“We Needed To Embrace a Certain Amount of Ugliness”: DP Dustin Lane on Sometimes I Think About Dying
Daisy Ridley stars in Sometimes I Think About Dying, directed by Rachel Lambert and co-written by Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz and Katy Wright-Mead. Ridley plays Fran, an office worker who, as the film’s title suggests, is driven to such mind-numbing boredom that she often thinks about her own death to pass the time. That is, until a new employee named Robert (Dave Merheje) begins striking up conversation with her. Surprisingly, he manages to pique her interest, effectively breaking the monotony of her isolating office job.
DP Dustin Lane tells Filmmaker how he crafted the visual language of the film with Lambert, utilizing photography and movie references and how he contrasted dull office spaces with the charm of the project’s Oregon setting.
See all responses to our annual Sundance cinematographer interviews here.
Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the cinematographer of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?
Lane: Director Rachel Lambert and I had met years ago through mutual friends, including SITAD Editor Ryan Kendrick. Rachel reached out directly with the script and we had a long call where she shared her ideas and the tone she had imagined for the film. I was especially excited by how much she wanted to embrace the world of Astoria and all the atmosphere it was able to provide. It felt like we were very quickly aligned as to an approach that would nurture her vision.
Filmmaker: What were your artistic goals on this film, and how did you realize them? How did you want your cinematography to enhance the film’s storytelling and treatment of its characters?
Lane: Our goal with the look of the film was to impress a photographic quality to the images that would allow the story to swirl around Fran (Daisy Ridley), who is in almost every shot of the film. We didn’t do a lot of traditional shot listing, but more so discussed what information was most important to convey from scene to scene. This allowed us to have a strong guideline but stay flexible and open to what we may discover through rehearsal and improvisation.
Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, of photography, or something else?
Lane: About a third of our film takes place in an office, in reading the script I was imagining images from Robin L. Dalhberg’s Billable Hours series. Very austere moments of mundanity in the office space was the right approach. We also felt a lot of pressure to illustrate a sense of place in the town of Astoria, Oregon. We referenced a few films that we felt were successful in their atmosphere, Manchester By the Sea (Jody Lee Lipes, ASC), for example, beautifully captures its environment and nuance. Beyond that I am a massive fan of Pedro Costa’s films and his incredible photographic compositions.
Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?
Lane: I feel often with filmmaking the most important resource is time. We could have used a bit more in a few instances. Our office set came together just in time for principal photography to begin. Whenever we faced a challenge, production was always there to help us solve the puzzle, we had amazing support from Alex Saks and our local team.
Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?
Lane: We really wanted to push towards a photographic look for the film, personally I feel like the full frame 3:2 sensor of the Sony Venice creates that medium format feeling very well. The Canon K35s have been a favorite lens set since I first used them on Dayveon (Sundance ’17) and I knew they would support the look we were after. Shooting close to wide open most of the time helped to carve out Fran from her mostly dreary world.
Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.
Lane: The town of Astoria, Oregon has such rich textured locations, and during winter very consistently grey skies. Most of our sets were 70% of the way there in terms of the feeling and look we wanted. We had a very small crew and often had to move quickly between set ups. I was extremely grateful to be collaborating with Gaffer Chris Hill, who had so many creative ways to create shape and contrast with minimal tools. Outside of work, Fran’s world is a bit more modeled and colorful. Inside the office, we knew we needed to embrace a certain amount of ugliness, which I think adds a feeling of honesty to those scenes.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?
Lane: We had two nights to shoot a dinner party on a house boat. It was extremely close quarters, constantly shifting our crew, gear and talent around. Rachel and I had really thrived on a sense of discovery up until this point in the shoot, planning certain frames for sure but leaving a lot to be found through experimenting with blocking and improv. We were also able to consult often with editor Ryan Kendrick, who was looking at scenes just a day or two behind. These conversations allowed us to feel confident in the camera language we were developing, and ultimately aided in shooting out these days very efficiently.
Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?
Lane: Colorist Bradley Greer was able to use our onset LUT as a guide to where we wanted the curve to land, but was able to massage certain tones here and there beyond what we were able to do on set. Really helped solidify our looks, especially in the office scenes.
Film Title: Sometimes I Think About Dying
Camera: Sony Venice, Blackmagic PCC 6K
Lenses: Canon K35
Lighting: Creamsource, Digital Sputnik, Astera, CRLS
Color Grading: Davinici Resolve