Top Hat is the story of Graham, a timid Saturday boy who works at a dry cleaners. His boss (Don) runs a tight ship and constantly berates Graham for his incompetence at the job. When 'The Gentleman' enters the shop, and asks for his top hat to be dry-cleaned, Graham happily agrees. When Graham accidentally shrinks the top hat, he believes he is in serious trouble. What follows is beyond even Graham's wildest imagination.
This project represents my second collaboration with Director Michael Middleton-Downer, and my first with Producer Sian Tomlinson. After reading Samuel Hutchinson's wonderfully warm and quirky screenplay, I phoned up Mike and committed straight away. Good writing is the basis of all great cinematic works, and it's important to not let such gems slip through the net.
Mike and I met up soon afterwards, throwing ideas back and forth, and trying to find the right visual approach that best captured the spirit of the original writing. Sometimes, the visuals jump right off the page when I read a script, whereas with others it can take some time. This was certainly the latter, but it's important that the process remains as organic as possible, otherwise you can end up with lighting and camera movement that is superficial and unmotivated.
It then quickly dawned on me that the script needed a different approach, not from a naturalistic perspective, but from a somewhat alternate reality. I began re-watching the films of Wes Anderson and Jean Pierre-Jeunet, and took particular interest in the beautifully-composed anamorphic cinematography and precise camera movements, which effortlessly captures a somewhat otherworldly quirkiness. I particularly liked the lensing of the artists close to the camera, especially with the use of wider lenses and the warm, glowing colour palette.
Whilst shooting anamorphic would have been ideal, it would have also placed too much strain on our budget, and even higher demands on production design, lighting and framing. Our location was small and we needed to work fast. For these reasons we decided to shoot spherically on Cooke S4 lenses in the 2:35:1 aspect ratio and chose the 3-perf configuration for increased efficiency and flexibility in post-production. It was at this time that I also decided that shooting uncorrected KODAK VISION3 250D with tungsten-only fixtures would provide us with the glowing warmth that we were looking for.
We shot incredibly efficiently and decided against video assist, as we both agreed that time was of the essence and we wanted to make the most of the limited space available. Our shooting ratio was tight, partly due to budget, but also because myself and Mike prefer to rehearse extensively and then go for a couple of takes, rather than be wasteful in our creative approach.
I decided to rate the VISION3 250D at 125ASA in order to bloom the highlights a little and give more punch to the image. Toby Tomkins then performed a fantastic grade at TJTFilm, bringing the overall image down a touch and toning down the blacks just enough to give the images the kick required, whilst being true to the original camera negative.
The dynamic range of the VISION3 stocks are truly remarkable, so much so that I very rarely use fill at all. If I ever do, it is almost always passive, rather than a lighting-fixture. The stock renders skin tones beautifully, even under uncorrected tungsten lighting, whilst still retaining the organic texture and quality that I love about film.
Top Hat was processed and scanned at iDailies (London, UK) and scanned at 2K resolution for the grade. iDailies have played a crucial role in making these projects possible and I would like to thank Nigel Horn and the entire team for their professionalism and continued support for film-makers wishing to originate on film.
Top Hat was a joy to work on, and I must thank both Mike and Sian Tomlinson for having the faith in me to deliver, we are all very happy with the finished result and I very much look forward to working on future projects with the team.
TOP HAT MASTER 1080P H264 MQ from We Move Pictures on Vimeo.
Nick Eriksson - Director of Photography