Behind The Scenes On Don’t Look Now

A photo retrospective of the cinematic great

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Don’t Look Now is a film that seems to get better with age. It’s almost impossible to pin down - equal parts psychological horror, moving family drama and sharp-as-cut-glass whodunit set on the dank, wintery streets of Venice – and is inarguably director Nicolas Roeg’s most influential film. Thanks to Roeg’s masterful direction and Graeme Clifford’s editing, mingling the everyday and the supernatural into something tender and unnerving, this Daphne du Maurier tale of a grieving couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) and a mysterious figure in a red coat still sends shivers down the spine. To mark its release in scarlet-duffle-coat-enhancing 1080p, Empire asked the film’s cinematographer Tony Richmond to talk through some rarely-seen behind-the-scenes shots and stills from the production.

"Nic [Roeg] and I met on a movie in Israel called Judith with Peter Finch, Sophia Loren and Jack Hawkins in 1965. He was second unit director and I was a clapper boy on the first unit. He and his crew seemed like a good bunch of chaps, so I hung out with them a lot, and I went on to work as his assistant when he was a cinematographer. He took me out to Australia for Walkabout in 1970 and I directed second unit on that. Then he mentioned that he had something else and would I like to work on it? He keeps things close to his chest – I don’t blame him, things happen on movies – but it turned out to be Don’t Look Now. It happened that quickly."

"Nic is great on set. He’s not a screamer and shouter like a lot of people; he’s got a great sense of humour and when something goes wrong, as it inevitably does, he sees the funny side. He has the ability to bring out the best in people. Thinking back, one of the things that helped on Don’t Look Now was having an Italian crew. We told them what we wanted them to do and they did it - we didn’t know enough Italian to discuss it (laughs). It was a small crew. Just Nic and I, and a focus puller, and the rest were Italian."

"To do a sequence like [the sex scene] that takes it so close to the edge that people insist they actually see Laura (Christie) and John (Sutherland) making love – which they don’t because they didn’t – is all to do with trust. This was the fourth time Nic and I had worked with Julie Christie. We’d worked with her on Doctor Zhivago, Fahrenheit 451 and Far From The Madding Crowd too, so there was a lot of friendship and a lot of trust. We shot it one Saturday afternoon at the Bauer Grunwald hotel. The brilliance of that scene was in the cutting room. I didn’t know that Steven Soderbergh had homaged it in Out Of Sight - that’s great."

"The interest in the scene is great for the movie, although the idea that they did it for real is crazy. Donald (Sutherland) emailed me about it the other day. Peter Bart, who was an executive at Paramount at the time, says he came to Venice and watched it in the room [Bart’s new book reiterates his claims that he witnessed Sutherland and Christie having sex for real]. I don’t remember him coming to Venice and I certainly don’t remember him in the room. There were five of us: Donald, Julie, Nic, me and the focus puller. We had some mics in the room and a sound mixer in the hallway, we shot it in an hour and we left. Donald went completely mad about it."

"We didn’t really have any specific [cinematic] reference points. I just sat with Nic and went through the locations. Things were different in those days. Film was slow - we only had a couple of fast lenses – and we had to pick the right time [to shoot]. Like when Laura and John run out of the church after lighting the candles, it was so hot that when they get to the door, they sort of disappear. It’s lovely."

"I’ve got to tell you, today it would be so easy to desaturate the colours in the digital intermediate stage but we didn’t have any of that so we had to do it all with set decoration and costume design. We took all the red out of it. The only red on the set was the little girl’s jacket, the dwarf’s scarf, the dwarf’s jacket and the red in Donald’s scarf. It was very simple but everything sticks out. I think the blood came from England, although the make-up was Italian. It was redder than normal blood. That was what we wanted."

"It’s incredibly hard to shoot in Venice. There are no cars or trucks, so you’re working off barges and if the tide comes in you’re stuck there until the next day. We shot the opening sequence at the cottage in Hertfordshire for four days before Christmas and then it was six weeks in Venice. We shot in places that people don’t go: there’s [only] one shot of the Grand Canal. Our’s is the people’s Venice. But as beautiful as it is, Venice is a scary place in winter. Nic and I went to dinner one night at Julie’s place on Giudecca, one of the other islands, and on the way back we got off at the wrong stop and got sort of lost. It was really creepy. I think the film’s a little bit odd and off-key and it’s a by-product of that strange environment."

"You can get bogged down in terrible rain when you’re filming but the weather worked in our favour. The great thing about Venice is that the light goes very quickly because it doesn’t get into those little alleys, so it can always be dark no matter what the weather’s like. When John is outside the church or watching the body being hauled out of the canal, the weather was fantastic. In Hertfordshire we had this low, weak, wintery sun which just looked fantastic."

"This scene is towards the end of the film when Julie is on a funeral barge. We had three or four cameras on boats and buildings, but at the last minute Nic told me to get onto the barge so I got down with a little 2C Arriflex and pointed it up at her for this close-up. We were in a dark alley so I set the exposure wide open to 1/4 and as the boat pulls out I got carried away with the shot. It was overexposed by god-knows how much but the lab managed to print it down. It became a wonderful shot with this alabaster face, black hat and her red lips, so a mistake turned into something really special. It’s one of my favourite shots in the movie."

"The biggest drama of the shot was Donald with the death sequence. It was scheduled to be done on the last day and that panicked him. He didn’t want to do it on the last day and he got a bit nervous about it. We rehearsed it using a prosthetic piece but - and I don’t know if I should upset vegetarians - we got a baby pig from a butcher and put Donald’s wig and scarf around it because pig’s skin is like human skin obviously. Then we sent it to Harry’s Bar and they cooked it for us" (laughs).

"I had an interesting relationship with Nic. When I started working for him he was sort of a father-figure to me, then it became an older brother/young brother relationship and now we’re friends. When you go off on location like we did on Don’t Look Now – and Nic is a pretty intense guy – you live together, you hang out together and there’s nothing to do but talk about the movie. When you’re working in the city you live in, you go home to your wife and kids – instead of dailies, they give you a DVD these days and you go and watch them on a shitty computer – but on Don’t Look Now we’d go and watch dailies after work and have a few beers."

"It was six weeks of our lives dedicated to the movie and it really paid off. Don’t Look Now stands the test of time. It’s a really good movie. I think it’s Nic’s best. Does he? I don’t know, but he probably does."

Don't Look Now is out on Blu-ray on July 4.

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