The term “cold comfort” holds a very different meaning for cinematographer Henry Braham these days. Having earned an Emmy in 2002 for the A&E two-parter “Shackleton,” which recounted the true tale of a South Pole expedition gone awry, the lenser returned to frigid climes for his first big-budget film, New Line’s fantasy epic “The Golden Compass.”
Among the pic’s defining elements are its icescapes, on which many of “Compass'” most important scenes occur, including two battles. Much of that was by necessity shot on soundstages for CGI use, but to turn fantasy into reality, Braham also relied on what he’d learned in “Shackleton.” “Shooting huge exterior scenes on soundstages was technically extremely hard,” says the London-born lenser. “But I had insights into the different types of Arctic light from when I shot ‘Shackleton’ and needed to re-create some exteriors inside for practical reasons.”
Popular on Variety
Not everything was artificial, though, which is one reason why the world Braham captured seems so convincing. “The Arctic stuff was a mixture of techniques using material from Switzerland, Svalbard (the northernmost part of Norway), England and soundstages,” he says. “The complexity of the movie from my point of view was to join all these elements seamlessly.”
Braham maintains that the hardest part of any movie for him is working out its visual idea or look, a challenge increased with “Compass” because of the mix of sci-fi and period elements, with both often occupying a single shot.
“The guiding philosophy was to combine the familiar with the unfamiliar,” he says. “The answer to this working successfully for the audience meant being truthful about the source and nature of light as well as the choreography of the camera. This was especially difficult not only because of the temptation to achieve almost any shot with CGI, but because the movie is set in a world where the audience doesn’t know what is true or fake.”
Awards pedigree: Emmy for “Shackleton,” also BAFTA TV nom for same.
Mentor/inspiration: “Real life.”
Visual aids: “Pre-Raphaelite painters and my own experience in the Arctic.”
Favorite tool: Pentax light meter. “I’m a fan of Ansel Adams’ exposure system.”