Shooting an Acclaimed Indie Film in India and Australia, Then Entering the Star Wars Universe

Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS, has received, by his own admission, quite a working education over the course of the last two-plus years. During that time, he launched into a lengthy prep stage for the newest entry into the Star Wars universe, Rogue One, picking up tools, techniques, and insight that he immediately applied to shooting the acclaimed independent film, Lion, which earned him the Golden Frog top prize at the Camerimage cinematography festival in Poland in November and is now generating awards-season heat. In turn, that experience informed certain aspects of his methodology while rolling right into shooting Rogue One, and following that, the just finished Mary Magdalene project with his Lion director and good friend, Garth Davis — a film that does not yet have an official release date.

To hear our full conversation with Greig Fraser, watch the video below or right-click here to download an audio-only version.

Fraser says the entire combined experience has “been a dream” and “technically very difficult” simultaneously, but well worth it because, at the end of the day, the ride has made him a better cinematographer. 

“Every job, you learn, and [these three jobs back-to-back-to-back], I’ve definitely learned,” he recently told StudioDaily during a conversation for the Podcasts from the Front Lines series. “I’ve particularly learned about camera technology, sensor size, LED technology, and I’ve returned to large-format filmmaking again [for Rogue One and Mary Magdalene]. It’s been very exciting.”

He is particularly excited about the positive response recently to Lion, which is based on a true story about a young man who, as a small child in India, was accidentally lost by his family and adopted by an Australian family. While growing up in Australia, he becomes obsessed with figuring out how and where he became separated from his original family, and trying to find them again. That movie is, creatively and visually, a universe away from Rogue One, and yet, Fraser says, “in my brain, they technically amalgamated into one project.”

“We probably had six months before we started shooting [Rogue One], and so we could make really interesting decisions based on [testing he did for that movie],” he explains. “Some of those decisions were for Lion, [even though] the subject material couldn’t be more different. I made a decision early on that I could shoot Rogue One with color-changeable LED’s. For the first time, I saw enough products out there on the market that I felt I could do an entire film with LED [lighting]. At the same time, that testing proved to me that I could do this idea I had to go to India with very few [motion-picture lights for Lion] in order to keep the shooting style the way it should be: very rough, very on the fly, very natural, though not documentary. 

“I realized from the Star Wars testing that I could get away with, literally, a Pelican case with three Digital Sputnik [LED] heads in it. I could do the entire India component with three small LED heads on Lion. It’s a good story to say that — I actually did use some HMI’s for two scenes, but the rest of the time, that truck stayed well away, and we used a small kit.”