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Friday 26 February 2021

Home - Academic - Frames: The Cinematography of “Quiet Now” by Joanna Kakitek

24Frames: In this installment of the Frames Articles, in an attempt to give women who are active in the field of cinematography more exposure, we read Joanna Kakitek’s article on the cinematography of “Quiet Now.” Joanna has graduated from the Polish National Film School in Lodz. Her work as a DP has been presented at festivals such as Camerimage, Krakowski Festival Filmowy, Beijing International Short Film Festival, Festival Européen du Film Court de Brest, and many others. As it’s next screening, “Quiet Now” will be presented at the Premiers Plans – Angers Film Festival.

 

 

 

Frames: The Cinematography of “Quiet Now”

Written by Joanna Kakitek

 

 

Storyline

 

“Quiet Now,” tells the story of a young woman called Basia, who works as a guide in a salt mine. She treats her job seriously and strict, which reflects her personality. One day she takes around the trip of deaf kids and their tutors. This encounter brings unexpected chaos to her work and most surprisingly to her consciousness. Basia builds a subtle bond with one of the girls. The problems start when the girl disappears in the mine. Basia needs to find her on her own, without causing a rescue action. The journey through the mine becomes also a self-exploration.

 

 

Location

 

The action of the film takes place in a salt mine in Bochnia (Poland), which from the very beginning was a challenging location. It demanded meticulous preparations and great organization skills. Our location scout began more than half a year before the actual shooting. With the director Katarzyna Wiśniowska, we slid down to the mine several times. Each time had a different purpose. In the beginning, our aim was to discover the atmosphere of this place and find the best ways to tell the story in a stunning location. To a certain degree, it inspired us to change some of the previous script’s assumptions. I found this part very exciting: Everything was possible – the movie was to be formed in our imagination.

 

This creative freedom built a solid ground from which we could move on to the next level – writing a shooting script, which was essential to our preparations. This difficult location demanded many compromises and a quick work rate. Since we had to deal with a group of children with disabilities on the set, there was no place for mistakes. Our preproduction process ended up with the technical scout: Visit in the mine with my gaffer Bartosz Gburek and the rest of the production’s team. There were many noticeable obstacles, which luckily could be solved before shooting. But some of them were still a challenge: Set’s logistic, limited lighting possibilities, limited time we could spend in the mine and the budget. But in the end, we made it!

 

 

Textures

 

One of my cinematographic premises was to expose the textures of the mine’s chambers. The distinct textures brought dynamics into the frame composition and underlined motion. There were many kinds of textures that were visually interesting for me: stone and salt walls, wood, cables running on the ceiling. Therefore it was possible to find shiny, matt, surfaces, which would enrich the visual landscape. From these details I wanted to create a mysterious, unknown world, being part of this story and also living with its own life. This environment would be a reflection of the psychological state of the protagonist.

 

 

I used the opportunity of having a natural humidity in the mine, embedding on the fossil walls and rocks on the floor. This lets the light gloss over the textures, exposing their visually interesting, natural raw shapes. We shot long passages of our character traversing endless galleries in the mine. The visible textures on the walls and floors helped to separate her from the background. The light reflections exposing the textures on the walls were an important part of building the frame. Since I wanted to continue the twilight dominating the mine, it was relevant to use all the possible tracts, where light could fall and reflect. Extracting and lighting up the textures gave us the possibility to escape from the natural darkness of the mine, simultaneously allowing us to avoid lighting it up in an artificial way.

 

 

Lightning

 

We had to plan the lightning carefully due to the limited time we were able to spend in certain areas of the mine (during our shooting the mine was still working and receiving visitors). Sometimes, we had just a couple of hours to set the lamps and shoot. Our workflow consisted of splitting the crew. While shooting, some part of the lightning crew was already preparing the area for the next scenes. Sometimes the distance between the current set and the next shooting’s area was more than 1000 meters, which forced us to carry the lightning equipment, with no vehicles allowed 300 meters underground.

 

 

The other and the most relevant issue was the power limitation up to 2,5 kW in most of the mine’s areas (safety restrictions). For this reason, we had to find ways to deal with lighting massive spaces in the mine.

 

 

One of the ideas to avoid the power limitation issue was to use practical lights. The galleries were lit by long lines of practical lamps hanging on the ceiling. To be sure of their color temperature we have changed the bulbs to equal degrees of 3200K or 5600K (depending on the scene). At the beginning of the film, I wanted to keep the color temperature warmer. The protagonist is sliding down to the mine by a lift, from a sunny, summer day (she is riding her bike to work and in the first scene we see her in her room). It was important to extend this mood and to make the mine a bit magical. When the story unfolds, the environment is getting raw and visually colder. Therefore, it was necessary to expose this change of mood, also using the different color temperature of the bulbs.

 

 

We shot long Steadicam passages of Basia crossing the galleries. Sometimes we were forced to remove the lightbulbs to avoid the camera’s shadows, which could be visible during the movement.

