“A Love Letter to South London”: DP Olan Collardy on Rye Lane
Two recently-heartbroken 20-somethings spend a day kindling an unexpected romance in Rye Lane, Raine Allen-Miller’s debut feature with a script by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia. As Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) galavant through South London’s Peckham neighborhood, they begin to mend lingering wounds from past relationships and inch closer to the prospect of falling in love again.
Cinematographer Olan Collardy discusses his desire to subvert rom-com conventions, Rye Lane‘s “eclectic mix of influences” and the challenges of shooting the film’s boat rendezvous scene.
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?
Collardy: [Director] Raine [Allen-Miller] and I had crossed paths in the commercial filmmaking industry for some time, but it wasn’t until we worked together on a commercial project in 2020 that our collaboration truly began. Although the project, shot entirely on a mobile phone, wasn’t the best showcase for my camera and lighting abilities, it allowed Raine to see my work ethic, demeanor, and how I ran a set. She knew then that I was someone she wanted to keep working with. Six months later, I received a message from Raine with the script to a feature film she was working on, asking if I would be interested in shooting it. I was immediately hooked by the compelling story and witty dialogue and knew that Raine was the perfect director to collaborate with. With her unique vision and talent, I knew that together, we could create something visually striking and truly unique.
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?
Collardy: My main objective was to challenge the status quo and push beyond the conventions of the genre with Rye Lane. Our vision was to create a film that was both edgy and distinct, yet still relatable to audiences. To achieve this, we decided to shoot in anamorphic format, as it allowed us to hero South London and showing it in a grand scope while also capturing the textures of the environment and doing justice to the faces and skin-tones of our actors as well as amplifying the essence of their character which was at the heart of the story.
Even though I wanted to create a visually striking and unique film, I also wanted to maintain a traditional approach to the cinematography, keeping the camera objective and allowing the story to be told through framing and composition. To achieve this, we aimed for longer shots where the frame develops over time. We used close-ups and wide shots to highlight the characters and the world they inhabit, making them feel larger than life. We also used top shots to convey the sense of an observer watching the events unfold, and split diopter shots as a storytelling device to create a connection between foreground and background. This approach helped to maintain tension in scenes and guide the audience’s attention to what was important, while preserving our intent in the editing process.
Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, or photography, or something else?
Collardy: Given our unique visual ambition for Rye Lane, drawing inspiration from a wide variety of films from different genres was vital. We sought to answer the question of what a film with the surrealism of Sorry to Bother You, the raw honesty of Fleabag, the comedic absurdity of Superbad, the intricate details and pacing of Amelie, the cultural understanding of Do the Right Thing, the unapologetic Britishness of Shaun of the Dead and the genre-subverting brilliance of Get Out would look like. With this eclectic mix of influences, we aimed to create a film that was truly unique, that would captivate, surprise, and leave a lasting impression on audiences.
Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?
Collardy: The biggest challenge was creating a visually consistent film that chronologically follows the adventures of two characters which happens largely outside during the day, while also dealing with the unpredictable and unstable British weather. The task of creating a vibrant looking film was made even more difficult by the added challenge of shooting in the middle of a pandemic without visually time-stamping the film as taking place during this period. Populating the exteriors with enough people while also avoiding seeing PPE masks in the background added an additional layer of complexity.
Our choice of [anamorphic] lenses played a role in overcoming these challenges. In fact, they were both a blessing and a curse. The wide scope of the shots required more elements to be controlled, but the beautiful bokeh created by the lenses helped things in the deep background to dissolve into a painterly canvas, thus making it easier to control. Additionally, we embraced shooting low angles so that the background would be mostly buildings and the sky when we had little control of our environment.
Working closely with the Assistant Director helped with scheduling and moving the jigsaw of scenes around to take advantage of the most favorable weather and sun conditions. For scenes that played out during the day over multiple pages, we used large light sources to give consistency to the direction of light. The final film’s look was then handled during the color grade to create a consistent look across the scenes, resulting in a film that felt visually chronological.
Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?
Collardy: I chose to shoot with the ARRI ALEXA Mini, as I have found it to be one of the best digital cameras on the market in terms of color rendition and skin-tone reproduction. These two factors were of paramount importance to me, given the nature of the world and the characters we were capturing on film.
In my search for the perfect lenses, I stumbled upon the JDC Xtal Xpress High Speed Anamorphic lens set. Their vintage character and charm lent a distinct and beautiful aesthetic that elevated the film’s visual language. The wider end of the lens set quickly became our go-to for its ability to transform every frame into a vibrant and striking image, capturing the unique distortions that were perfect for the style and story of the film. These lenses were an integral part of our artistic vision, bringing the film’s atmosphere and characters to life in a captivating and memorable way. I wanted Rye Lane to be a love letter to South London, the lenses gave us the right brush strokes and texture in the calligraphy of this letter. South London looked soft, beautiful and tender with the painterly artifacts anamorphic bokeh gives to the background.
Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.
Collardy: In order to create the believable world of Rye Lane, I wanted to make sure that the film was naturally grounded, so that the viewer would remain in a believable world. This strategy allowed for a bigger payoff when we had our surreal vignettes, as it helped the audience keep track of what was real and what was expressionistic. My gaffer, Bill Rae-Smith, came up with really clever techniques to give our vignettes a very colorful and ethereal look.
I used ambient light for our day exteriors to produce a naturalistic look and feel to the environment and left the eclectic infusion to come from our lenses, production design, and wardrobe. My approach to lighting spaces and faces was heavily influenced by Dutch masters such as Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt paintings. I embraced soft light as a way to ensure that the light source remained unseen but felt, which is in line with my ethos about unaffected and unpretentious lighting. Our interior lighting was also influenced by this, having a feeling of a single key light source and working closely with the Production Designer to get the right practical light sources built into the scene.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?
Collardy: Choreographing and shooting the boat rendezvous scene with our actors proved to be one of the most challenging scenes during production. The scene involved one actor on the ground and the other on a moving boat that had to make a precise U-turn under a pedestrian bridge. The bridge was only available for filming for five minutes at a time, and this window of opportunity had to be used to clear the public from the bridge as well. The scene involved many moving parts including the tide, weather, background extras, and actors hitting their marks and performing actions while the camera was rolling.
Thanks to the meticulous planning and storyboarding, the hard work of our AD team and the actors nailing their marks, we were able to capture the thrilling moment just as we had envisioned. It was a moment of triumph, as all the moving parts came together to create a truly captivating turning point in the film.
Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?
Collardy: Before we began principal photography, I conducted some screen tests which I then used to create a LUT for the film. Working with the team at Digital Orchard, we adjusted luminance, contrast and other parameters in my usual LUT. We also did some work on the mid-tones, to create density in skin-tones and tame highlights. Jack McGinity did an incredible job in the color grading process, elevating the look we captured on set, giving the film a consistent overall look. He also introduced filmic grain, to give the image a handmade, textured look. This helped to bring out the full visual potential of the film and enhance the look of the world we created.
Film Title: Rye Lane
Camera: ARRI ALEXA Mini
Lenses: JDC Xtal Xpress High Speed Anamorphic lens
Lighting: Tungsten, HMI, LED
Processing: Digital DI
Color Grading: Graded in DaVinci Resolve @ GoldCrest