Oranges and Sunshine: recreating the past on film
This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #141 (June-July 2011).
Cinematographer Denson Baker ACS was born in New Zealand but spent his childhood in Perth, Western Australia. Even though he was a child, he has distinct memories of the time, the atmosphere and the look of the city and its surroundings. It’s this prior knowledge and new research through studying ‘80s-era movies and photographs that helped Baker prepare for Oranges and Sunshine.
“It was always intended to be subtle and natural, not heavy-handed or obvious,” Baker tells IF magazine from Bali. “We wanted to capture an atmosphere of a time and a place, not necessarily reference any films of the past.”
Set in Perth, the filmmakers opted to shoot in Adelaide, which retains much of its past. Other parts of the film were shot in Nottingham, England – Margaret Humphreys’ hometown. Director Jim Loach’s first choice was to shoot on 35mm stock – a decision which helped capture the mood.
“Our biggest deciding factors were that we had both come from a film background and we felt most comfortable with that way of working and the
discipline – plus the fact that the film is set in the 1980s, so we felt it made sense to shoot on the format that was used in the 1980s,” Baker says.
“We shot at a very modest ratio; Jim knew exactly what he wanted and our cast would nail it in one or two takes.”
About 80 per cent of the Australian/UK co-production was filmed handheld. Baker used ARRICAM Lite cameras because, he says, they are a “great ergonomic and well-balanced camera”.
“We wanted the camera to have a bit of life to it and to have a feeling of immediacy without it looking like a documentary, or be a ‘shaky-cam’ film,” says Baker, who has filmed many music videos, TV commercials and feature documentaries. Baker shot about 90 per cent of the film on Fuji stock (Fuji 500T, Fuji Reala 500D, Fuji 250D, Fuji 64D) and some Kodak 500T “when I needed less contrast and less density in the blacks”.
“I choose stocks for a project based on the aesthetic we are after. Oranges and Sunshine takes place in two very contrasting countries and we wanted to establish subtle difference between the look of the UK and that of Australia without wanting to resort to clichés.
“One difference I wanted to utilise was texture. I don’t usually like to use too many different stocks on a film however, for Oranges I used stock choice to establish different looks that evolve with the mood, the location atmosphere and emotional arc of the film.”
Baker first used the Fuji Reala 500D on a Magic Dirt music video when the stock was released and fell in love with its look. “I love the way it looks when you mix the colour temperatures in a scene.”
When shooting in the Australian summer, Baker used the Fuji 64D because it had less texture and a richer colour, without being over-saturated.
“Day interiors in Australia were 250D. I used Fuji 500T for most night interiors and for the scenes where Margaret is being interviewed in radio and TV studios.”
Baker shot with Cooke S4 prime lenses as they have a “beautiful warm quality and the depth of field drops off into soft focus very nicely in a very cinematic way”.
“I also feel they have a more European look to them too, which was appropriate for this particular film.”