“The Images Mostly Emerged Intuitively”: DP Yunus Roy Imer on The Outrun
In The Outrun, a London woman’s return to Scotland’s Orkney Islands as she attempts to reconcile herself with the past and her drug addictions. Based on the bestselling memoir by Amy Liptrot and directed by Nora Fingscheidt (The Unforgivable, System Crasher), the film includes on-location shooting in both London and on Orkney.
Below, cinematographer Yunus Roy Imer recounts the difficulty of shooting a harsh Orkney winter during the summer and explains the various cameras and lenses he used to make sure the look of the film was always perfect.
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?
Roy Imer: The director Nora Fingscheidt and I have a long film partnership. We studied together at film school and worked together on many different films. She is one of my most formative relationships in film. When she approached me for The Outrun, a film adaptation starring Saoirse Ronan of the novel of the same name, it was immediately clear to me that I wanted to do this project with her. It connects past joint projects in an abstract way and at the same time brought exciting new elements with it.
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?
Roy Imer: The story is about a young woman trying to overcome her addiction to alcohol and dealing with her mental health issues and her family and finding comfort and power in nature. Most of the time the camera is very character orientated. I felt that the greatest challenge was to make the inner processes and experiences tangible in a nuanced and sensitive way and to find the right images for them, and I have the feeling that the best way to do this is that we go on Rona’s journey with her and, throughout the film, experience many different places and situations together with her. In doing so, we visually deal with different places in different ways, and I feel that this variety adds more layers to the story that we share with her. We also opted for different lens sets and aspect ratios to visually distinguish certain strands of the story from one another and to provide clearer differentiation and better orientation in the story.
Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, of photography, or something else?
Roy Imer: Original locations from the life and novel of the author Amy Liptrot, where we were lucky enough to shoot, had a big visual influence on our work. Each location has its own dramaturgical meaning and dynamic for Rona and therefore provides dramaturgical clues in a natural way. Through the scenes and the performances, the images mostly emerged intuitively, especially in terms of the movement and rhythm of the camera. Another important reference was the composition by John Gürtler and Jan Miserre for certain scenes, which we heard on set, and which strongly characterized the movement and tempo of the camera through their own dramaturgy.
Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?
Roy Imer: Shooting in the original locations of course brought challenges, such as having to consider the personal stories of all the people and communities we were filming with and whose lives were affected by our shoot, but fortunately we had a lot of support, help and understanding from the communities on Orkney. Not to be underestimated was the logistical challenge of bringing a film crew with all the equipment to a small island inhabited by very few people. Another challenge was to manage the documentary style of filming with a large team for certain scenes of the film, because we were dependent on the documentary moments but also on the crew. And filming a harsh and rough winter on Orkney despite the beautiful weather in the summer months wasn’t easy either. But I think we still managed to capture a few wintry moments thanks to my additional documentary camera and also to second unit DP Matthias Pilz, who went up to Orkney on his own for 2 days during winter.
Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?
Roy Imer: Because we were shooting in the UK, the contacts of production manager Wendy Griffin also led to working with the distributor Panavision, whose lenses I had wanted to shoot with for some time. I was delighted when it worked out and we could finally film with the C-Series, really special anamorphic lightweight lenses with a very nice look for the London storyline.
For the Orkney part we shot with Panavision Primo Primes, which are also very nice lenses, but have a much more neutral look compared to the C-Series. For the essayistic documentary layers, I had a S16 Cooke Zoom lens—the idea came from Charlie Todman of Panavision (thanks also to Patrick Matterson and Andrew Alexander)—which I always had with me with a camera to capture moments, landscapes, nature or special weather moods in an uncomplicated way in between, when traveling to and from the set, on unit moves or days off. For the cameras, I chose Alexa Mini and Amira. In the end it was a budget decision not to shoot on newer Arri cameras, but I still like the Alexa Mini as a small handy reliable camera and the Amira was very handy for the documentary sequences.
Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.
Roy Imer: Natural light is always an important factor and inspiration for me and, depending on the project, also a technical orientation. Gaffer Gordon Goodwin was a great partner for this collaboration. Basically, we were lucky with the locations, which made it easier for us to work with the light.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?
Roy Imer: There was only one location that we really designed from scratch, and I’m really pleased with the result. It’s an old ship’s searchlight hanging from the ceiling, based on a great idea by Nora, which rotates on its own axis like a lighthouse and is the only source of light alongside small, darker lights on the wall. I really like the tension this creates in the scene, and big thanks to the lighting department for finding the beautiful old lamp and then having it rotate while hanging from the ceiling.
Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?
Roy Imer: I really like working with an attenuated Arri Rec709 LUT. I like the look very much, but at 100% it creates too much for me. At about 80%, however, it’s a very good reference for exposure, contrast and color, and for me it’s a very good starting point for grading, where most of the look work was done on this shoot together with the amazing grader Nico Hauter.
Film Title: The Outrun
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini, Arri Amira
Lenses: Panavision C-Series, Panavision Primo Primes, S16 Cooke-Zoom, Panavision Lens Baby, Laowa Macro Probe
Lighting: Gordon Goodwin
Processing: Rotor Film
Color Grading: Nico Hauter