The recent spate of announcements from the Hollywood studios about vintage blockbusters such as Titanic, Top Gun and Ghostbusters along with several Disney movies getting the 3D makeover seems to have piqued interest in the industry 'behind the scenes'. Understandably, the glitz and glamour in front of the camera often eclipses the less sexy technical aspects of movie-making, but in the last couple of weeks I have been asked, several times, what exactly it is I do and how I got into it - and my experiences as a (rare) female camerawoman and stereographer.
I wanted to become a photographer, the opportunity to take photographs and travel combined two things I loved. It was the story behind the image that fascinated me. Making films is all about telling stories and you can choose to tell that story in countless different ways. I'm fascinated by that process and that's what inspired me to become a Director of Photography.
I entered the industry as a trainee clapper loader on features such as Lost In Space and The Avengers. It was an exciting time finding myself on a train to the South of France to work on my first feature with Jessica Lang, Hugh Laurie and Bob Hoskins. However from the outset I knew that I wanted to be a Director of Photography, the person who is ultimately in charge of the camera and lighting on a film, so I applied to the National Film & Television School. I didn't actually expect to get in because it's very competitive and there were only six places, so it came as a happy surprise. People tried to dissuade me from going because traditionally they work their way up from within the industry. This can take a very long time and besides I would have regretted not trying so I went.
It was very different leaving film school and entering the real world - and in terms of my industry, the male world. Most jobs I turned up at on no-one had ever met a female camerawoman before which for some reason surprised me, no matter how many times I heard it. I was only aware of one well-known female Director of Photography at that time.
I have worked across a range of projects - from Hollywood blockbusters such as Lost in Space and the forthcoming Jack the Giant Killer to documentaries in war-torn Kosovo. On Tim Burton's Corpse Bride I worked as part of a team of lighting cameramen, which was interesting because it gave me the opportunity to see how other cameramen work.
Filming in 3D is proving to be an exciting additional new chapter in my career. I met renowned stereographer, Chris Parks, whilst lighting a camera test in 3D and he trained me a stereographer with his company Vision3. There was barely any equipment in the UK three years ago but this has now changed. New technologies are enabling us to shoot 3D in ever more challenging scenarios; it has been such an exciting privilege to be at the forefront of 3D filmmaking. Amongst my favourite personal highlights are working on Flying Monsters which was the first 3D film to win a BAFTA this year - Sir David Attenborough, a veteran of filmmaking, embraced all the creative potential we are able to bring to projects in 3D. Other exciting moments have included filming a high speed car chase and bulls running through the city centre of Johannesburg.
Filming Kylie Minogue in 3D for her world tour this year was a challenge as a stereographer because I approached it in a different way to how live events would usually be shot. I was able to work with the director and discuss ideas in advance. Our show wasn't being screened live and so we were able to avoid some of the limitations that you may usually have. I worked with a live outside broadcast company who have filmed hundreds of events and so part of the challenge was asking them to work with me in a different way. Commercials are all about creating something beautiful and close-ups can work really well in 3D if approached in the right way. It was brilliant being the first stereographer to film Kate Moss in 3D. We created a stunning shot of her in slow motion throwing diamonds towards the camera.
Ultimately the equipment is just a tool and of course it's how you use it that gives the creative result. I am now looking to work with filmmakers who can bring something different to the medium and think about it in a completely unique way. This requires them to think beyond the visual storytelling conventions of 2D.
It's coincidental and yet timely that I'm writing this blog on the eve of my 40th birthday. Next year I will have worked in the film industry for 20 years. You never stop learning and there's always a new challenge, which is why experience is valued so highly. I must be one of the few people who wanted to look older in my 30s - it didn't help at interviews or meetings being short and looking younger. After various double takes at passport controls worldwide and one passport officer asking where the little girl in the picture is, it is now no longer a problem!