 

 

For the portraits I built expressive light, not escaping from the contrast. The surrounding darkness was the greatest inspiration and also a good explanation for it. This would also suit the feelings of the protagonist since the action in the mine would be a metaphor of her inner state.

 

For the main scenes settled in the galleries, we needed to find a good grip and lightning solutions. Most of the time they were too narrow to place the lamps with their equipment, the camera, at the same time leaving some space for comfortable staging. Hit-ching the lamps to the ceiling was one of the ways to go. It was important to provide the actors with decent space so that they could feel free with their movements.

 

 

Within this portrait, Basia is going back to the ”real” world after her metamorphosis. It was a significant scene for the film, the last portrait of the protagonist- exposing her inner change. I wanted to keep it atmospheric – from the darkness of the mine, she comes into the daylight, somehow changed. In order to go underground or above she needs to use mine’s lift, which in reality was extremely tight – 1,5mx2m. It was impossible to fit inside more than one LED lamp and the camera crew. We hitched a lamp on the door of the cabin. After adding a diffusion, we found the right angle to catch the reflection from the metal cabin. The result was excellent – the eyes of the actress were exposed and the portrait gained very subtle, soft light.

 

 

Another visual premise was to keep the film as monochromatic as possible. The natural lack of color in the mine was visually intriguing. The only exception was the scene of the underground party for teenagers, where for the first time we see our protagonist careless, forgetting about the role she plays and her inner pressure. It was an important moment for the dramaturgy – she steps out from her usual part and this state will be continued for the rest of the film. For this moment, I wanted to break the monochromatic rule and introduced some color.

 

 

For the first time, we see Basia and the girl in one frame. Their enigmatic bond is becoming to be visible. Basia starts the conversation, which holds in sign language (although Basia really doesn’t know it). I wanted to underline the uncommonness of this situation with some intensive colors. Everything seems to be unusual: A disco party for deaf kids and an attempt to find a common language between the two of them.

 

 

Mine’s environment gave many opportunities to achieve natural dramaturgy. Framing the characters in a silhouette was one of the methods to add certain expressions to the scene. Also, it underlined the puzzling space of the mine.

 

 

I used this idea for the final scene when the protagonist lies down on the railway track. We see her only in a silhouette, lit by the railway’s light. Thanks to this style of lightning, the scene gained a dramatic nature.

 

 

Movement

 

Thinking about the movement, I made use out of the natural directions of the mine: horizontal and vertical. The protagonist slides down underground every day, which was interesting also from a psychological point of view. She lives between two different worlds – on-ground and underground. Each go-down is a kind of inner trip. The horizontal movement through the endless halls is also quite symbolic. The protagonist traverses the galleries in search of something vague.

 

 

Collaboration

”Quiet now” was my third film together with the director Katarzyna Wiśniowska. We were able to prepare this complicated project, not only because of our common cinematic experience, but also because of the fact that we are good friends. Probably one of the biggest challenges of all was to stage deaf kids, who had never before worked on a film set. For this reason, few weeks before shooting, we started rehearsals with the kids, the main actress Agnieszka Skrzypczak and a small camera, to accustom them to the presence of the camera and general rules of work on a set. Children could spend only a few hours working, so we needed to be sure of what exactly to capture.

 

 

This process was very compelling. During the rehearsals, we had an opportunity to observe the children and shoot them in a documentary style. This inspired us to shoot this way in some scenes in the film, where it was necessary to capture unrepeatable reactions.

 

 

Production Value

 

Because of the early preproduction, which started almost one year before the actual shooting, it was possible to shoot this film without too many obstacles. The logistic of the project was crucial. For example, in order to transport the light equipment underground, we needed a whole day. The mine had small lifts, it had the capacity for only 5 people. Because of the mine’s restrictions, every go-down took about 10 to 20 minutes. The same issue appeared every day while transporting down the whole crew and the actors during the shooting.

 

The mine galleries stretched for few kilometers underground. Most of the time, there was no other solution than to transport the light and camera equipment, carrying it barehanded. Relocating underground took much more time than in any usual production. It took time and energy and therefore it was not possible to introduce any changes. We had just a couple of hours in one place and also kids on the set, so we needed to plan carefully. Time was an essential issue.

 

 

 

“Quiet Now”

Director: Katarzyna Wiśniowska

Director of Photography: Joanna Kakitek

Producer: Lodz Film School

Production Designer: Tomasz Rolniak

Costume Designer: Bogumila Bibel

Gaffer: Bartosz Gburek

Camera Operator: Vincent Prochoroff

Focus Puller: Yusuf Ahmed Mohamed

Color Grading: Ajith Krishnamoorthy Nair

Starring: Agnieszka Skrzypczak, Vanessa Maksymiuk, Tomasz Oleander, Dorota Gorja-inow

Arri Alexa Mini

Opton Zeiss Super Speed 1.4

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