Cinematographer David Raedeker on The Souvenir
In this interview excerpt from the ebook Tour of Memories: The Creative Process Behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, cinematographer David Raedeker discusses developing the film’s aesthetic, staying light on his toes, and using multiple film stocks.
David Raedeker is an award-winning director of photography (DP) whose filmography includes My Brother the Devil (Sally El Hosaini, 2012), To Walk Invisible (Sally Wainwright, 2016), and Hector (Jake Gavin, 2015). From a very young age, Raedeker sought to express himself with images. As a child, “I started to take pictures with my dad’s camera, and I had my own darkroom where I grew up in Germany. [Photography] was always my thing; I couldn’t do anything else. I was quite lucky in that respect.”
Under the guidance of director Joanna Hogg, and in collaboration with the film’s other department heads, Raedeker recreated the hazy, dream-like London of thirty years ago, a London filtered through Hogg’s memory. He is currently in production on The Souvenir: Part II, working again as the director of photography, and has plans for continued collaborations with Hogg.
Shot mostly on a small set, a sound-stage build of Julie’s apartment, the film comes to life through the rich textures of digital film stocks and replicated 16 mm and 35 mm. The movie feels at once of its time and outside of time. It is a movie caught in the haze of recollection and guided by the intense emotions of youth.
Raedeker talked about how Joanna Hogg’s spontaneous shooting style allowed for happy accidents and a spirit of collaboration. Raedeker offered innumerable insights into the creative choices — inspired by memories and controlled spontaneity — that contributed to the film’s unique look.
Seventh Row: Could you describe the process of working with Joanna Hogg?
David Raedeker: It’s kind of intuitive. Joanna was very open. I do TV dramas and all kinds of projects, and Joanna’s project was nothing like any of them. We start with a script that’s not really a script. It’s more of an outline of scenes and descriptions, which gives a sense of the atmosphere. It was more… a flow of thoughts, really. It had no division of locations or so on. Out of that, there was a discussion with everybody. Then, there was a more concrete outline with specific locations.
We always talked about mood and how to attain it with the camera and lighting. It was never really concrete; we knew where our tools were, but we never really knew where they would go. With Joanna, you shoot in continuity; you are really progressing with the development of the drama. With Joanna, everything is on the floor [opening up new possibilities]. It is very good to work like that.
For me, it was also a challenge that Joanna was always improvising. No take is like another take, so you never know what the actor is going to do. There’s no such thing as a rehearsal; you have to put the camera where you think the action is going to happen, and you have to think about coverage.
With Joanna, what I found amazing is she gives everybody a lot of freedom. Everybody can express their thoughts and opinions, but she’s still very much in control. I find that very impressive, how she manages to get her vision through. It is very much a “Joanna Hogg film.” It is a collaboration, but it is very much an auteur film. Everyone on the cast and crew is very happy and feels [that they are] a part of the film.
Seventh Row: The Souvenir is based on Joanna’s experiences. When you’re talking about setting up the mood and the aesthetics, are you drawing at all from Joanna’s past, and even images from her past?
David Raedeker: We looked at photos [she had taken at the time when the film takes place], but we took the mood from them more than anything. She was very specific that she didn’t just want to create a period film.
We mixed different formats. Different formats lend themselves to different stages of the story. The film opened with 16 mm film, which was connected to Julie’s fluidity and freedom at the time. The slightly staler image of 16 mm digital, combined with more rigid camera movements, went along with the unhealthy and stagnant relationship between Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) and Anthony (Tom Burke). We used Super 8 mm footage, 16 mm Bolex footage, S-16 mm film, S-16 mm digital, 35 m digital and reversal slides. Every format fulfilled a function, which brought a variety of textures to the look.
Seventh Row: What was the atmosphere like on set?
David Raedeker: With Joanna, it is one big family; while she’s extremely in control, everyone works together. I will discuss with the production designer [Stéphane Collonge], and sometimes, he will have suggestions for me, as well, which I really appreciated — even shot placement.
The feeling you get on her production, on set, is that everyone is working together. It’s shot in Norfolk, which is about two and a half hours away from London — a remote area. You can’t commute to it, so everybody had to stay in the area. She did that on purpose.
Seventh Row: How long was the shoot?
David Raedeker: About seven weeks for filming. It was a relatively low budget, but it wasn’t that cramped. With Joanna’s film, we never ran over. You [have the shots and scenes for the day] scheduled. We [usually] started the day quite late. I have no idea how we got it [and still managed to shoot everything scheduled for the day]. It was a very relaxed schedule on the set.
Seventh Row: How were the actors blocked?
