Cinematographer Sam Care wrote in with details about his work on ITV’s ‘Nordic-noir’ detective series Marcella (season 3), starring Anna Friel as Detective Sergeant Marcella Backland, which airs on ITV from Tuesday 26th January 2021.
“When director Gilles Bannier first contacted me about shooting Marcella season 3, I was excited, as he described it as a re-boot, with a largely new set of characters and new setting in Belfast. We had the scope to come up with a fresh visual style for the show, whilst staying true to some classic recurring Marcella themes, such as her ‘fugue’ state-of-mind visuals which evolve in the new series. This was my fourth collaboration with Gilles, having previously worked with him on two seasons of The Tunnel for Sky Atlantic and In The Dark for BBC.
The story is now set in Belfast where Marcella has taken on the identity of Keira Devlin and is working undercover to infiltrate a wealthy organised crime family. This season has an amazing ensemble cast of Amanda Burton, Martin McCann, Aaron McCusker and Michael Colgan joining regulars Anna Friel, Ray Panthaki and Hugo Speer.
Gilles and I decided to go for a widescreen aspect ratio 2.00:1 and shot on Sony Venice in 4K Anamorphic mode making extensive use of the Venice’s native 2500ISO setting. After testing a variety of glass, we chose the Russian Elite S7 Anamorphic lenses from One Stop Films in London. We supplemented this set with a Cooke 35-140mm T3.1 zoom lens. The main camera package was supplied locally by Acorn rental in Belfast.
We decided on the Elite lenses as they had wonderful creamy softness in combination with the Sony sensor, and an interesting oval focus drop-off around the edges, which we felt matched Marcella’s precarious mental state visually.
We had two distinctive worlds we were portraying on-screen – the Maguire crime family’s mansion and the world of the Belfast estates, which they control. We decided to give the Maguire’s family story and locations a golden look of wealth and affluence, and to shoot primarily with the camera on a dolly / head to represent their stability and control over the world. We shot these scenes with Tiffen Antique Suede filters on the camera and warm gels on the lights. The Godfather shot by Gordon Willis ASC and The Yards shot by Harris Savides ASC were visual references for colour and lighting.
For the other world of the Belfast estates, we went for a colder look by setting the camera’s white balance to 4000 kelvin in daylight scenes. For night scenes we used a combination of actual metal halide fixtures for street lighting and HMI sources gelled with Lee Filters’ White Flame Green and 1/2 CTO. We shot this world primarily handheld to represent a sense of raw instability and the lack of control its characters have over their future. As the series progresses and the dynamics start to shift, we begin to merge these two visual styles together more and more.
We assembled a fantastic local camera, grip and lighting crew – A-cam operator, Angus Mitchell; A-cam focus puller, Paul Christie; and A-cam loader, Erin O’Rawe. Our key grip was Nick Chester, a New Zealander now based in Belfast. He came up with some great bespoke rigs, including a descender rig and ronin hand-off shot to end episode one. He also created some great car rigging to utilise the Sony Venice’s Rialto’s extension system which allows the removal of the front image block of the Sony Venice for mounting into a much smaller housing.
Our lighting team was headed up by gaffer Seamus Lynch, who I enjoyed working with immensely. His experience was invaluable and his understanding of lighting and enthusiasm for discussing it were fantastic. He had a great team around him too, including best boy Ger O’Hagen, plus Stuart Flynn and Gino Lynch.
We used LED fixtures extensively on the job – ARRI SkyPanel S360-Cs, S60-Cs, Asteras LED tubes, and LED ribbon inside practical lampshades using small battery powered wireless lumen radio drivers. To control all these LED fixtures we used a portable wireless DMX solution controlled via an iPad interface through the Luminair 3 app. The speed and portability of this system gave me instant studio-like control. Gino Lynch who was in charge of it, always lived by the monitor next to me so we could make quick adjustments to the fixtures whilst setting-up and rehearsing the shots.
Our main location was the Maguire’s mansion, which had some huge lighting challenges. A south-facing mansion with dozens of windows always poses a challenge for a cinematographer in terms of lighting control. We used a combination of large 20 x 20 eyebrows over windows to control the sunlight and then either lit directly with 18K HMI fixtures or bounced M90 HMIs on low stands into frames just above windows for a softer lighting effect.
For night-time scenes at the Maguire’s, Gilles was keen not to use any moonlight motivation. So we decided to continue the warm golden look of the location at night by using doubled layers of full CTO gel on our fixtures to create a sickly warm night-time look.
For our night exteriors Seamus and I used full Wendy lights with double full CTO on them. We had one in each main direction around the front of the house and used one at a time depending on the camera’s direction, as either a backlight or side light. We also used 5K and 10K tungsten fresnels dotted around the gardens to create pools of light in the background of shots.
I shot most scenes at T4 so we needed quite a bit of light to achieve this stop at night. I was happy with the results and the decision to use a warm colour temperature even for a rural night exterior seemed strangely more motivated in the finished scenes than I feel cooler moonlight would have been.
Some of the most interesting elements of Marcella’s character were the dissociative fugues she experiences and the way they were visualised. In season 3, these fugues have evolved into more of a split personality disorder, as Marcella loses touch with the reality of her undercover identity and her real self. In moments where this emerged we wanted to use a new visual technique to represent this on screen. So I developed some bespoke diopters for this look. I cut holes and shapes in old diopters of different intensities, as well as placing optical glass shapes over diopters to cancel out their magnification. Then we shot and focused through these sections of the diopters so the surrounding glass knocked the edges of the frame massively out of focus and introduced some double imaging to represent her split personality. We also shot Marcella into mirrors with a fractured double image effect to continue this visual theme.
Marcella 3’s post production was completed at Belfast’s Yellowmoon Post and graded by their colourist Scott Ferguson. I was shooting another project during the grade period, but they kindly arranged for me to be able to fly over and grade during my weekends. I found the Sony Venice’s colour capability and flexibility in the grade to be quite incredible as well as it’s dual native ISO options which allowed me to shoot at 2500 ISO and helped me to light for my preferred stop of T4 on these beautiful pieces of Russian glass.”
BTS photos by Steffan Hill. Image copyright: BUCCANEER MEDIA/ITV
Sam Care is represented by Casarotto Ramsay. To view a trailer and montage of images from Marcella (S3) please visit: