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Assisting a First-Time Director: Robin Vidgeon on Lensing Hellraiser

Hellraiser

By David A. Ellis.

Robin Vidgeon was born in August 1939 and has worked on numerous films. For many years he worked with the legendary cinematographer Douglas Slocombe as his focus puller. His last two films with Slocombe were Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Apart from features he has worked in television and, in retirement, teaches cinematography.

Where was Hellraiser filmed and why was that location chosen?

It was shot in north London. It was filmed in a house that was up for sale. I think it was the art department that found it, and it was perfect. I don’t think the money was there for a long hunt. The budget was only two million dollars.

Did the budget place any restrictions on filming?

No, we had a schedule of seven or eight weeks and it was completed in almost eight weeks exactly. Most of the shooting was in the house. There were some exteriors and we had a large special effects team. We had one camera crew with equipment hired from Samuelsons. We shot a sequence where blood comes up through the floor. That had to be done in a small studio, which was in a place that no longer exists called the Production Village in Cricklewood, London.

Did you do any operating on it?

We had a full camera crew. As always, if I found that we could save some time, especially on the tight schedule, I would. If I could cover some dialogue with two people round a table, I would run two cameras. I would operate one of them, but only when not compromising the lighting. We didn’t often run two cameras because I didn’t want to stretch the one camera crew we had. We didn’t get extra people in.

I understand it was shot in continuity – did this make shooting easier?

ROBIN-VIDGEON-ON-CAMERA_1In the house it was shot in sort of continuity. It made it a bit easier. As it was a real house we couldn’t remove walls or ceilings like you can in a studio. The action takes place morning, noon, night, dusk and dawn. It was a challenge for whoever was photographing it, to try and give it a different look all the time.

What hours were worked on it?

We worked normal days withy occasional night shooting. The hours were usually 8am – 6 or 6.30, five days a week.

How many were involved in special effects?

There must have been around thirty people under Bob Keen, the head of the effects team. He worked very closely with the director Clive Barker, because of Clive’s drawings in his books.

Were the actors made up at the house?

The effects make up team, who supplied the actors with their costumes were not at the house. The actors were brought to the house ninety percent ready and the last little bits were done before we shot.

How were the special effects achieved?

They were achieved through Clive’s drawings and Bob Keen’s team delivering that drawing with a person in it. The only creature that had a lot of manipulation with four or five guys working it was a creature featured in the end sequence where the creature tried to attack the house from the front door. That was very difficult. It had to be cut very quickly. Clive said, with the budget we have got, this is not ideal, we have no CGI. So, it was cut very fast. It was a scary sequence but we knew there were five guys operating it.

What were the cameras used on it?

It was shot using Panavision cameras, using standard lenses – it wasn’t shot in anamorphic.

What lenses did you use and did you use filters?

The lenses were Panavision. Sometimes I used filters. I used them on long shots of the house because the sky was a bit bright. Occasionally I would use a polar screen for reflections. Most of the time it was shot straight.

What film stock was used?

It was filmed on Fuji 500 stock.

Was much lighting used?

BarkerI had two truckloads of equipment. We had a generator that was always with us and I had all the lights that I needed. Obviously in the house we didn’t have any big lights because of the space. Because of the fast film speed I was able to use lighting from 2K down and lots of small lights, which we hid. Like all directors of photography I didn’t want it to look lit. In a house you are really stuck. There are places you want to put a lamp, but can’t. I found it a very hard job, but we did it in the time.

Was the film challenging?

Oh yes, I have worked a lot with first-time directors. Clive was a writer and had all the ideas in his head. He knew what he wanted for the film because he wrote the script. It was our job to deliver it, but in that house it was sometimes difficult. Like all directors of photography you never like to say, I can’t do this or that. It was a challenge lighting it and still making it look like it wasn’t lit.

Did you advise Barker on set-ups?

We had to because he had never worked with a camera, but he got into it very quickly. Hellraiser had everything in it. It delivered what Clive wanted from a good script.

Did some shots take a while to set up?

Some did due to space.

How many crewmembers did you have?

I had a team of six electricians and there were five in the camera crew. There was the operator, focus puller, loader, a grip and me. We didn’t have any crane work, but used a dolly. There was also a sound crew and make-up and hair. It was a standard efficient unit and they got the job done on time.

Was it fun to make?

It was Clive Barker’s first film and he was such fun to work with.

Finally, did Clive require several takes?

A lot of it was done in one or two takes. Clive knew exactly what he wanted and I had the camera crew I normally used, which included camera operator David Worley. I didn’t need to worry about David operating. What we asked him to do, he did.

David A. Ellis has written for a number of magazines and newspapers. He regularly writes for The British Cinematographer magazine and is the author of the books In Conversation with Cinematographers (Rowman & Littlefield), and Conversations with Cinematographers (Scarecrow Press).

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