David Raedeker: On one hand, you have Honor who had not really acted before, Then, you have Tom Burke, who was very experienced. I don’t know what they’re going to do in a situation; there is always variation. There are no repeats of anything.
I can’t really focus on framing if I don’t really know what’s going to happen. It was all accidental, really, because I couldn’t foresee what would happen. You actually end up with a frame thinking, “This is perfectly blocked,” but it’s just completely random.
Seventh Row: Did you operate the camera on The Souvenir?
David Raedeker: I was operating the camera; most of the time [when I work], I do. It’s a way to get personal with the actors and get right in there.
Seventh Row: This film is about memory and about communicating the point of view of Julie. How did you go about creating her perspective?
David Raedeker: It’s definitely from her perspective. So with the camera, I tried to make it subjective. It’s not an observation, necessarily. It was like, How would I feel in her situation?
I found it interesting that Julie was attracted to an older figure, who would control and, to some extent, suppress her. I think we all have been in relationships which can have this suffocating tendency. If I can immerse myself into the character, I look at her differently, and the audience probably will do that, as well.
Seventh Row: When shooting the scenes that are excerpts from her student film, how did you approach getting into the mindset of someone making their first film?
David Raedeker: I was quite conscious of it as I had done that before. It’s really hard, actually, for a DP to frame something badly. So sometimes, I gave [Honor] the camera to film it, [but] we actually didn’t use [the footage that she shot]. To be honest, I did most of [the shooting of Julie’s short film] just out of practical reasons. It has to have that feeling of complete spontaneity, which is quite difficult, actually.
Seventh Row: So much of the film is shot in Julie’s apartment, which is a relatively small space. How did you go about doing that?
David Raedeker: I was a bit worried about the windows. There was a backdrop, and I was worried it was going to look fake; it wasn’t three-dimensional. The windows are really big. [The background image] was vague and [placed] not far [behind the window]. I thought, “This is going to look like [it was shot in] a [film] studio!” But Joanna was actually playing with that. She liked that ambiguity; sometimes, it looked like a studio, and then other times, it looked more real.
Seventh Row: The scenes in Venice reminded me of Don’t Look Now. Was it at all an inspiration?
David Raedeker: Not really, but we didn’t want to look away from it either. We tried not to think about it too much. But obviously, Don’t Look Now has a really great atmosphere. We changed the format for this [section of the film]. [In Venice], we shot on [a digital] 35 mm [format]. We wanted to give it a certain dream-like feel, a certain clarity.
Seventh Row: Did any films inform the making of The Souvenir?
David Raedeker: Not really, but Joanna loves film. Definitely Hitchcock. One reference, but it was a departure point more than an homage, was The Mirror. We both loved that film.
Seventh Row: The movie has so many mirrors, how did you shoot them, and how did they inform what you were doing?
David Raedeker: For me, they are great devices when you have very limited coverage because [on Hogg’s films] you can’t retake [since each take is different, and we are often structuring scenes with very few shots]. The mirror was a great way of shooting several actors at the same time. We need to shoot two people at the same time; without the mirror, you can lose one person. It is also about self-reflection, the subconscious.
I love the mirror in the Venice scene when [Julie] is crying. We put the mirror there, and I was hoping she’d go to it, but we never told her to. The crying was accidental; I didn’t expect any of that. Honestly, I was like, “Wow.”
Seventh Row: What’s it like working with different directors with different approaches?
David Raedeker: I did another film last year, and it was so different. The colour of the wall was so important. Everything was storyboarded in absolute detail. For me, that was interesting, as well. It’s a different way of working, and I’m always learning.
What always stays the same [on any film production] is that you have to feel [the atmosphere of the set] and express some emotion, and that can be done in different ways. Obviously, that is what you aim for, but you don’t always get that.
Seventh Row: Is it exciting for you to always be doing different things?
David Raedeker: Yes, absolutely. I mean this, Joanna’s project, was really rewarding. As a DP, I was thinking this is going to be difficult: “Oh, I guess I’m just here to capture the performance.“ But it was far from that. There was so much more for me to do and to learn. It was a really pleasant surprise.
We came up with the different formats, lighting and camera movement to create mood and texture to underline Julie’s journey emotionally. We were not looking at her objectively or looking to interpret her behaviour literally but built her character intuitively.
Seventh Row: Is there anything you learned about yourself and the world from this project?
David Raedeker: Letting go a bit more; letting accidents happen and enjoying that. It’s not that accidents just happen; it’s that Joanna lets accidents happen, and then that allows things to be pushed forward.
Credit: Seventh Row