Doing ‘Small Ax: Lovers Rock’ with Steve McQueen and the Director of Photography
Toolkit: Watch Steve McQueen and DP Shabier Kirchner break down the movement, music, color and light of “Lovers Rock”.
When he premiered “Lovers Rock” – a chapter in his five-part anthology series “Small Ax” – at the 2020 New York Film Festival, Steve McQueen was surprised that so many viewers were crying in reaction to his film. on a 1979 house party.
“It was amazing that people reacted and reacted to it in such a moving way,” said McQueen. “It was a celebration of all the senses, and I think it was quite amazing that the abstraction of narrative through color and movement could be celebrated in this way.
When McQueen and his “Small Ax” cinematographer Shabier Kirchner were on the Toolkit podcast, the director gave a lot of the credit to his young DP. According to McQueen, in the “Lovers Rock” storyline, entire dance sequences were given simple two-sentence descriptions. The key was to create a real vibe and atmosphere on set with the cast of the ensemble, and then let her young DP rip it off.
“It was in a lot of ways playing the mode with a camera, and I think what Shabier has is a great sense of balance,” McQueen explained. “You can throw it in the middle of something, like we did in the ‘Mangrove’ protest scenes, and there you are. Therefore, when you have someone with that ability, you can really move and go. There is no difference between the people in the frame and the person holding the camera. “
Kirchner made the comparison to being a jazz musician, knowing that when he operated the camera he would need to go from point A to point B, but how he got there was more about feel the moment and play with the dance cast. What McQueen liked about the dance scenes was that it was about a black cinematographer and black cast “rocking”, adding “as a director the less I do the better. I am as a director.
The jazz improvisation analogy went far beyond Kirchner’s use of the camera, it also applied to the way he adjusted the light and colored the costumes of designer Jacqueline Durran. In an adjacent room, the cinematographer had a team on light boards that he spoke to through headphones, and as his camera shifted from character to character and costume to costume, the team constantly adjusted the lighting scheme. .
“As the party continued, we had the option of playing the light against the costume, and that was something that happened in real time as the song progressed,” Kirchner said. “It was essentially a conversation between light and costume. Every moment, the lights are constantly changing. “
Watch Kirchner and McQueen explain how they filmed the “Lovers Rock” dance scenes in the video below:
Overall, the warm, colorful and inviting light of the “Lovers Rock” dance floor played into Kirchner’s larger lighting scheme for the “Small Ax” anthology as a whole. The dance floor inside the house is one of the few moments and spaces in the series that is not overrun with white people and institutional structures discriminating against the West Indian community in London.
“One of the great things for me was here was an example where night is the sacred place, the special and welcoming place, and the day and the daylight is that oppressive thing,” Kirchner said. “You can notice throughout the series, that oppressive daylight, being the white light that is constantly trying to invade this space.”
Also on the podcast, the director of “Small Ax” and his cinematographer familiarized themselves with the visual language of “Mangrove” and McQueen’s autobiographical story in “Education,” which led to a dead end ( the director refusing to give in) on the set of this film. chapter in 16mm. To listen to the full conversation, subscribe below:
The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple, Spotify, Overcast, and Stitcher podcasts. The music used in this podcast is taken from the sheet music “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present”, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.