×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Darkest Hour’ Director Joe Wright Describes How His Production Team Re-Created WWII

Focus Features is just starting to roll out “Darkest Hour,” the Joe Wright-directed look at Winston Churchill in the early days of World War II. The film, written by Anthony McCarten and starring Gary Oldman, has been gaining buzz, and Wright spoke with Variety about the artisan contributions of his colleagues.

Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel

We had never worked together, so it meant everything had to be rediscovered — relearning the relationship between the cinematographer and director, which is so pivotal. Bruno and I spent two weeks together going over the script, page by page, figuring out the intention of each scene and how to express it cinematically. The film is set in May 1940, which happened to be one of the hottest Mays on record. We couldn’t convey a sense of heat with many exteriors, so we had to create it with interiors. There are many photos of that time when the sun almost seemed like a spotlight through the windows. Bruno did a great job of doing that, which helped create the atmosphere.

Production design: Sarah Greenwood; Set decorator: Katie Spencer

Sarah has worked on everything I’ve done since 1998. She and set decorator Katie Spencer and I have a kind of understanding; it’s now impossible to work out which idea was whose. Sarah is tough and dogmatic, always challenging me on my choices, which is great. The three of us are a sort of triangle. We worked with the early location scouts; they were part of the core group from the beginning. One of the difficulties was that in 1940, the whole of London was blackened by soot of coal chimneys; now, the buildings are all scrubbed and gleaming white. We wanted to show the dirt and grubbiness; sometimes it was done with CGI, but sometimes it meant going to different parts of the country. We filmed a lot in Yorkshire, because there’s not the same level of renovation to stately homes as in London. And looking at war rooms of that period, we were struck by how homemade everything seemed. Even the maps they charted were marked with bits of knitting wool; everything they were working with had a make-do texture. There was a homemade aesthetic, which was important to that period.

Music: Dario Marianelli

I got him to start composing before we started shooting; I wanted him to feel the tone of the film. I showed him pictures of Gary [Oldman] during makeup tests, and full shots of Gary walking. Gary had a tremendous energy, which is accurate. In current day, we think of Churchill as heavy, slow and lumbering, but he actually had a quick energy; he thought fast and moved fast. I needed a quick tempo with some of the music. I was listening to minimalist music, and I wanted a contemporary meter, with minimalist energy. Dario is Italian and has a very romantic heart. So he blended the minimalism with romanticism.

Editing: Valerio Bonelli

I always like editors to come to the set, but there’s often not time. On “Darkest Hour,” we rented a house and moved the cutting room into the house, and we all slept there. So Valerio would come to set, and at the end of the day, I would go back, and his assistant would cook, and we’d sit and edit. It was exciting. I think the trickiest scene was the first war cabinet scene. It is maybe seven minutes and is basically men sitting around the table talking; there’s a lot of vital information, but the scene can’t be just talky exposition. Valerio took that and expertly created oppressive tension and made the scene build.

Sound mixer: John Casali; Supervising sound editor: Becki Ponting; Re-recording mixer/supervising sound editor: Craig Berkey

John is the most refined sound recordist imaginable. In the big Parliament scenes, I needed energy from the extras, but I also knew we would have to do ADR. John is such a pro. Becki’s worked on every movie I’ve done. She’s meticulous in the recording of breathing and human sounds; those things always create intimacy in a film. And I first worked with Craig on “The Soloist.” I sent him material in Canada, where he works, and he came over for the final mix. It’s a strange distance, but I trust him implicitly. He knows my love of sound. The cinematic experience is 50% sound, 50% image. We’re taught how to be image-literate in film, but sound can affect the audience in so many subtle ways.

Prosthetic makeup & hair design: Kazuhiro Tsuji

He, Gary and I worked for five months on this. Kazuhiro is a fine artist. He lives in a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. He’s like a mad scientist, working with silicon that’s aerated and moves in a different way from heavy prosthetics. There’s not a shot that looks like makeup. He is also incredibly sensitive to the performer, making sure Gary was always able to express himself. I think he’s the only prosthetics artist who could have achieved this miraculous transformation.

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • National Theatre Live Midsummer's Night Dream

    National Theatre Live Marks Decade of Stage-to-Screen With Immersive ‘Midsummer’

    National Theatre Live has filmed nearly eight dozen theatrical productions over the last decade, bringing theater to the cinema using top technologies and talents in the videography space. This month, on the eve of its 10th anniversary, its production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is challenging the technical producers and crew with an immersive stage [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    How Bright Bulbs Enabled 'The Lighthouse's' Tough Black-and-White Shoot

    Early in prep on “The Lighthouse,” writer-director Robert Eggers asked cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who was shooting on black-and-white film stock, if he thought they could capture the look they were going for digitally. Blaschke answered no: Digital wouldn’t let them achieve the texture they had in mind — “what we photography nerds would call ‘micro-contrast.’ [...]

  • Advanced Imaging Society Honors 10 Women

    AIS Honors 10 Women in Tech

    Celebrating 10 years of achievement in entertainment technology, the Advanced Imaging Society today named 10 female industry innovators who will receive the organization’s 2019 Distinguished Leadership Awards at the its 10th annual Entertainment Technology Awards ceremony on October 28 in Beverly Hills. The individuals were selected by an awards committee for being significant “entertainment industry [...]

  • Will Smith Gemini Man Special Effects

    How the 'Gemini Man' VFX Team Digitally Created a Younger Version of Will Smith

    More human than human — yes, that’s a “Blade Runner” reference — yet it sounds like an unattainable standard when it comes to creating believable, photorealistic, digital human characters. But the visual effects team on Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” set its sights on something even more difficult: creating a digital version of young Will Smith [...]

  • Jest to Impress Cartoon Network Virtual

    New In-House VR Program Helps Cartoon Network Artists Add a Virtual Dimension

    Teams of animators and artists from across Cartoon Network’s numerous properties are getting the chance to expand into virtual reality storytelling via the company’s pilot program, Journeys VR. The work of the first three teams — including experiences based on action, nature and comedy — was unveiled to global audiences Oct. 1 on Steam and [...]

  • Frozen 2

    How the 'Frozen II' Artists Created Believable Emotion Through Animation

    “The more believable you can make the character [look], the more people believe how [it’s] feeling,” says Tony Smeed, who, with Becky Bresee, shared the challenge of heading animation on Disney’s highly anticipated “Frozen II.” “Emotion comes from inside and manifests itself into actions and facial expressions. Anything beyond that is movement for the sake [...]

  • Lucy in the Sky BTS

    'Lucy in the Sky' DP Shifts Frame to Show Inner Turmoil of Natalie Portman's Astronaut

    What drew cinematographer Polly Morgan to “Lucy in the Sky” was how Noah Hawley’s script so clearly illuminated the emotional breakdown of astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) in a way that felt very insular: The visual cues were on the page — and conveyed an unusual approach to charting the character’s journey. “When things fall [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content