'Mr. Turner' DP Dick Pope on Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Master Artist

“In the end the film looked neither like celluloid or digital,” the cinematographer explains.
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In looking for cinematic inspiration for his work on Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, cinematographer Dick Pope had to look no further than the subject of the biopic himself. “Turner’s palette, that really was my starting point,” he tells Below the Line about the 19th century painter. “I discovered through research that he used warm yellow in his highlights and blue-green, really teal, in his shadow areas. They were his two main complementary colors. I took these and applied them to the coloration of the film. That was the key for me.”

Because of the closing down of films labs in England, Pope had to turn to digital cinematography. “In the end the film looked neither like celluloid or digital,” he explains. “Here I am using the digital state-of-the-art [ARRI] Alexa and the Arri RAW which give you the maximum detail in the image, the maximum latitude, the maximum range and I’m combining it with antique lenses that break down all that sharpness and give me the look of a period film.” Pope chose Cooke Speed Panchro lenses for the task.

Ultimately, Pope feels his most important job is framing and camera placement. “Mike and I collaborate very closely on camera placement; that’s what we mostly do together, talk about how to shoot a scene, from what vantage point and whose point of view,” he says, adding of the film’s many over-the-shoulder shots, “we’re looking down at [Turner] as he’s looking out, watching and observing. That was a conscious decision, to be looking at his world with him in it. The film is like a walk through his paintings with him caught up in the landscape."

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