Grit And Determination
Cannes winner Fish Tank re-unites Andrea Arnold and Robbie Ryan BSC for the third time.
An award winner at Cannes, where it was nominated for the Palme D’Or and won its director a share of the Special Jury Prize, Fish Tank is the latest film from Andrea Arnold and DP Robbie Ryan BSC.
Having previously collaborated on the Oscar-winning short Wasp and Arnold’s Carl Foreman Award-winning feature debut Red Road, the pair have developed a track record that is as gilded as the subject matter is frequently gritty.
Fish Tank is certainly that, the story of 15 year old Mia (Katie Jarvis) whose life is changed when her mother (Kierston Wareing) brings home a new boyfriend. Before long Connor (Michael Fassbender) is taking a far from paternalistic interest in the pretty but volatile teenager.
Using the Mardyke Estate in Essex as the backdrop to this tale of familial discord Ryan shot on 35mm ETERNA Vivid 160T, ETERNA 400T and Reala 500D, and was aiming for a very cinematic look from the outset.
“I was looking for an estate that felt like an island and the Mardyke fitted that description,” says Arnold. “I loved the colours on the blocks there, too; colour was very important to me. I also loved the wasteland behind the estate. It was really overgrown and full of wild flowers and birds and foxes and with a really big sky. I wanted to film there but we couldn’t get permission, which was a massive disappointment.”
This environment, so unlike the classic view of a film with a London setting, nevertheless informed Ryan’s lighting and camerawork.
“I loved filming on the estates,” he explains, “that’s why we shot it in 4:3 as well. It’s very suited to portraiture and obviously tower blocks fit into that frame nicely because they’re not very high but they have a sort of square format to them. London is so regimented and organised but as soon as you get down the A13, it gets a bit more rough and ready - and really beautiful, actually.”
It’s no surprise that, with their history together, Arnold and Ryan have developed a bond of mutual trust as well as a useful shorthand when shooting.
“We just had a rhythm when we were on set that works for the film,” Ryan confirms. “It’s quite organic for Andrea. She’s brilliant and lets you do what you want. She’s just got one rule, which is never to be ahead of the action visually.
“Unfortunately, there were two occasions on this film where the camera is in a room and the actor walks into it. She hates that; she thinks that’s the worst possible thing and she fights to cut any of that out because, for her, the films are about honesty, reality and truth.”
The air of naturalism that dictates this method also affects the performances of the actors, who were not given the full script prior to the start of production.
For more established performers like Wareing and Fassbender, this necessitated an adaptation of their normal working processes. For newcomer Jarvis, an award-winner herself at the Edinburgh Film Festival, it was perhaps more beneficial, not least because Arnold also shot the film in story order.
“It kind of dawned on me halfway through that it was going to be quite difficult from a shooting perspective,” Ryan chuckles, “because you get tired as you shoot and a lot of times you schedule the bigger stuff early on or, at least, not right at the end.
“But if you think about it, most films have the most dramatic bits near the end. We had quite a dramatic end to Fish Tank and everybody was wrecked by the end of it, but it was a very interesting way to approach a film.”
At least the family Arnold assembled behind the camera found life together more harmonious than the fictional one in front of it, but with the successes they have enjoyed together in the past there is no reason to think they should part company now.
“Wasp was a massive success for me,” Ryan adds, “and because Andrea is always very much into keeping a family, she stays with the same production designer and the same editor, for example. She’s got a lot of trust in us and it’s fantastic that she really wants you on board.
“Andrea is quite capable of going and getting a big script with a studio, but she prefers to make the films that she knows, and they reap dividends as Red Road did and as Fish Tank already has.
“She’s still finding her way and the more she does it the more she wants to do it her way. The success of these films means she can, which is fantastic.” ANWAR BRETT
* Fish Tank, which is released in the UK on September 11, was originated on 35mm Fujicolor ETERNA Vivid 160T 8543, ETERNA 400T 8583 and Reala 500D 8592
THE DP VIEW
Robbie Ryan BSC
If any cameraman reads a script and it says ‘evening’, beware. What’s ‘evening’ anyway when you’re in an interior flat?
We were filming in the middle of summer and the script was written for Christmas, so there were a lot of night scenes in the winter script, but then because of casting or whatever, it moved to become a summer film instead.
Andrea’s other thing was she wanted no curtains on any windows, so all the windows were always exposed. Gels didn’t work. That was the one time I was a bit stuck but there the digital intermediate really helped us because we could grade it a bit more and darken it.”