist: Scott Levine
By Valentina I. Valentini. All photos by Quantrell D. Colbert/Universal Pictures