(l-r) Georgia King, James Callis, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie and Keri Russell. (Photos by Giles Keyte, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics).
Larry Smith, BSC teamed with Jerusha Hess for her directorial feature debut Austenland. The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, is a romantic comedy about a single, 30- something woman obsessed with all things Jane Austen.
Keri Russell stars as Jane Haynes, whose love life is being ruined by Mr. Darcy — played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice — as no real man can compare. Haynes decides to spend her life savings on a trip to an English resort that caters to Austen fanatics, and her fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined.
Smith came up under the tutelage of director Stanley Kubrick. Their history was first cemented on the set of Barry Lyndon, where Smith was chief electrician and they spoke in depth regarding lighting rigs. He started working on The Shining as a gaffer about a year before principal photography, designing all of the lights using non-film lights built from scratch to achieve the effect of being in a real hotel. After 13 years of working almost nonstop for Kubrick, Smith embarked on new challenges and shot over a thousand commercials with such renowned directors as Ridley Scott, Doug Liman, Adrian Lyne, Daniel Barber, and Paul Weiland. Upon reconnecting years later, Kubrick asked Smith to shoot Eyes Wide Shut. He has since shot features such as The Guard, The Blue Mansion, Bronson, and Only God Forgives.
Smith takes pride in purposefully avoiding the notion to visually reference other films for a new project. “I don’t like doing that and I prefer to approach a project asking, ‘What is the production design and what does the story call for?’ I like to go in with an open mind."
“For this film, the producers were going for a brighter, high-key look for the story,” he explains. “And toward the end of the prep period, we basically realized we might be in the wrong location for the look they wanted for the interiors.”
Production took place in the U.K., just outside of London. The West Wycombe House provides a setting that is the epitome of the typical old English country home, complete with heavy drapery, dark wallpaper, ornate ceilings and centuries-old relics at every corner. The descendants of the original owners still reside in the house, but it is technically owned by the National Trust and considered a museum.
“I know the house quite well,” says Smith, who has shot there previously. “Its look lent itself very well to how I tend to shoot, which is more contrast-y. There are large shafts of light through windows and you can use only practicals for night interiors. But for this film, we needed to make it bright.”
Smith knew KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 5213 and KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 wouldn’t fail him in this situation, as he most often opts for these particular stocks, knowing their sensitivities and capabilities like the back of his hand.
“Typically, one would have to be in a studio to get that kind of bright light look,” explains Smith. “I had to really think hard, and use a style of lighting I wasn’t entirely comfortable with to bring the interior light up, and to convince the owners that it wouldn’t be detrimental to the gorgeous ornate ceilings and walls. It was a real struggle to get that look.”
The production wasn’t allowed to take anything out of the house, or to rig from anything existing in the house, so they put up minimal lighting rigs far from the walls and brought in the coolest HMIs Smith could find. He colored them to look like tungsten for night interiors and bounced the light off the ceilings, building up the ambient light inside without making it look lit.
“It’s fine to change a style of lighting for a particular project,” he adds, “but you’ve got to be comfortable with the fact that the style you’ve changed to is something you’re happy with. Ultimately, we did reach that happy compromise.”
Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions purchased the distribution rights to Austenland after its Sundance premiere, and the film will begin hitting cinema screens in August.