For Lights, Camera … we ask a craftsperson to talk about a specific scene in his or her latest film. This week, cinematographer Danny Cohen writes about creating tension in “The King’s Speech” and the tricky lighting issues of filming in a recording booth.
In the climax of “The King’s Speech,” Colin Firth comes within 2 inches of a microphone to deliver a speech announcing the outbreak of war. Public speaking is something the monarch he plays has always dreaded due to a paralyzing speech impediment. But this is truly a moment to which a monarch is expected to rise.
The audience sees King George VI summoning up all his courage to successfully overcome his anxieties and fears to prove his mastery of oratory for this most important of all speeches.
The success of the film comes in part from always being with the king. Emotionally, the audience invests an enormous amount in the character, and that empathy is subtly pushed along by using interesting camera angles. Wide lenses were used very close to the actors’ faces to really get under their skin, camera movement and lighting makes it compelling and keeps the viewer engaged with the anxious monarch.
Filming this end sequence in Lancaster House was a little tricky on a practical level, with the restrictions of filming on location in a historic building undergoing restoration (the entire exterior was covered in scaffolding).
We had to have a plan that would allow light through the windows but not glimpse the scaffolding or the 30 lights we had placed on the scaffolding the entire length of the building. We rigged 300 meters [328 yards] of off-white Egyptian cotton to the windows so as to render the lamps invisible but which still gave the feel of natural light coming through the windows. Lighting through the windows like this gave us a lot of flexibility and unimpeded views of the long corridors. It also gave us a full day’s shooting in the middle of winter, when you lose daylight at about 4:30 in the afternoon!
The recording booth was re-created as a set to allow us the ability to shoot a lot of angles that would have been impossible in the real location.
Hopefully, there is nothing that interrupts the move from Lancaster House to a set and then back again.