Phantom Thread– Behind the Scenes

An In-Depth Look with Gaffer Jonathan Franklin

For Daniel Day Lewis’ final feature film, he portrays Reynolds Woodcock, a well-known 1950’s dressmaker living in London. Reynolds’ life is quite tailored and routine, until he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), whom he unexpectedly falls in love with. Gaffer Jonathan Franklin, Lighting Cameraman Mike Bauman, and Director Paul Thomas Anderson all combined forces to create an authentic 1950’s aesthetic, capturing the gloom, hope and desire of post-war London. I recently caught up with Franklin to discuss his lighting techniques for the film.

Did the time period of the 1950’s post war London affect your lighting choices?

We spent a long time working out the style and lighting of the film. We studied photos from that era, and also watched films around that time, to see how they were lit.

PTA was a big fan of John Alcott’s work on The Shining (1980). John like to use big tungsten unit, Brutes, Mini Brute… etc.. We did actually-  on a few occasions in the house – try and light that way, but it soon became very apparent that it wasn’t going to work. Many of the rooms we shot in were quite small, then when you add a couple of mini brutes to the equation, filming soon becomes very difficult. After a lot of testing we found the best way to shoot in the house was with Litemats and Litetiles.

In some of the larger locations like the Blackpool Tower, and Park Lane Hotel, we mainly used Tungsten sources, and we tried to be a bit more old fashioned about the way we did things. For example, in the Blackpool Ballroom, we had four men that were dressed in costume moving spot lights around. We would generally set an ambient with Tungsten Balloons, and we then used spot lights to pick our certain areas, and zaps for a nice backlight wash.

When we shot the photoshoot sequence, and the gala dinner scene, we actually managed to get old 1950’s film lights, that we rewired modern bulbs into, ranging from 1K’s to 5K’s. We only used those lights in those scenes with the addition of balloon as an ambient. It was actually quite fun to use old lighting fixtures to light, although I don’t think my sparks enjoyed lugging them around! We also used old lighting in the Barbara Rose press conference. They tended to use very hard directional light in press conferences in the 1950’s, so we decided to do the same thing. We got old fashioned lights and shined them directly into the actors faces; it was a very simple set up, but seemed to work very well for the scene.

What was your approach to the way Reynold’s home was lit?

Reynolds home was an old Georgian townhouse in Fitzroy Square, London, and was one of the trickiest locations during production. As the grade I listed property was going through renovation, the first challenge we came up against was the fact there was no power or cabling throughout the building. This meant we had to rewire the whole five story house; although the benefits of doing so quickly became clear as we were able to wire every electrical socket and bulb back to our lighting desk.  

At the same time as rewiring the house we also installed a few power points in the ceiling in various rooms in the house. We had the ability to switch between 12V and 240V depending on which light we wanted to install, but had to be careful doing this in-case we fed the wrong power through the LED fixtures. However it turned out to be a very good system.

In the main Salon of the house, the art designer wanted to put wall sconces on all of the walls. The problem was that the house was listed, and we couldn’t channel into the walls to feed up the wall sconces. So we had to come up with our own system, which resulted in us building our own LED lightbulbs with Lumen Radio Built into the sconce, which we could run off of either batteries or a very thin 12v cable that we could hide. They worked really well, and also having Hybrid LiteRibbon in the lamps meant we could keep our Kelvin ratio’s closer together when shooting in Daylight. We needed to get a vast amount of light in the building, especially shooting on 205D film stock, and usually I would’ve used machines with large lamps on. The only problem was we were not allowed to use any of the space outside the footprint of the building, and had to remain within the properties railings, which was only distance of 4ft 6” away from the property. In addition to that, the location was specifically chosen because Paul wanted to be able to see out of the windows, so we had to carefully plan a rig that not only fit within the railings but couldn’t be visible from within the house looking out.

Building such a narrow rig, at such a height, and without being able to bolt into the walls, took a lot of careful planning. To light it I had two ladder beams per window, with five vertical SkyPanel’s on each; they were on runners, so we could roll them in and out of shot. Then for any hard sun we had a few 2.5KW HMI’s rigged. Usually it’s more ideal to have your lamps further away from your subject, but on this occasion we had no choice and had to adapt to Paul’s specifics requirements. Fortunately, the system I employed turned out to be really successful.

We had similar issues with the rear of the building in not being able to build any conventional lighting rigs. Eventually we settled on building a trapeze that reached out from the roof of the building, which we could lower up and down, so it could service every floor. We generally hung an 4×8 LiteTile setup, built in a LiteBox, which gave us a nice soft source. If we need any additional light we would hang LiteTile 8’s either side of the window. Overall it was a very adaptable system.

 Being that Reynolds was a dressmaker, did you light any differently for the shots where the dresses take center?

Because the film was about a dressmaker, we had to make sure that the dresses were always well presented, including making sure the fabric and the colours of the fabric were represented correctly on film. We did quite a few lighting tests with Mark Bridges, the costume designer, at the beginning of the production. We were able to work out fabrics that we might have issues with, and would always test with Daylight and Tungsten and LED sources both hard and soft. Then when it came to filming we already knew which lights worked best with the fabrics. Whenever we had a scene with a dress we would also take care in making sure they looked they best they could on screen.

How did you utilize LiteGear product throughout the shoot?

Both Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day Lewis wanted to make a film where they could shoot using real locations; it can help the actors performance when they can really feel the authentic space around them. The problem you get with real locations is, unlike a studio, you can’t fly walls out or lift ceilings to get lighting in the places you need it. So we were very restricted on space. LiteGear played a huge role, in the making of Phantom Thread, in helping us achieve lighting in some very difficult locations. The great thing about using LiteGear products is you have this amazing light quality from a light with a very small footprint.

A few locations that LiteGear really came into their own were the Countryside Restaurant (where Reynolds meets Alma for the first time), in the London Restaurant and in Reynolds Home. We were shooting on a Kodak Vision 3 250D, and 500T film stocks, so we had to light everything to make sure we were exposing the film correctly. In the Countryside Restaurant we had a task on our hand to balance the inside of the restaurant with the outside. We did this with a combination of Hard ND gels that we had cut and mounted in frames for the windows so we could quickly pull them in and out, whilst using LiteMats and LiteTiles inside. 

We implemented LiteMat 2L’s and the individual LiteTile 8’s for this. We built small light boxes that housed the LiteTile 8’s. LiteTiles are incredibly lightweight, so we could attach them with just a few eyelets on the wall. They gave us so much light level, and were perfect for the job; we could adapt to the weather outside very easily, using the LiteDimmer Studio 5×8’s we had all of the LiteTile and Litemats connected to an iPad running Luminair. We had both day and night scenes in the restaurant, so flicking between Daylight and Tungsten was another benefit during filming.

In the London Restaurant we were hugely restricted on what we could do, and it was a very dark space, with dark wooden walls. I had my practical electricians make up hanging practical’s, with a roll of VHO Pro 120 X1 Hybrid LiteRibbon in each. We also used LiteRibbon behind the bar lighting the bottles, and on the front of the bar. We were constantly balancing Tungsten and Daylight, so having the flexibility to dial in the colour to the LED was very important. We also used an 8×8 LiteTile setup above a glass window in the restaurant to give us a nice glow and overall ambient light. We would always put the lights through our iPad running Luminair, so that we had the convenience of changing levels and colours very quickly without having to go into the set and disrupting the actors at all.

If this is indeed Daniel Day Lewis’ final feature film, what a way to bow out! Phantom Thread is a breathtakingly beautiful film. The film is currently still in theaters and is nominated for (6) Academy Awards.